Since early 2020 contemporary art fairs have been scrambling to keep tabs on Covid, think ahead without panicking, while also understanding that the show must go on. And to some degree, it will, whether Frieze’s online NYC version earlier this year or Art Basel Miami recently canning their in-person festivities in favor of an online production.
The reality is that cases are on the rise again, and it’s going to be a while before congregating with people from all over the world in indoor spaces is going to seem like a good idea.
As someone who has grown to love these events and all their offshoots, I’ve been waiting and watching to see what they would do, especially with Art Basel Miami. It’s wild too, because I was at Art Basel Miami in December 2019 and then Frieze in LA at Paramount Studios in February, right on the cusp of the Covid lockdown. Not a great time to be flying through LAX, but I digress!
Art Basel Hong Kong was the first art fair to halt its in-person events in response to Covid, and since then Fusebox Festival in Austin, TX as well as the Singapore Biennale and Sydney Biennale were all conducted online.
While we know the online versions of these productions will never stack up to standing in front of these pieces in person, the question really has been, will we even enjoy whatever version of this that is facilitated online??
Ahead, we look at some of the ways art fairs have coped with the most 2020 of constraints.
My first taste of this was when I saw Andrew Rafacz Gallery located here in Chicago presenting one of their virtual booth experiences on their Instagram page. The video experience allowed the viewer to basically feel as though they are walking into the booth at the fair, able to see the art from various angles as you smoothly move through the space. And Frieze isn’t the only one, this is becoming par for the course as far as facilitating an online art fair experience that is much more than reading a list of titles with associated prices.
While I speak to how more content gives buyers more insights in the section below, I think this evolution in the art fair experience will last long after Covid. As someone who enjoys the in-person experience at these art fairs, I haven’t found any of these virtual galleries to be so breathtaking that they’d take the place of buying your ticket and showing up to view it from a few feet away. But it’s not supposed to. It’s a great back-up option for the current state of the world, and as I said, additional touchpoints, content, and engagement will be elevated in the decision making process art collectors employ to make their purchases.
Since the physical logistics of online art fairs are much more streamlined, galleries and artists also have the ability to present more work than they would in a typical booth environment. I believe that this will see the inclusion of more works that would not have made the booth walls in an in-person art fair experience, which I think should be helpful in breaking down the barriers to certain types of work, certain perspectives, and aesthetics that may lend themselves more to a digital-first experience.
Regardless, this is great for us as viewers, because we can see a greater breadth of work from each artist, truly making the bigger fairs feels completely unconquerable. But that’s OK, these things are always a stream of consciousness experience, you can never see it all.
In addition to this virtual gallery experiences that place you in the fair, as it were, there are also additional features like oral histories, videos, additional photos of work at various angles including close-ups that yields details you might not get close enough to see in-person if only from sheer fear that you’d breathe on the art the wrong way!
But for the collector who is more focused on ensuring they are getting what they want then being amid the throngs and the energy of the art fair run of show, this can prove to be a much calmer and less tense experience.
Galleries and artists are using the digital chops they’ve gained over the past 20 years to really step-up the online experience in lieu of pulsing hallways of art lovers in cities all over the globe. While Covid is certainly impacting the art market in terms of sales, it’s interesting to think about how some of these solutions will be overlaid on the in-person experience once we can all be together again.
In my mind, the way the world has been forced to evolve will not only mean better experiences across the board once things are back to normal, but it also means that the playing field, digital experience or convention center concourse will continue to become more democratic, experimental, and engaging.
Check out some the changes that IPaintMyMind has made to our programming this year: we are offering free art guides to any teacher at a Chicago Public School, and are offering our new Arts Education Curriculum and Resource Guide as a standalone digital purchase for E-learning, hybrid learning, and homeschooling.
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