Art Basil, established in 1970 and possibly one of the most well known art fairs in the world, is under threat. However, it is not the recent economic crisis which encroaches upon the future of this art legacy, it's the advent of the online art fair. The VIP Art Fair, announced last month, allows the budding art enthusiast to purchase Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Andreas Gursky all from the comfort of their recliner. The VIP Art Fair is the idea of two New York couples, James and Jane Cohan, dealers, and Jonas and Alessandra Almgren, internet entrepreneurs, having spent 2 years in the making.
Participants will be able to browse works at more than 50 of the world's leading contemporary art galleries such as White Cube, David Zwirner and Gasgosian. So far this all sounds peachy. You get your art fix without the crowds and you can browse and buy in your underwear. But here comes the punch line. Tickets will cost in the realm of $US 100 on the first two days and $US 20 thereafter. This really begs the question - what are you getting for your money? Cohan laments that "The overall cost is about a fifth of what dealers normally spend [on art fairs]" with 'booths' costing between $US5 000 and $US20 000. In the virtual realm how does one distinguish a good 'booth' position to a bad one?
Todd Levin, a New York art advisor and curator, believes the VIP Art Fair is the dawn of a new age in how to buy art. However, this mode of selling eliminates the parties and social aspect which has often received more publicity than the work for sale, although, according to Levin, "If the social aspect is why you're participating at an art fair, you're not going for the right reason." On this point I whole heartedly and completely disagree.
In London alone there are three art fairs- Frieze, Affordable Art Fair and Zoo- and I have been to all of them. I have also been to Art Basel, only just missing out on going to Art Basel Miami. Did I go with the intention of purchasing a great work of art? Hell no. I could barely afford the flight over. But this was not my purpose in going and I would argue not the purpose of 80% of the people in attendance. It is so very typical of a dealer or gallery, whose main intention and reason for breathing, is to sell art, to have this narrow minded opinion of art fairs. Just because I can't afford a Damien Hirst does not mean that the pleasure of seeing it should be stripped away from me. At least when I pay money to visit an art fair I feel as if I'm getting real value because an art fair isn't always about the art- it's about the experience. It's about being inspired and mixing with like- minded people- my computer screen does not inspire me.
But perhaps this is the whole point. The one thing the VIP Art Fair will achieve is separating the real buyers from people like me- the ones with the real passion- because passion won't buy you that Damien Hirst and if more ventures like the VIP Art Fair take off, art lovers such as myself won't even get the chance to take a second look.