By Kiša Lala
Art fairs, with their aggregation of art dealers forming a one-stop shopper's marketplace for art, attract high-spending collectors, generate greater sales, and have to some extent replaced galleries with their increasing drawing power. Before the recent market collapse, the frenzied demand for new art had peaked with the proliferation of smaller, budding art fairs. Some as satellites to the major European events, the biennials, art festivals and fairs such as Basel, Venice, Documenta, catered to lesser known, emerging artists. Even more notable are the fairs that have sprouted in Asian countries and off the map destinations, creating alternate markets for art, challenging the existing western hegemony - such as the Shanghai Contemporary, Art Dubai, Art Summit New Delhi and SP-Arte in Sao Paulo.
Berlin based photographer, Gabriele Heidecker has been documenting this new trend for the last few years, as a follow-up to her already published volume Art Affairs, containing candid behind-the scenes images of such events as Art Basel Miami Beach, London's Frieze, ARCO Madrid, FIAC Paris, Art Cologne, which serve as watering-holes for artists, dealers and high-rolling investors alike. Heidecker's photos reveal the subtext of commerce under the carnival-like atmosphere of the fairs, making us wonder if the transformative value of art is subsumed by its monetization.
I met Gabriele Heidecker aptly enough, on a plane from India to the Emirates as she globe-trotted between art events in Kolkata to Art Dubai and Sharjah, which are emerging capitals in the nexus of new art in the Middle East. I asked Ms. Heidecker about her new book in progress."Left image: Art Dubai '09, Waterhouse & Dodd, works by Ahmed Moustafa, catalogue with Shirin Neshat ©Gabriele Heidecker"
What are some of the interesting new emerging art fairs you've been documenting for your new book?
All of the art fairs which I have attended since 2008 have unique atmospheres: Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair 2008, Art Dubai, India Art Summit New Delhi, Contemporary Istanbul 2009 and this year I've been to The Armory Show, Fresh Paint Tel Aviv, ART HK 10 Hong Kong. For example, Art Dubai is remarkable because of the attire of its visitors: the men wearing white robes and the ladies in black. The India Art Summit for the fresh, unprejudiced approach by its visitors. I'm looking forward to Art Moscow. Hopefully I shall be able to document the art fairs in Johannesburg, Seoul, Mexico City, and eventually Sao Paolo, Tokyo and Singapore, which are on my agenda for 2011.
What have you seen in these emerging fairs that are different to what is going on in the bigger fairs?
To mention a few differences, they are not as perfect as in our expectations of European Art Fairs and, the selection of works that are shown, are a result of different cultural conventions and understanding of what art is. The behaviour of the public is led by fresh curiosity and sometimes there is less of a distance between the viewer and the object of art. This has become particularly obvious at the east Asian Art fairs, for example at ART HK 10. But also they add a breath of fresh air to the usual bazaars of the art world - something very new may emerge from this confrontation between western logistics, style, understandings and - from my point of view, the unfinished, uncontrolled, regional but vivid state of these new art fairs. This may in turn lead to new horizons and greater opportunities for the more established art world and fairs in general, which are usually characterized by their exhaustive professionalism.Left image: "Art Dubai 2009 © Gabriele Heidecker"
Will you be exhibiting the new images soon?
Yes in 2010/11, I intend to exhibit each of the "photo-portraits" in the respective cities where the photos have been taken - for example in Istanbul, the series on Contemporary Istanbul 09 will most probably be shown at the fair ground; in New Delhi and Hong Kong talks are underway with representatives of the Goethe Institute. Then there is an exhibition planned - including the publication of the next book, in Berlin with selections of all the art fairs including the European ones. My aim with these photo-portraits is to capture the special character of the individual art fairs as determined by the respective country's culture and perception of art. I'm also interested in the people who set up these fairs as well as in the people who visit them and how they deal with this art-phenomenon.
Do you feel that we are tending towards a universal art, a global language transcending cultural conventions which will become a unifying force?
With art fairs appearing everywhere there seems to be a global aspect to this market - the phenomenon of the art bazaar can be compared to a global language. The art fair as an expression of western culture, as a benchmark for up-to-datedness and civilisation, and at the same time, as a type of implant, has been accepted and implemented worldwide - it is this phenomenon of the art scene which seems to me - to have a dimension of time on its own - and which I try to capture in the expanding moment.
Do you feel this will result in a homogenization of artistic influences - resulting in a singular codification of art history that will dampen future artistic expression?
To what extent and if at all this development will take place I dare not make any projections . . .
See Gabriele Heidecker in action on German TV.