It was probably inevitable that art fairs would become the subject matter of photography. Car fairs, or rather the young women who are used as props to showcase cars, already have (c.f. Jacqueline Hassink: Car Girls). In fact, it might tell us something that it is those two types of fairs we’re seeing in photobooks, a connection made explicit by Huub Mous in an essay for Dolph Kessler’s Art Fairs. (more)
As Mous makes clear, there are considerable differences between car and art fairs: At art fairs “what is shown is overshadowed by the very act of showing.” In other words, while car shows ultimately are about the cars, art fairs aren’t about the art: They are centered on themselves. They are entirely self referential.
Needless to say, the best way to deal with this fact is to simply treat art fairs for what they are - and not for what they pretend to be. Which brings us back to Art Fairs. If you have never been to one the book is probably all you need to see. In a nutshell, it’s people in fancy suits or dresses, sitting on chairs that are a tad too low, next to tables that are really too low, in front of usually oversized pieces of art, looking at either their phones of their Macbooks, occasionally surrounded by other people who are not quite as expensively dressed and who are looking at what’s on the walls or standing on the floor.
In fact, I would rather look at Art Fairs than go to an actual fair. Of course, the photography was created for effect - if that’s what we want to call composing images in this context, but there are few gotcha photographs (I remember one, of a family standing next to a life-size statue of a little girl, which, inevitably, looks like she’s part of the family). Instead, the photography ultimately is about the human condition under these particular circumstances.
Given that the book also comes with a set of essays and an interview with the makers of the Frieze Art Fair, there is considerable contents to ponder upon. Add the chapter on art fairs from Seven Days in the Art World (which, btw, is a must read for anyone interested in the art world), and you’ll have art fairs covered.
Art Fairs, photographs by Dolph Kessler, essays (Dutch/English) by Hans den Hartog Jager, Olav Velthuis, Huub Mous, interview by Kees Keijer, 160 pages, d’jongeHond, 2010