The first rule of sale at the Venice Biennale is that we don’t talk about sales at the Venice Biennale. The exhibition’s sole purpose is “to bring art to people to encourage new thoughts and perspectives on the world, rather than to sell works,” Ralph Rugoff, the artistic director of the 2019 event, told Artnet News.
“The International Art Exhibitions of the Biennale di Venezia are not a fair,” added Maria Cristiana Costanzo, the Biennale’s communications director. And to avoid confusion, she reiterated: “We have decided to remove the names of the art dealers from the exhibition labels starting with the 2019 edition.”
Still, rumors of sales in Venice, e.gproved by various headlines over the years Description of the Biennale more or less than that best art fair in the world. It offers the opportunity to present the François Pinaults to the world Hook Sigmar Polkes away from museums for their own private collections and for oligarchs to anchor their yachts in the crystal blue lagoon (that is, if these ships have not yet been impounded). For this reason, galleries and private donors shoulder regularly significant costs the shipping and insurance of the works of their artists; six months rental and occupation of exhibition space; plus hosting lavish lunches, and dinners aperitif. The result of their investment is arguably the world’s leading exhibition of contemporary art. So the commercial entanglements can’t be all that bad after all? But since market participants are determined to keep their business activities at the Biennale a secret, how does it all work?
Branding versus buying
Given the prestige of the Venice Biennale, “it’s inherently a bit problematic to talk about it in terms of sales and money-making,” an art-world publicist told Artnet News, providing some background. However, they further specified that the Biennale “less a sale event as one marketing Event.”
The difference is that dealers and consultants are sometimes less interested in moving inventory locally than elsewhere, especially when a large proportion of the works locally are unsaleable for various reasons. They may be performance-based, like the last two editions’ Golden Lion winners, or loans from institutional collections, as in the case of many of the late artists who made up nearly half of Cecilia Alemani’s The Milk of Dreams exhibition. ”
This year, the artist Latifa Echakhch is presenting sculptures in the Swiss Pavilion that were assembled from materials recovered from previous biennials, to be dismantled and recycled after the end of the biennial. It is no coincidence that works are available from her “in loose connection with her Venice presentation”. constantly Solo show at Pace London, gallery executive director Karine Haimo told Artnet News, and more will be shown in her solo booth planned for autumn’s Frieze New York.
“As a commercial gallery, we focus on selling within our walls,” Haimo said, not meaning in the Giardini. However, she emphasized that sales “actually lags behind the actual realization of the projects”.
London-based Sibylle Rochat, one of the many advisors who will attend this year’s vernissage, described the prestige of an artist being accepted into the Biennale as one useful a sort of “validation” for her clients, whether it’s confirming their past support of this artist’s work or inspiring potential support in the future. “It’s a nice introduction, for example, if there’s an artist that I really love but is quite expensive,” she said. “It will be easier for me if we come back and say, ‘Do you remember that artist we saw in Venice that you loved so much? This is available and I think it would suit your collection.’”
No PDFs in the pavilions
For the work available, the buying process is not that mysterious. As with a fair, it can be as simple as contacting the artist’s gallery and asking about prices and availability – just wait until you’re outside.
“You can’t walk into the pavilion, see a gallery director and say, ‘Hey, long time no see, how much is that?'” said London and Milan-based consultant Mattia Pozzoni. “That would definitely be incredibly rude.”
OOften a purchase isn’t “something to decide on the spot,” he adds, “because we’re not talking about $50,000 or $100,000 paintings—the works are a bit more ambitious and expensive.” For example, Martin Puryear’s sculptures in the 2019 US Pavilion cost between $1.5 million and $4 million. Consequently, the collectors who take works home usually also have the means to exhibit them: Pinault inaugurated Punta della Dogana with his Sigmar Polkes; Jochen Zeitz swept the 2013 Biennale to eventually fill Africa largest contemporary art museum; Peter Brant has shown his work by Urs Fischer and Steven Shearer from the 2011 Biennale at the Brant Foundation; and the Rachofskys have featured Guy Ben-Ners Kit tree house from the 2005 Israel Pavilion at the Rachofsky House.
According to Pozzoni, to secure a great artist’s work at the Biennale, it is essential to be “on the front line to support the artist at the Biennale,” which means sponsoring presentations or showing a long-standing interest. In contrast to the frenetic, adrenaline-pumping pace of an art fair, e.gEverything is a long talk; Milan collector Sweva Taurisano by Collezione Taurisano knew she wanted to buy Adelita Husni-Bey’s video installation for the 2017 Italian Pavilion almost a year before its premiere. “We were privileged because we had the relationships with the curator, the artist and the gallery, and we were able to follow the creation process of the piece,” she said. “We are committed to buying early; the Venice Biennale cannot be put on hold.”
The works shown in Venice invariably influence what will be sold at trade fairs over the next two years, however The sheer caliber of both the work and the collector is a key difference between the two. “Just as fancy people don’t go to the fairs themselves — they send a representative, consultant, or collaborator — Venice is where they would see art in real life,” said Los Angeles-based consultant Harmony Murphy. And seasoned Art collectors come to the Biennale “to pursue an intellectual curiosity,” said Rochat, and beginners or speculative buyers shouldn’t come to the vernissage at all. “There’s nothing interesting for them there.”
Kill the starving artist
“Up until 1973 the Biennale had a sales office, and it was pretty straightforward,” says Pozzoni, recalling a time when sales weren’t so maligned. “It’s not that I’m a proponent of reopening, but I do think that in 2022 we can stop being so naïve; At the end of the day, these galleries are paying to keep the exhibition going, so I think it’s normal that they’re trying to capitalize on that.”
Everywhere everyone agrees that whatever the market aspects underpinning the world’s first contemporary art exhibition, the real focus remains the art, then the ensuing conversations between dealers, collectors, journalists and especially given the institutional scale and quality of the Works on view, curators and museum directors.
“It’s like meeting at a trade show: there’s a social aspect and a business aspect,” says Marta Fontolan, Senior Director of Sprüth Magers Los Angeles. (But because it “can be difficult to concentrate” during the vernissage, Monika Sprüth also noted that “many important collectors come to visit later.”)
To maximize your time in Venice, Pozzoni recommended “picking three or four things you can’t miss, and then wandering the rest of the time.” Taurisano monitors exhibition locations on Google Maps; Haimo makes restaurant reservations months in advance; and Rochat organizes a daily schedule of events and prioritizes exhibitions by artists she knows the least about: “I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone,” she said.
Murphy remains unfazed by the reality of the sale. “If contemporary art and the market are so closely intertwined, is it still a relevant critique to distinguish these aspects?” she asked. “If these artists get paid, so be it. Perhaps we are the generation that will kill the myth of the starving artist.”
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