Are Art Fairs Fair?

It used to be understood that Art Fairs were quaint affairs featuring mostly pedestrian artists and craftspeople showing poorly in cramped and blow-away booths set up in the open air for a day or two.  But starting a few years ago, the ‘elite’ art establishment hijacked this provincial concept and perverted its meaning to include exclusive blockbuster affairs with major artists, publicity, and chic venues. Now there are hundreds of international art ‘fairs’ mostly serving the largest and most established galleries to regurgitate the same top artists to lazy local collectors unwilling to travel in order to increase the value of their stables. How did this come to pass and why have the ‘aristocratic’ artists elbowed their way into an art sales vehicle meant for the masses? Is this simply a natural extension of the relatively modern acceptance and appreciation of ‘Pop’ culture in Fine Art? These mega-fairs seem to only increase the ‘income gap’ among artists so that emerging and unknown artists are left behind at the expense of those who don’t need additional exposure. Indeed even dead artist estates are brought into these new exclusive events. Shouldn’t these mega art fairs instead concentrate on increasing the profiles and sales of lesser known artists and galleries? It seems cultural capitalism reflects all economic sectors by mainly serving to consolidate power to those who already hold it – and galleries are only too willing to conform. Why does it seem a sad statement on our culture that the new and relevant slogan in the art world is ‘Viva the bottom line’?

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