From Chicago to Miami. A Gallerist Journal to an International Art Fair (Post 5)

Welcome to Post #5 (Final)

This is the 5th and last post related to the Miami Art Basel week.

Read post #4

Today is Sunday 10pm and the Art Basel Week has come to an end. I am writing from an airplane seat on my way back to Chicago. Unfortunately for me, there was no time to stay an extra day for a walk at the beach. It has been an incredible busy week which culminated this afternoon at 6 pm when most of the fairs in town closed down. It took us a little over one hour to dismantle our booth thanks to the professional team of Aaron’s Reliable Art Movers. They handled most of the the take down and that was important for us to catch our flight.

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In my previous post, I gave some insight into what this trip is all about. At the end, everyone goes back home to run numbers and evaluate their effort. Being in an international art fair during Art Basel Week has many advantages. One of them is that you meet a lot of people who are there with you. For galleries, it is not only about how many sales you make on site but also about how much networking your are able to accomplish. Networking is very valuable in this business. It has been incredibly valuable to me and I try to capitalize on it as much as possible.

Being able to capture emails and contact information from collectors is a very important part of the job. The art fair may be over but the business is not. Contacting all the new collectors you meet and following up with interested parties will take place in the weeks to come. For my gallery, coming to Miami was important. We made moderate sales and many important contacts were made. The truth of the matter is that an art fair is like going to Vegas. You either win, loose or break even. Those are the only three possible outcomes. All fairs will report numbers in their favor to make sure their fair was a great success. It helps the business for the next time around. It is interesting to see how a gallery that may have sold a lot one year but may not sell anything the next time around. For a gallery, it is a difficult game to play.

Two hours after the fairs closed....
Two hours after the fair has closed….

From the beginning of the fair, it was a roller coaster of emotions. One moment you are very close to make a deal with a collector and the next minute you may loose it. Sometimes a collector may love a work but at close inspection they find that the artwork will not fit in his/her wall. When they say “I will think about it and come back later,” you know that you have to take their contact information because he or she will most likely not come back at all. There are so many options when you are one of around 1000 galleries in town for the week. At the same time, it is a great feeling when you can match a collector with a work and a transaction is made. You are happy, they are happy and ultimately, the artist will be happy. Every minute counts until the very end and some deals close within the last hour.

News articles have already appeared boasting about the mega million dollar sales reported in Art Basel. Yes, at the end, most coverage will be about the numbers because numbers mean business and business means the future of the art fairs is strong. Without big numbers, there will be no big art fairs like Art Basel. It takes a monstrous capital to run such a massive operation. By the time the art fair opens, the fair management has already made money. Strong sales results mean that more galleries will want to come back next year.

While I seat in this plane going back to Chicago, I can’t help but to wonder about… for how long will this fast-paced system can go on? How many art fairs a gallery can handle per year before it goes mad? I counted 22 art fairs this year in Art Basel week alone. An ever increasing number of fairs cannot go on forever. I am not sure how good is that for the overall economy of the art market. In a way, most people who are involved will benefit in one way or another.

Team Gomez
Team Gomez

Here is how it works: The art fair creates an economic system which in turn makes a great revenue for itself. The collector has a one-stop shop where he/she is pampered to the maximum. They are at the top of the food chain and so it seems like they deserve all the praise that is given to them. The gallery takes part of a drive-thru system with tons of possible opportunities to make money if they have the right product for the fast approaching client. Since big collectors now prefer going to art fairs rather than visiting local galleries, it becomes a must for galleries to attend. The art critic, writer and blogger have a long list of things to complain, nag, write or hype about. What is hot and what is not, who sold what and for how much will be the talk of the next few weeks. Just look at me, I am writing this post rather than sleeping like the passenger sitting next to me. The artist enters a huge marketplace and becomes part of a seemingly special breed of artists who can list art fairs in their resumes. The art lover comes to see incredible art gathered in one city and to take selfies with just about anything that pulls his/her fancy. The art student comes here to dream about seeing his/her work in these walls one day and to be inspired by so much art. The work of art becomes important not for its impact in our culture but rather the amount it is sold for and who acquired it. The parking owner and the local economy benefit from the influx of people coming in. The whole thing sort of benefits everyone except those who cannot afford to be part of it. And, that is a shame. Although the art fairs present many benefits, there has to be more alternative ways for the art economy to exist (beside auction houses).

Deborah Butterfield at Miami Projects
Deborah Butterfield at Miami Projects

To end, I believe that the international art fair is part of a global ecosystem galleries nowadays depend on. For good or bad, they are here to stay, at least for now. They will continue to evolve and grow. However, we need to cultivate and educate new collectors who will sustain a system outside of the art fair model if we want to see quality art coexist in our communities and if we want to see artists thrive in their career outside of the art fair circuit. Run Gander said “If you want sell your work, you have to take your pig to the market.” It is a very interesting article that I think you should read (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/04/ryan-gander-art-basel-crapstraction-miami-beach). He is right about that but if the market is an increasingly exclusive community going vegan, your pig may not have a chance to be seen no matter how good its beacon may be. Just saying.

Thank you for following me in this week-long journey.

Sergio Gomez

~THE END~

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