“Contemporary Art Apart Fair”

When Jerry Saltz stated, in his column Ask an Art Critic, his opinion on art fairs, he said that back in 2006 he had defined them as “perfect storms of money, marketability, and instant gratification.” But nowadays, he continued, he didn’t mind them so much because he saw them “for what they’ve always been: big sleepover parties where people sniff each other’s scents and make connections in a hurry. Artists get a chance to make a little money, and critics — almost by accident — get to see galleries we might not otherwise have the chance to visit.” Fairs are rituals of vital importance for the contemporary art world, where everyone involved can get together and interact in an ephemeral ecosystem. Vanities burned at the stake is an analysis of this ecosystem.

Artemio’s work is characterized for its constant questioning of power relationships, and an art fair is the ideal place to put them to the test, given the role played by power and hierarchy in the contemporary art world. The installation Contemporary Art Apart Fair, CAAF/CDMX 2019, is part of El arte es obscuro y está lleno de horrors (“Art is dark and full or horrors”), a project that delves into the art-money-power triangle. This is also the subject matter of Artemio’s older project ARTDEFACTO, a company which took commissions and created 3 different products of contemporary art: generic, similar, and unknown pieces.

Vanities burned at the stake reflects upon contemporary art as a space of power and privilege. CAAF/CDMS 2019 is divided into the following sections: middle class galleries with mid-career artists, rich galleries with mainstream artists, and poor galleries with emerging artists. A closer look at the piece reveals the technical elements present in any fair: white walls, stands, hallways and design tables. The complicity between collectors, curators and gallerists is palpable as they hold discussions about everything and about nothing. Separate from this equation are the artists (absent) and the public (grey characters with undefined features).

Artemio reproduces this ecosystem, one which we can peer into and participate in, while of course keeping our distance. In the words of Hito Steyerl, “while, on the one hand, artistic occupation completely invades life, it also cuts off much art from circulation”. It is precisely when we observe from the outside and from a distance that we can truly analyze and understand how power and money set the stage for decisions and transactions in our society, and contemporary art is just a reflection of a larger and more voracious system.

Ixel Rion Lora