Monday, July 14, 2008

The best laid plans of mice and art dealers...

While I had intended to report everyday from Art Santa Fe, working these art fairs is such a constant hands on act, coupled with the fact that I'm always on my feet at these affairs, and a few other things all added up to a report-less experience on a daily basis from the fair.

Overall, this year's Art Santa Fe was not the commercial success that many of the art galleries and dealers who participated had hoped that it would be. It was not all the fault of the organizers, who I think did the best job that anyone taking the complex challenge of organizing such an event -- with its army of people in a chess game of movement and issues -- has to do.

But the talk in the dealers' break room and along the aisles was not good.

Like any art fair, I am sure that there were some galleries who did well, but I suspect that the vast majority did poorly as far as sales were concerned.

AN art fair is not all about sales, although when one puts out several thousand dollars in fees, travel, staff, etc., sales is damned well ahead of whatever is in second place.

Connections and networking is another good element of art fairs. In our case we made the direct connection with two of the top art collectors in the US.

Collectors with connections are even more important... in one case, he is not only a major photography collector about to become a collector of contemporary Cuban art (on the advise of his art advisers), but also on the board of a major museum. His wife is a major collector of glass, and also on the board of a major school.

All these bits and pieces help to cement a gallery's future; even as sales do not materialize at the frequency that one wishes for.

One negative thing about the fair that I did hear from the locals was the fact that according to them the organizers were "crazy to set the fair on the same weekend as the Fifth Annual International Folk Art Market," the largest international folk art market in the world, which was taking place at exactly the same time as Art Santa Fe. I'm not sure what, if any effect this had on the low sales experienced by most of the gallerists and dealers who confided in me.

Another good aspect for reputable dealers in fairs like this, is the ability, provided that the dealer is one who works for his/her artists, to find other dealers and galleries for our artists.

We managed to find and begin to cement a relationship with two new dealers, one in Britain, one in Santa Fe, for one of our artists -- as well as for an artist whose work I know. She will be happy once she calls me and finds out that she has a very good Santa Fe gallery very interested in her work.

Another thing that I kept hearing about was how poorly American fairs were doing in general, although it seems that some European fairs were doing better. We also heard some horror stories about some "hotel fairs."

Several hotel fairs will not be returning to Miami this December, although someone from Art Basel who was around the fair checking out the art and the fair itself, told me that Miami expects about 25 art fairs this December - that's a spectacular fair overload, and it also means that even though some of last year's fairs will not return, some new ones will pop up!

We had dinner one night with some gallerists from Europe and the US, as well as a few other artsy folks - a fair organizer, an art magazine editor, a curator or two, and someone who has a business of doing the booths at the fairs.

It was lively conversation, and I dropped a bomb of a rumor that I have been hearing about from people who do not want to be quoted.

"I've been hearing a rumor that Art Basel Miami Beach may be pulling out of Miami Beach and relocating to Los Angeles," I said.

"Nonsense!" said a very, very connected curator from Miami. "ABMB and the city have a six year contract - ABMB is not going anywhere!"

"I've heard the same thing," said a magazine publisher from Los Angeles.

"And," added the art magazine publisher, "there's only two years left on that contract." That info was backed by another person in the group, who also added that he thought that it was pretty much set that ABMB would be moving to LA after its contract with Miami Beach expires.

"It will never happen," said the vigorous defender of Miami. "Miami is a magnet for Europeans in the winter, and the crossroads for Latin America, Europe and North America... people and collectors, want to go to Miami in December."

"That's true," replied her tormentors, "but LA is the center point of the Latin American Pacific rim as well as Asia... and we have beaches as well."

And thus several plugged-in insiders seem to verify what I've been hearing about for months: that the heart of the Miami art fairs phenomenon - Art Basel Miami Beach - may be, and I repeat, may be, pulling out of Miami Beach once its six year contract ends and ABMB may thus be moving the American version of the European fair to Los Angeles.

Basel's Vernissage TV

Yours truly in Basel's Vernissage TV, which was covering Art Santa Fe this last weekend.