Artist Tom Wilmott’s view on Artrooms Fair
“(…) The art fair is a subject of great interest to me. Having worked for a gallery at numerous fairs both in the U.K. and abroad for many years, I have a good understanding of a dealer’s approach. Over the last decade or so the importance, scale, number and profile of art fairs has increased considerably. Of course the vast majority cater for galleries as exhibitors, rather than independent artists, and as such they are essentially high end trade fairs. Running a gallery is a costly pursuit. Above all an art fair represents an opportunity, often the best opportunity, for a dealer to make sales and in the majority of cases more people will visit one’s art fair stand in a week than would ordinarily pass through a permanent premises over the course of a couple of months (assuming one even has such a space). What’s more, many visitors to a fair will be very much open to the idea of making a purchase. The chance to make a relatively high number of sales in a short space of time cannot be ignored by the gallerist, and this is entirely understandable, particularly considering that most art fairs are eye wateringly expensive to participate in (stand fees alone can often reach tens of thousands of pounds, plus there’s shipping, staffing and so on). Thus, any gallery wishing to make good business decisions will approach an art fair with sales front and centre.
As an artist, one must look at this with pragmatism. Generally speaking the art fair does not offer the greatest curatorial value around. By its nature it cannot present a broad and even survey of artists working today and in terms of artists exhibited it cannot be an inclusive, meritocratic event. What it can be is a good gauge of the art that is selling at any one time. We know galleries will hang their stands to sell, and this is understood. For the vast majority of artists, ever seeing their work appear at an art fair is highly unlikely. First they would need to achieve gallery representation, and then they would need to be seen as one of that gallery’s prime commercial options. Of course only a tiny percentage of artists manage this, even with the significant growth of the art fair in recent years. I certainly have no expectation that my work might make its way into an an art fair via this, the established route. Furthermore, if it did, knowing what I do about the way galleries use fairs, I would consider it of little value beyond the commercial. For most artists I would suggest that the art fair represents very well all that is exclusive, inaccessible and unattainable about the fiercely commerce driven art world.
However there are now a small number of fairly young fairs that focus on independent artists as exhibitors, rather than galleries. This is of course a wonderful development for artists, even if the general structure is basically the same as those events that cater for galleries. Costs are still relatively high, so sales remain the main aim. This is where ArtRooms differs. ArtRooms offer exhibition space to selected artists for no fee, and for me this changes the game entirely. Such a gesture of support removes the necessity for exhibitors to consider the commercial side of their work at all if they so choose. Artists have the liberty to work with creative freedom and present something at an art fair that goes entirely against the rigidly prescribed commercial angle. ArtRooms have adopted what I understand to be an unprecedented approach to supporting artists – taking the most overtly commercial structure the artworld has thus far devised and turning it on its head for the significant benefit of the artists. They offer a very real route to exhibiting at an art fair without the traditionally associated financial risk and, by extension, the restriction on what can reasonably be exhibited. ArtRooms is a unique opportunity for artists to approach their work free of commercial burden, but still achieve the significant exposure that is unique to the art fair model. It is true that they charge a commission on sales, but even this is significantly lower than a traditional gallery fee and is of course only payable if the artist themselves makes a sale. Overall it’s a deal that, on a one to one basis, makes it practically impossible for the exhibitor to come out worse off than the fair. That’s pretty much unheard of in my book.
The potential outcome is significant. Aside from the obvious benefit to the exhibiting artists, the fair as a whole could well become one of the best examples of its type in terms of pure creativity. Artists have the opportunity to present work raw and uncensored. Work which has not been presented through the filter of gallery acceptability or given the commercial gloss that makes it a ‘marketable asset’. One can go to any number of art fairs and wind up seeing the same work, presented the same way, hung on the same temporary contract matt white partition walls. Their homogeneous nature is such that a fair in Hong Kong could just as well be a fair in New York or a fair in Basel in terms of content. However ArtRooms has the makings of something altogether different. It is accessible, fosters true creativity at source, and offers its visitors insights into the way an artist works like no other event of its kind.
So, these are my own thoughts on he subject, and why I believe that among the many, many fairs out there, ArtRooms deserves particular attention (…).
Source: Youngspace x Artrooms, by Tom Wilmott. You can read the full post here: tomwilmott.co.uk
Image on Top: Detail of Tom Wilmott’s painting At least things can’t get any worse. 1.2 I. 2014. Acrylic & emulsion on canvas. 18.0cm diameter.