Donna Gordon brought my attention to this article [Link], and Mindy Solomon and Lori Johns, two prominent former Saint Petersburg gallerists who have moved on to the art fairs (and in Mindy's case, Miami).
There is no denying that the Art Fairs (AF) are concentrations of pooled money and talent resulting in sizable sales, the kind that buyers, gallerists, dealers and artists dream of. Well before Mindy left, top-tier Saint Pete Gallerist Jennifer Kosharek and I had a long talk with her about the benefits of the art fairs. It was kind of Mindy Solomon to offer her hard-earned wisdom. Reading this NYT article brought that conversation to mind, and the times I have been to Art Basel.
These movable art feasts have become a global circuit, much in the way that the circus used to travel from town to town through the season. Each AF is like a temporary node in a global network, much like the internet, only infinitely slower and more ponderous. In the same way that people who attend workshops or meeting a celebrity for a few hours believe they are getting privileged information and "getting to know" the principals, the reality is something akin to getting to know a stripper via several lap dances, although the superficiality is close enough for the art world -- and strippers.
Gallerists, buyers and artists capable of participating in this circuit become pilgrims on a path to mirage destinations, lined not with gold, fumadors, bricks and seashells, but with dot coms, email, and hyperlinks leading to intense week-long bouts of parties, networking, conspicuous consumption, pretense and much more. The AF circuit has become the major artery for spreading high concepts, art, and defining new elites at this time. In these locations, art towns are springing up, along with trendoid infrastructure. It is inevitable.
Side shows (the lesser satellite fairs) have already become remoras ringing the Big Top at AFs. These are the entry points for lesser gallerists, buyers and artists, and help support and define the main shows. They are kindly described as the avant-gardes in comparison to the more conventional (the touch of death) artists/works found under The Big Top, from where they're viewed as a kind of Salon des Refusees. The effect on artists and gallerists in cities outside (and to a degree inside) the circuit is that of being separate and unequal. There is no real continuum between the two, but a yawning gap that is becoming more difficult to bridge artistically and financially. They are spinning their own genres, such as "Hotel Paintings" and "bathroom sculptures", "Hotel Fairs", "Artist Platforms", "Gallery Platforms" etc. The AFs compete with one another. The only way to do this is to be more spectacular (the performance artists carry a disparate part of this burden), bombastic, and pseudo-elite. This has been ongoing for over a decade, has become a cliche' and will soon field-reverse and perhaps get a lot more interesting.
Art Fairs are here to stay, and are evolving rapidly as they come of age. It remains to be seen what will become of galleries and artists outside their sphere, but at the moment, they are being diminished.