I’ve always liked the idea behind the Affordable Art Fair. Simply by putting those two words together and into the public mind through their marketing, the fair’s organizers are doing us all a great service. The notion that art is the conceit of the wealthy (the dreaded "elite") is a difficult barrier for many would-be collectors. Obviously we need to grow the pool of collectors and I applaud any gallery, consultant, artist, or collector who encourages more people to take that plunge. This is an institutional mechanism to do just that.
One question though: are the organizers implying that the other fairs are full of art that’s not affordable and therefore a little repulsive? It’s too often true, but that’s a problem for the various fair organizers to address if it bothers them, and it should.
People are starting to ask if the whole art fair thing has gotten a little ridiculous. They can be a great marketplace and some galleries now depend on them for the majority of their business. They allow regional galleries to be players in the global marketplace. These two factors create the perception that it’s necessary for galleries to go if they wish to be relevant (or viable). This introduces an irrationality into the equation and as a result show organizers can model their business around attracting exhibitors and fees, and thriving regardless of whether anything actually sells.
After a day at the Affordable Fair I was talking at a Williamsburg opening with a well-known curator. He told me that Scope Hamptons had only a handful of sales in the whole show. The market their is obviously weak because they’re trying to compete with the beach or trying to entice a numerically miniscule number of uber-wealthy collectors. Despite these dim prospects and the ridiculous costs of doing business there, they continue to attract exhibitors, if not visitors.
So he’s not exactly bullish on the whole art fair system, even though that is an important avenue for him (he doesn’t have a dedicated white box). He asked me about the Affordable Fair and I had to tell him that business looked pretty brisk. The work was engaging and some of it was quite good and the exhibitor I spoke with were generally quite satisfied. I would say that galleries need to chose their fairs wisely—they’re not all on-ramps to the global art speedway, but they can be useful.