Friday, April 9, 2010
Art Fairs are to art critics what zoos are to animal-rights activists - an assault on their belief system. It all comes down to the setting and the politics of the display. You see, just as animal lovers do not relish viewing leopards through bars or watching these prized beasts circling cramped cages, art critics recoil from art hung randomly on makeshift walls on a trade floor. For, in such a context, the art critic's nebulous set of skills, which allows them to retrieve the curious matrix of ideas that shape contemporary art, is really not required. Hence the relationship between art critics and art fairs has historically been a vexed one.
"Art fairs reduce complexity and diversity to sameness. They encourage vacuous glancing," observed Peter Suchin, the British critic.
Jerry Stalz of New York's Village Voice was equally disparaging.
"Organisers claim art fairs are "important" and that they're "forums". In reality, they're adrenaline-addled spectacles for a kind of buying and selling where intimacy, conviction, patience, and focused looking are essentially nonexistent. They are places where commerce has replaced epistemology."
Speaking at the Joburg Art Fair this year, Klaus Biesenbach, director of the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre at the MoMA gallery in New York, apparently also urged that fairs were nothing less than malls for art.
In fact, so widespread has the dislike of art fairs among art critics and the art intelligentsia been, that the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Arts) in London held a talk in 2007 titled "Why we love to hate art fairs".
Certainly Ross Douglas, head of Art Logic, the company that stages the Joburg Art Fair, has some inkling about this actuality - hence this year he only extended invitations to members of the press or art critics who he felt certain would turn in flowery reports.