Will art fairs and galleries cede power to the social-media ...

Lifestyle

Will art fairs and galleries cede power to the social-media artist?

As art goes online, it remains to be seen whether old-school sellers will lose out to digital platforms, creating a more nuanced world

Matthew McClure

In 2008, my first real job after graduating from university was as a public-relations intern for the first Joburg Art Fair. It was a heady time. The repercussions of the global recession were just starting to lap at our shores and South Africans were getting their first bitter taste of load-shedding. In between all of this, and fresh from a fine-art degree, I was learning how to operate my BlackBerry.

My employer, Artlogic, was responsible for curating and organising the logistics of SA’s first large-scale art event since the second and, unfortunately, last Joburg Biennale in 1997. However, unlike a biennale, our fair’s purpose was commercial. Like art fairs abroad, we would curate a space in which gallerists, artists and buyers could network and negotiate over a glass of sauvignon blanc. It was all very classy and we were tagging on to a powerful legacy of art fairs initiated in 1994 by the Armory Show in New York.

The primacy of art fairs and their ability to birth and nurture a matrix of high-net-worth collectors through their co-operation with commercial galleries has been undisputed for decades. A veil of secrecy usually shrouds the exact sales figures from these events, but those exclusive pre-show, buyers’-only tickets were like hen’s teeth. If you could borrow, beg or steal one of these glittering passes you were guaranteed to bump into the same champagne-toting, well-heeled VIPs you’d encounter at any gallery opening in the city on a Thursday night. The type who know the gallerist by name and have had the finest examples of work on show tagged with those innocuous red dots hours before you arrived...

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