If one had to choose between feeling overwhelmed or inspired, exhausted or refreshed, the decision would be simple. Along the same lines, being able to predict your reaction to an art fair is actually quite simple as well. How, you ask? Isn’t all art there to inspire and refresh, even in its most challenging forms? Perhaps. Yet a lot of art today, or at least the way it’s presented, can do just the opposite, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. The secret to a viewers’ reaction to the work of a collection of artists’ or an art fair lies in a simple, unsurprising word: curation.
While the majority of art fairs today focus on variety and volume, a handful pride themselves in showcasing curated content. This fall, two art fairs, the Toronto International Art Fair and Feature Contemporary Art Fair, took place at the same time, in the same city, each offering a very different experience.
The Toronto International Art Fair (Art Toronto) was held in the sprawling Metro Convention Centre, while Feature Contemporary Art Fair (Feature) took place in the restored heritage building of the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. Art Toronto is a modern and contemporary fine art fair and is considered a must-attend event for art collectors, art educators and other industry professionals. The fair showcases more than 100 galleries from around the world with a wide variety of Canadian and international artists. Feature, with only 23 galleries and 60 artists represented, is a curated alternative to Art Toronto. Feature is dedicated to Canadian cutting edge contemporary art, showcasing only artists whose practices have demonstrated an outstanding ability to innovate, challenge and inspire.
My experience attending both shows brought their differences into sharp focus. Cruising aisle upon aisle at Art Toronto and covering what feels like miles in an afternoon, it’s hard not to glaze over after the first hour or two. The feeling isn’t dissimilar to that of shopping at a mall in December. While there is impressive art to be seen, the venue commoditizes it and in a way, devalues it.
Visiting Feature was an entirely different experience. If Art Toronto’s goal is to gather as much art as possible in one place in order to sell it, Feature’s focus is to educate and break down the traditional ways of seeing and buying art. As Julie Lacroix, the director of AGAC (L’Association des galleries d’art contemporain), the fair’s organizer puts it “… each gallery at Feature is presenting a fluid exhibit with the pieces working together to create a more unified tone, rather than disparate art placed together for convenience. It’s an opportunity not to make the visitors feel overwhelmed, but to give them time and space to appreciate each individual piece of art.”
Another striking difference was Feature’s attention to detail. Their innovative logo, designed by the Montréal-based multidisciplinary studio Bureau Principal, was integrated throughout. From its playfully designed website, through the matching scarves worn by the gallery attendants, to the art catalogue and signage system, Feature showed maturity and sophistication on a much greater scale. By emphasizing not only the importance of art, but also the space and the way in which the art was presented, Feature offers a lesson along with its stimulating experience: every detail counts. And while curation is the key to providing a positive experience for the viewer, it also has the effect of enhancing the value of the product in question.
As good a lesson for brands as it is for art fair organizers.
In our next post we’ll list five things about art fusion that brands must know. See you then.