Biennial Fairs Analysis Switzerland

The great art fair scramble

Moving the opening of the Venice Biennale to May has set the cat among the pigeons

Good for whom? Maurizio Cattelan’s pigeon-laden The Others, which he made for the 2011 Venice Biennale. Photo: Valentina Tanni

When it was announced that the Venice Biennale was shifting the date for the opening of its 2015 edition to 9 May (with previews from 6 to 8 May), it sent the whole art market into a frenzy. The new date is a full month earlier than usual, and as the art world is largely articulated, every other year, around Venice, the change means that the Biennale, auctions and a number of fairs across the world will be crammed into the same fortnight in May.

To complicate the situation, Art Basel in Hong Kong (ABHK) then changed its dates from May to March, going head to head with other fairs. There was a scramble to find new dates between these events, while dealers, curators and collectors found themselves facing a travel schedule of Byzantine complexity.

“The art calendar is like a huge jigsaw puzzle,” says François Curiel, the chairman of Christie’s Asia Pacific. “It all fits together; you change one piece and there’s a big problem.” The firm is still pondering a change to its New York auction dates in May, although Sotheby’s has already decided not to move.

Venice’s shift was triggered by the 2015 World Expo in Milan, which opens on 1 May; the Biennale’s organisers hope to pick up at least some of the 20 million visitors who are expected in Milan. But its new date clashed with the major New York sales and Frieze New York, which was scheduled to open at the same time, along with nine satellite fairs. One of them, Pulse New York, has already decided to return to its March slot; many others have yet to confirm their 2015 dates.

Spring break

Although next May will be busy, it is nothing compared to March, which has become a global marathon. First off is the Armory Show in New York (5-8 March, with a preview on 4 March), followed by ABHK (15-17 March, with previews from 13 to 14 March) and Art Dubai (18-21 March). Exhibiting at all three is the Stakhanovite Parisian dealer Nathalie Obadia, who says: “I will have two suitcases prepared, one for cold weather, one for hot. I’ll go home, dump one and pick up the other.”

Further demonstrating how problematic the calendar scramble is, Reed Expositions, the organiser of Paris’s Fiac, initially chose May for its new Los Angeles venture, Fiac LA; it scheduled the event to take place between Frieze New York and Art Basel, before backtracking and moving it to the end of March. This adds yet another fair—this time on the US West Coast—to the March marathon.

Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, says he is relieved that he has moved the Hong Kong fair to March, all the same. “Holding ABHK in May was tough,” he says. “The clash with Venice, the auctions and the proximity to Art Basel meant that a big part of the art world wouldn’t come—and that would have made it very hard to build the HK brand.” Not to mention the apocalyptic downpours in May that sometimes close Hong Kong’s airport. But shifting the dates in the fully booked Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre was “a huge challenge”, says a spokeswoman for the venue.

Flying visits

Any change in today’s globalised world impacts on another event. ABHK’s new dates mean that it will go head to head with The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht, meaning that a dealer such as Franck Prazan of Galerie Applicat-Prazan will be, as he puts it, doing “the splits”—racing from one to the other. “I’ll set up in Maastricht, then jet into Hong Kong, and then jet back for the end of the Dutch fair,” he says.

One fair that is not changing its dates is Art Dubai, which starts on 18 March, the day after ABHK closes. Antonia Carver, the director of Art Dubai, thinks the proximity of the two events is an advantage. “It’s best to combine lots of things in one region,” she says. “Visitors to Hong Kong can stop off in the Emirates on their way back and see the fair, and even catch the Kochi [until 29 March] and Sharjah [opening on 5 March] biennials.”

All this raises the question: are there too many art fairs? Among the most dedicated fair-goers are the Florida-based collectors Don and Mera Rubell, who seem to attend them all, although Mera denies this. “Even if it doesn’t look like it, we are selective,” she says. “We go where we feel we will see the most and learn the most, and it is a physical marathon—but we think of them as a cultural workout. There are definitely not too many fairs: the more the better. They open the door to collecting in every price range.”

Fairs: where and when

The Armory Show, New York, 5-8 March

Pulse New York, 5-8 March

Tefaf, Maastricht, 13-22 March

Art Basel in Hong Kong, 15-17 March

Art Dubai, 18-21 March

Fiac LA, 26-29 March

SP-Arte, São Paulo, 9-12 April

Frieze New York, 14-17 May

Art Basel, 18-21 June

Expo Chicago, 17-20 September (tbc)

Frieze London/Frieze Masters , 8-11 October (tbc)

Fiac, Paris, 22-25 October

Art Basel in Miami Beach, 3-6 December

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