Gloom at top European art fair

12th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

With Spain and most major European economies facing their worst recession in years, art galleries are finding it harder to sell contemporary works.

Madrid -- A gloomy air surrounds ARCO, one of Europe's biggest contemporary art fairs, with participants predicting the global financial crisis will put an end to the boom in sales enjoyed in recent years.

"Before people would buy fast and then think about it, people now take their time to decide," said Fiona Liewehr, the director of Georg Karyl Fine Arts gallery in Vienna. The gallery has taken part in the fair every year since 2002.

Among the items the gallery brought to ARCO, which opened Wednesday and runs until Monday, was a black replica of a skeleton that hangs upright inside a wooden crate marked "fragile" in red letters by American artist Mark Dion.

During boom times, the nouveau riche sought after contemporary art as a badge of affluence, as much as luxury cars and branded jewelry.

But with Spain and most major European economies facing their worst recession in years, art galleries are finding it harder to sell contemporary works.

"People have no money to spend,” said Floor Wullems, the director of the Annet Gelink gallery in Amsterdam, which displayed mostly black and white photographs at the fair. “In the end we will sell less than last year."

A total of 238 galleries from 32 nations are taking part in ARCO this year, 57 fewer galleries than in 2008, when the event drew a record 200,000 visitors.

ARCO director Lourdes Fernandez said some foreign galleries declined to take part in the six-day fair this year because of the global economic crisis.

"It is undeniable that the economic recession will affect the fair," she told reporters on the eve of ARCO's opening. "Sales will not be like in past years, but they will not be bad. We want to convince people that, even though there is a crisis, art in a very important component in people's lives, it is enriching and a good investment."

Daniele Pescali, who runs the Imago Art gallery in London, said now is a good time to invest in contemporary art since prices have fallen between 15 and 25 percent over the past six months.

"There is a very, very low cash flow but I think it is still a good investment for people, better than houses or stocks," he said.

The items on display at ARCO from Pescali's gallery, which focuses on works from Italy, ranged in price from 5,000 euros to 2.5 million euros (3.2 million dollars).

Some participating artists, like Britain's Jodie Carey, whose works include sculptures made up of plaster replicas of bones, believe the global economic slowdown could be an opportunity for younger artists like herself. "Galleries are interested in lower prices, and that is an opportunity for the new generations," the 27-year-old told daily newspaper Publico.

The fair is turning its spotlight on emerging markets once again this year, with India as the featured country. Brazil was the spotlighted nation in 2008.

Thirteen galleries and 50 artists are taking part in the "Panorama India” showcase, put together by Mumbai-based curator Bose Krishnamachari. Krishnamachari said he sought to highlight "talent and creativity" during recessionary times.

Organizers said the rise in the number of private collectors in India, the nation's booming economy and the constant appreciation in value of its artists make the Indian market "one of the most promising focal points for contemporary art in the 21st century.”

“In recent months India has become, without a doubt, the big star in the art market," ARCO organizers said in a statement posted on their website.

Daniel Silva/AFP/Expatica

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