Yesterday I was invited to the London Global Art Fair 2015, which takes place May 21-23 at Olympia, Kensington, London.

With 150 galleries from 40 countries exhibiting works by over 500 artists, aged 25 (Nicole Wong and Vivien Zhang) to 93 (SH Raza) from 63 countries across the globe, in walling that would wrap over 13 times around the Royal Albert Hall, London Global Art Fair is as much a market as it is a celebration of creativity, art and culture.

But beyond the art work, which was quite well selected by Tim Marlow, Sunhee Kim, Christopher Philips and Dorothee Brill, I was interested in networking, attending talks, and discovering new artist for the international show I am curating for 2016 in New York, London and Spain (and currently discussing the possibility of extending it to other countries).

I attended three talks:

At 12:30: “10 Things You Didn’t Know About… The Art Market Today”, by The Financial Times art columnist and author of “Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century” Georgina Adam.

It was a very illustrative and lively talk, which raised a few good points. Here are some notes I took:

  1. There isn’t ONE art market. Post-war & contemporary make up around 50% of the market, and it grew 19% in one year, but there are others (which are all down except the best of the best pieces) like antiques, all masters, silver, Japanese, etc.
  2. Big ticket sales are a tiny percentage of the whole market: sales of over 1 million euros represent only 0.43% of the total, and those above 10 million make up only 0.03%. There are only 800 artist in the whole world who sell a work for over 1 million.
  3. The auction process has NOT become more transparent and open. It’s still full of insider codes, signs, and strategies.
  4. “Not for sale” is not always true. It usually means “Not for sale to you, unless you are…”
  5. Growth markets are not major players, except China. The USA is still the largest market (39%) followed by the UK and China (22% each). Growth markets combined, without China, only make 5% of the market. One caveat: Quatar is so secretive in its acquisitions, that there is no reliable data. And one curiosity: online sales represent 6% of the total.
  6. China buys “cultural relics”, while new Silicon Valley “billionaires” buy contemporary works.
  7. The myth of a big collector who orders a piece stolen for his/her collection is just a myth. Stolen art works are almost always used in drug deals as collateral.
  8. The art market is not unregulated, as many people think. That, of course, does not mean it is correctly regulated, or that there is not money laundering taking place.
  9. On the other hand, the art market IS quite secretive and opaque.
  10. Biennials ARE commercial.

At 14:00: “At Some Point, Freedom of Expression Defines Art” panel chaired by Kathleen Soriano, with Bonnie Greer, Helene Lundbye Petersen, and Mimsy.

Kathleen quoted Michael Attenborough, saying that even since leaving his post as artistic director of the Almeida Theatre two years ago, “something is beginning to creep in [at arts organisations] that I can best describe as self-censorship”. “There is an apprehension growing up around access to subsidy,” he said. “People are admitting privately that they are concerned they are self-censoring what they are doing. This is catastrophic.”

Bonnie explicitly said, and repeated “cultural institutions are a mafia”, and offered a shocking fact: ALL of the one person (solo) exhibitions at large cultural institutions in the USA last year came out of (are represented by) only 5 dealers.

Helene talked about her idealistic view of the world.

But the most interesting comments, IMHO, came from Mimsy. The artist, who has decided to go by a pseudonym for fear that her awesome work “Terrorist attack on the Sylvanian Family toys” may make her a target of extremist and fundamentalists, mentioned that “quite often the victim puts him/herself into a morally unaccountable position, and we all allow it”. On the other hand she did criticize the power of the group to suppress the individual.

At 19:00: “Vanity Fair Artist Panel Discussion: The Changing Nature of the Artist’s Role in the Global Art Wold”, sponsored by Vanity Fair, chaired by Art15 director Kate Bryan, and including the artists Charming Baker (UK), Faiza Butt (Pakistan), Joshua Yeldham (Australia), Ndidi Emefiele (Nigeria), Samia Halaby (Palestine), and Adel Al Quraishi (Saudi Arabia).

As was to be expected, it was a lot more about the artists (although they did make an effort to control their egos) than the “nature” of the “role” or the “global art world”. Nevertheless, I did take a couple notes I do want to share:

Faiza said that art is so personal that artists do not want to talk about their work because “it’ like confessing a crime: too personal”. To which Samia replied that art is NOT personal, it’s social, cultural, since artists use the materials of their time, are inspired by other artists, etc.

And one curious trivia Kate (I believe) mentioned: Michelangelo stopped his work at the Sistine Chapel because he was not being paid. Eventually payments resumed and he finished his work. Historic documents show his bank account had today’s equivalent of 50 million dollars.

After the talk I went over to Magma and bought a few books. But like I said, I was there to meet art, artists, curators, marchants, and gallerists, and I did. I was, as always, captivated by the work of Golnaz Fathi, and specially Hiroshi Senju (who could walk by “Waterfall (Day)”, 2014, acrylic and fluorescent pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 51.3 x 152.6 inches/130 x 388 cm and not stop in awe?) at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, where I talked with its director Susan McCaffrey; I also met other gallerists like Alyssa Menegat from Jenkins Johnson, Zhanxin Yang from Gallery Yang, or Arvydas Žalpys from meno parkas gallery, and enjoyed varied work around the fair, like the one from Kate MccGwire, Shih Yung-Chun, Laisvydė Šalčiūtė, Katerina Belkina, and many others. Also, Victoria, The Cob Gallery, invited me to brunch today at Blacks Club to celebrate the exhibition by British artist Alexander James ”Vanitas”. Too bad I had an important business meeting and I could not attend.

The two most interesting artists I spoke with were comic illustrator Paulina Vassileva and Patricija Gilytė. I will definitely be keeping in touch with them.

Before I left I was invited to a reception by a well know middle eastern gallerist, so I had one of the 10,412 glasses of champagne that are drunk during the fair.