SP-Arte Fairs
"Particles of Love", by Luiz Zerbini (2020). The artist is represented by Fortes D'aloia & Gabriel. Photo: Pat Kilgore. Courtesy Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro.

*By Giulia Garcia and Miguel Groisman


CFive months after the announcement of the cancellation, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, of the in-person fair that would take place in the first week of April, SP-Arte will return in 2020 with a new digital platform. The SP-Arte Viewing Room takes place between the 24th and 30th of August and has more than 130 exhibitors. “This new virtual format has worked very well for us, even with an audience that is still shy about purchasing works through the internet”, emphasizes Eduardo Mansini, director of Athena Gallery. He points out that in the months of July and August the market returned to activity and that, given the fact that SP-Arte did not take place at the beginning of the year, his expectations are high for this edition.

SP-Arte's adherence to the virtual integrates the paradigm observed around the world resulting from the isolation measures implemented across the globe; first emerging as temporary solutions, then as alternatives. Perhaps face-to-face and online can coexist in a post-pandemic future, and that was the question posed by arte!brasileiros to some of the most relevant galleries on the national scene. Their reflections, addressing limitations and benefits of the digital format, and even the functions of the fair, can be seen below:

at a distance 

For the gallery owners interviewed, fairs are moments for creating bonds and contacts, which are necessary for the art market. As pointed out by Márcio Botner, founder ofThe Gentle Carioca, a gallery owner is not just a seller of works of art, “he sells history, trust and exchange. So it transcends the issue of a simple purchase.” This must be taken to fairs, whatever the formats. “As in face-to-face fairs, the most important thing is to develop relationships with collectors, meet new interested parties and promote the gallery's artists. And, in the event of doing business, even better”, says Murilo Castro, director of the homonymous gallery. 

“We have invested a lot in recent months in virtual exhibitions and digital platforms. However, we know that art is an experience that deserves to be lived and that online is not enough for itself”, points out Alexandre Gabriel, director of Forts D'Aloia and Gabriel. For exhibitors, the digital environment presents new challenges in terms of approaching collectors, presenting works and involving new customers. “Of course, the online issue creates a huge gap. You don't have this moment of meeting, this opportunity for one to be culturally infecting the other, in a more sensitive way”, explains Botner.

“We know that art needs a desire, it needs an impulse, nobody dies if they don't buy art”, says Márcio Botner, founder of the gallery A Gentil Carioca

New[s] format[s]

The director of A Gentil Carioca believes that to reduce this distance it would be necessary to create an “experience” on the virtual platform. “I really miss something that is personalized. Something that brings you almost the smell of the gallery, that makes you feel part of the event. I still don't see it within this SP-Arte format”. 

However, Eduardo Masini highlights that the SP-Arte Viewing Room is more elaborate than other platforms brought by fairs of similar size. “It has several resources that allow each exhibitor to set up their profile and works page in different ways. Thus, it makes the public's experience when visiting it more dynamic and not as tiring as in the first online fairs that appeared earlier this year”, he says. In addition to SP-Arte, Athena participated in the Not canceled, a Brazilian online fair that took place in July 2020. As well as the Marilia Razuk Gallery, who was also at Frieze New York. 

Razuk, in turn, agrees with Botner on the need to create a space of experience and exchange in the virtual. He already sees, however, the features of SP-ArteVR fulfilling part of this role and being a possible attraction for collectors. For her, the virtual environments created make the event more interesting for those who attend it and give back “a little of that glamor that existed in face-to-face fairs” with the parallel programming. In addition to the exhibition, SP-ArteVR will feature online debates, interviews with artists and curators, presentation of works, among other free activities promoted by the fair and exhibitors.

Razuk supposes that the advantages of SP-Arte over the new format are given by the moment when the viewing room it happens. "Is it over there [Fernanda Feitosa] had time to observe other fairs and organize for online”. Botner agrees and notes that fairs are adapting to this new format and tend to improve over time. “The first major fairs (such as Basel and Frieze New York) were free. Now, SP-Arte and Frieze Londres are starting to charge the galleries a fee. This demonstrates a desire on the part of fairs to adapt to this new moment. Likewise, galleries, collectors and artists will also have to adapt,” she says. 

expository freedom

The exhibition of works is also altered by the virtual medium. While in a physical fair each gallery has a space in the Bienal pavilion, in the online version the works are displayed on the virtual pages of each exhibitor and also individually with greater detail of the piece. 

This brought changes in the choice of works by some galleries. “For the online fair, we chose a larger number of works that we would not normally take to the physical fair because of their dimensions. Possibly we would take a smaller amount of sculptures”, says Erica Schmatz, from Almeida and Dale. Thais Hilal, from OÁ Gallery, states that the online event gave the opportunity to present a project developed for the occasion, a solo by the artist Hilal Sami Hilal, who “if it were in person, there would be no physical space corresponding to the space we work, which is the gallery itself”.

For Alexandre Gabriel, “online fairs have their advantages, such as presenting works that are physically in different parts of the world, without having to transport them. Or even show works that are not possible to be installed in a booth in the Bienal pavilion, such as the sculpture by Ernesto Neto”. Márcio Botner's strategy, however, went in the opposite direction. Gentil Carioca takes smaller works by its best artists to SP-Arte. "Collectors will have an opportunity to see great little gems from each of Gentil's artists.”

Future hybrid

In the words of the gallery owners, the vision of a hybrid future becomes clearer, merging the interaction of the virtual world with traditional formats. This is not something entirely new, although it has not yet been adopted on such a scale: “These were already announced changes. But a much greater focus was given to this type of action, because it ended up being the main one at that moment. I believe that in the future we will combine the two ways, because the face-to-face is very important, but the virtual takes you where the face-to-face cannot”, says Marilia Razuk. And she adds: “We can't be everywhere in the world to be at every fair. So the virtual form makes it possible to get in touch with what is happening without having to move”.

In line with this statement, Marcos Amaro – one of the directors of the Galeria Kogan Amaro and president of FAMA – believes that this is an “irreversible process”. This does not mean, however, the end of face-to-face editions, given that there is among the gallery owners “the desire to circulate again, to be able to meet, to go to cultural institutions”, as the director of A Gentil Carioca notes.

“When we have the face-to-face [fairs], it will be a kind of competition. It won't be very easy, but it can be a second module of the face-to-face event. Fairs can have both formats, says Marilia Razuk

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