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All is unfair in art and privilege

Header Image: Terror Internationale, installation view, as part of Pacific Real Time. Image courtesy Nikau Hindin

I.

I stood outside The Cloud in the rain for a good ten minutes. I was experiencing equal parts intimidation and trepidation, anticipating that I might not be the usual folk to attend an art fair. I did go to the last Auckland Art Fair in 2013 but I moved in and out rather quickly. Much like a Travel Expo I’d been to previously, I had ambitious ideas but no substantial amount of expendable income. I left only with dashed hopes and picturesque business cards.    

No, I didn’t pay for this ticket.

At the entrance, I presented my crumpled paper ticket to the attendant. Across the way, Karen Walker and Petra Bagust hovered together amongst a booming crowd at the Paul Nache Gallery stand. It was wet outside and windy in, yet they appeared pristine and immaculate. I quickly hurried past a handful of swanky dealer stalls to a place littered with more recognisable faces. The not-for-profit editions stand was immediately more welcoming, consisting of Artspace, Corban Estate Arts Centre, Te Tuhi, Te Uru, McCahon House, ST PAUL St Gallery, Gus Fisher Gallery, Objectspace and Malcolm Smith Gallery. To be fair, it was the cheapest gallery stall, with editions and publications from each gallery’s more prominent artists – still not that cheap. I thought about buying one of the Janet Lilo tote bags in a petty attempt to outsell the more popular Kate Newby totes. Ya know, solidarity for my P.I. sisters kinda thing. Then I realised I was/is/have always been basically broke, so no.

I found a friend or two. We went to the drinks table. We circled the entirety of the fair and picked up a new glass each time the line had gone down. Apparently only one drink was complimentary. When we went to Eve Armstrong’s Trading Tables, the pizza bread server swiftly ignored us and took their plate to a more important looking patron. 

I considered several questions repeatedly when thinking on my response for this show. Should art be for the everywoman? Should art even be for all people? Or is it okay for the different facets of the art market to operate in isolation? Of course it’s quite a hard task for art to do all these things at once, but should the Auckland Art Fair be marketed towards students, emerging artists or those that aren’t concerned with profit? Probably not. An art fair is inherently commercial; aimed at making money and generating funding. I don’t find fault with this in the slightest, particularly as Creative New Zealand funding disappears like a mirage. However, the newly branded fair seems somewhat intent on being more inclusive but in this traditionally capitalist model, how is this to be achieved? 

From a personal standpoint as a barely practicing artist with a sensitive disposition, the concept of an art fair is alien to me. The idea of commodifying anything that (ideally) comes from an often vulnerable instinctual place is tricky business. Sure it happens a lot and there is always this struggle between commercial gain and artistic integrity but as I said maybe this place is not for people like me – people with no money and very little privilege. I actually liked some artworks and I support some of the galleries – purely in spirit, of course. But who cares what I think is pretty?

(I did quite like the Mike Heyne’s New of the Uruguay Round (2016) video works for CIRCUIT located at the back end of The Cloud, next to the toilets.)    

Pacific Real Time, Quishile Caran, 'Fijianx', 2016

Quishile Charan, Fijianx, as part of Pacific Real Time, 2016. Image courtesy of Sophie Wallace

II.

Prior to the Auckland Art Fair, two Boosted campaigns were launched by independent curator Francis McWhannell for two emerging artist projects under the non-commercial Pacific Real Time initiative.  Both campaigns requested $1000 to have stalls at the Auckland Art Fair amongst some very hungry gallery sharks and potentially wealthy benefactors. “Pacific Real Time…uses contemporary art to explore what it means to be a Pacific artist or art professional in a globalised world, particularly one which has been dominated by northern hemisphere mores, morals and institutions.”

One of those campaigns featured solo artist Quishile Charan with a work titled Fijianx.  ‘Quishile Charan is a young Indo-Fijian artist currently studying at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts. Fijianx is very physically present in the space, extending well over the fixed walls of the interior space.  The seven plinths are covered in haldi (turmeric). Fijian prayer coconuts are situated at the top of each plinth. Not hard to miss, yet when I went to the fair a second time, it again seemed unassuming and overlooked. Charan, as an artist, is quite outspoken and indeed she is very vocal about issues of displacement, whitewashing and political corruption. Did nobody see the irony in the inclusion of this work in a traditionally Eurocentric predominantly white-privileged industry? The inclusion of the work did indicate a glimmer of hope that people might be developing a social conscience.  This was definitely a wildcard.   

Auckland-based collective Terror Internationale (formerly known as Terror Management) is a group of young artists based in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland. ‘They run their own space, Halloween Gallery, above Joy Bong restaurant on K’ Rd, where they recently held the first exhibition in Aotearoa of work from Bernadette Corporation. Art obsesses them. And they want art to obsess you too.’ I initially judged this group a bit harshly. Their charcoal stained fingers pressed firmly on the pulse. Terror Internationale even created their own stall. I’m trying to cast my mind back to specific artworks but I recall a derelict couch, some shelving, an excessively large gothy t-shirt – basically a student apartment. I might be missing something, I didn’t notice any underlying deep social commentary but that’s not a necessity. If I did feel any real negatives about the work it is that it feels exclusive like an insider joke. It’s hard for outsiders/the public to access.

Jokes and deep-seated resentment aside, I did come away from the Karangahape Road Halloween gallery space somewhat inspired. These artists have created works that feel very fresh yet self-indulgent. As a group, they come across as quite confident and they know exactly what they are doing and exactly what the New Zealand art industry needs – an injection of personality. There is no doubt in my mind though that the artists of Terror Internationale will be the Michael Lett’s, Simon Denny’s and Sarah Hopkinson’s of the future. This stall, although aesthetically different from many at the fair, absolutely belonged there.     

If anything puzzled me, it was the inclusion of these two artist entities under the same project discussing ‘Pacific’ arts. The perplexing use of the word ‘Pacific’ seems off to me, as if its implied that being located in the geographic Pacific region is an indicator of what it means to be ‘Pacific’…Thankfully though, both Boosted funds reached their goals, but what would it signify about arts supporters if Terror Internationale’s work was selected and Quishile Charan’s socio-political focused work was not? Having said all that, the inclusion of not-for-profit galleries and non-commercial projects was definitely a strong and welcomed move.        

III.

There were several unrepresented emerging practitioners included in this fair, occupying spaces that would have cost others approximately $8-10k to buy. The open plan of the fair did not mirror the open social intermingling that the organisers were (I am making an assumption here) hoping to encourage. Segmenting each gallery with a space that is equal to its local ranking and/or financial contribution creates further hierarchy. Pitting dealer galleries against emerging artists for space…is perhaps a tad unfair? It’s refreshing though to see young emerging artists with strong voices advocating for themselves.   

My suggestion for the next installment of the art fair is to really evaluate the use of space. Get rid of standard white walls – they create literal and metaphoric division. Galleries might actually have to think more creatively about what they are to present. Like a giant community jumbo sale, maybe a bit of anonymity or leveling of the playing field might encourage more diversified social interaction. Change the title from Auckland Art Fair to Auckland Art Basel for immediate critical gravitas. I mean, if this is to be an actual critical and commercial success, which would ideally raise international interest, the fair needs to actually think about being more than just a trading centre for Aotearoa’s most marketable.

All in all…better than last time.

Natasha Matila-Smith

Credit avaseymour67 Instagram

Image courtesy of AVASEYMOUR67 via Instagram

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This entry was posted in: Reviews

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Paul Wood says

    “My suggestion for the next installment of the art fair is to really evaluate the use of space. Get rid of standard white walls – they create literal and metaphoric division. Galleries might actually have to think more creatively about what they are to present. Like a giant community jumbo sale, maybe a bit of anonymity or leveling of the playing field might encourage more diversified social interaction. ”

    It’s not a social event, it’s a trade fair. Aside from the necessity of walls to hang things on, the walls are necessary for the galleries to distinguish themselves. Anonymity would be completely contrary to the point of the event which is for dealer galleries to promote themselves and their artists.

    “Change the title from Auckland Art Fair to Auckland Art Basel for immediate critical gravitas.”

    Art Basel is an international art fair with multiple venues. You can’t just bung “Basel” on the end – it’s a trademark like Coca Cola and Disney.

    “I mean, if this is to be an actual critical and commercial success, which would ideally raise international interest, the fair needs to actually think about being more than just a trading centre for Aotearoa’s most marketable.”

    To reiterate, it’s an art fair. Being “a trading centre for Aotearoa’s most marketable” is the whole point of the exercise. It’s not an arts festival.

  2. John Smith says

    Julian Schnabels son, Vito, mentioned in an interview that most artists he knows don’t really go to art fairs because they’re too corporate, and he probably knows a fair few artists as his dad was friends with Jean-Michel Basqiuat, Warhol, Herring etc. I don’t think artists should be too consumed by Auckland Art Fair or art fairs in general and focus on work. Let collectors collect, dealers deal, writers write and artists make art, because deep down everyone needs each other to keep the ball rolling.

    Other then that it was an interesting read.

  3. “Change the title from Auckland Art Fair to Auckland Art Basel for immediate critical gravitas.” And incur massive legal action as well as becoming a critical joke! Seriously the writer obviously knows nothing about the history, commercial imperatives and nature of the art market. That is what an art fair is, a market. Perhaps the writer has confused it with a biennale? By the way I suggest a spell check before publishing.

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