There’s a lot of business done at biennials. This is how the art market does a delicate dance in Venice

The first rule of sales at the Venice Biennale is that we don’t talk about sales at the Venice Biennale. The sole purpose of the exhibition is “to make art accessible to people to encourage new thoughts and ways of seeing the world, rather than to sell works”, said Ralph Rugoff, artistic director of the event in 2019. , at Artnet News.

“The international art exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia are not a fair”, added Maria Cristiana Costanzo, communication manager of the biennale. And, to avoid confusion, she said, “we have decided to remove the names of art dealers from exhibition labels since the 2019 edition”.

However, rumors about sales in Venice carried, econfirmed by various titles over the years biennial description more or less like the best art fair in the world. This is an opportunity for the François Pinaults of the world to hang Sigmar Polkes away from museums for their own private collections, and for the oligarchs to anchor their yachts in the crystal blue lagoon (i.e. if these vessels have not yet been seized). It is for this reason that galleries and private donors regularly assume the significant costs to ship and insure the works of their artists; six months of rental and staffing of exhibition space; in addition to organizing sumptuous lunches, dinners and aperitif. The result of their investments is undoubtedly the first exhibition of contemporary art in the world. So surely business entanglements can’t all be bad? But with market players determined to keep their business activities at the biennial secret, the question is, how does it all work?

Artist Mark Bradford jokes with French businessman and art collector Francois Pinault during an interview with AFP on May 9, 2017, during the 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images.

Brand image versus purchase

Given the prestige of the Venice Biennale, “talking about it in terms of sales and revenue is itself a bit problematic,” an art world publicist told Artnet News, speaking in the background. They specify, however, that the Biennale is “minus one sale event that a marketing Event.”

The difference is that dealers and advisors are sometimes less interested in moving inventory onsite than elsewhere, especially when a large portion of the artwork onsite is unsaleable for various reasons. They may be performance-based, like the Golden Lion winners of the past two editions, or on loan from institutional collections, as is the case with many of the deceased artists who make up nearly half of Cecilia’s exhibition. Alemani, “The Milk of Dreams”. ”

At the Swiss Pavilion this year, the artist Latifa EchakhchThe presentation of sculptures assembled from materials recovered from previous biennales must be dismantled and recycled at the end of the biennale. It is no coincidence that works “vaguely linked to her presentation in Venice” are available at her house In progress solo show at Pace London, gallery director Karine Haimo informed Artnet News, and more will be featured at her planned solo booth for Frieze New York in the fall.

“As a commercial gallery, we focus on the sales aspects within our walls,” said Haimo, which means rather than in the Giardini. That said, she pointed out that sales “really take a back seat to actually getting projects done.”

London-based Sibylle Rochat, one of the many advisers who will be attending this year’s vernissage, described the prestige of an artist included in the biennale as a useful a sort of “validation” for his clients, whether confirming their past support for that 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 like but is quite expensive,” she said. “It’s going to be easier for me when 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. ‘”

Adelita Husni-Bey, Reading (2017).  Installation view of the Italian Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Photo by Awakening/Getty Images.

Adelita Husni Bey, Reading (2017). Installation view of the Italian pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Photo: Éveil/Getty Images.

No PDF in the Pavilions

For available work, the buying process is not so mysterious. As with a fair, it can be as simple as contacting the artist’s gallery and asking for prices and availability – wait until you’re outside.

“You can’t walk into the pavilion, see a gallery manager and say ‘Hey, it’s been a long time, how much does it cost?’,” said London and Milan-based adviser Mattia Pozzoni. “That would be incredibly rude under any circumstances.”

OOften a purchase isn’t “something you can 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 more expensive”. Martin PuryearThe sculptures in the 2019 US pavilion, for example, cost between $1.5 million and $4 million.

Consequently, collectors who bring works home also often have the means to exhibit them: Pinault inaugurated the Punta della Dogana with his Sigmar Polkes; Jochen Zeitz swept the 2013 biennale to finally fill Africa’s the largest museum of contemporary art; Peter Brant showed his pieces by Urs Fischer and steven shear the 2011 Biennale at the Brant Foundation; and the Rachofskys showed Guy Bennerit is Tree house kit of the 2005 Israeli Pavilion at the Rachofsky House.

Martin Puryear's Swallowed Sun (monstrance and volute) (2019) at the American Pavilion in Venice, 2019. Image courtesy Ben Davis.

by Martin Puryear Soleil Avalé (Monstrance and Volute) (2019) at the American Pavilion in Venice, 2019. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

To get the work of a major artist at the biennale, it is essential, according to Pozzoni, to be “in the front line of supporting the artist at the biennale”, which means sponsoring presentations or having shown a long-term interest. date. Unlike the frantic, adrenalized pace of an art fair, thit’s all one long conversation; Milanese collector Sveva Taurisano de Collezione Taurisano knew she wanted to buy the Italian Pavilion 2017 video installation in Adelita Husni-Bey almost a year before its release. “We were privileged because we had the relationships with the curator, the artist and the gallery, and we were able to follow the process as the piece was born,” she said. “We are committed to buying early; there is no way to suspend the Venice Biennale.

The works presented in Venice invariably influence what is sold at trade fairs over the next two years, but the sheer caliber of the work and the collector is a major distinction between the two. “In the same sense that super-chic people don’t walk to fairs themselves — they send a rep, advisor, or staff — Venice is where they would actually see the art IRL,” Harmony Murphy said. , an advisor based in Los Angeles. And while it’s seasoned art collectors come to the biennale “to pursue intellectual curiosity,” Rochat said, novice or speculative buyers are also unlikely to come to the vernissage. “There’s nothing interesting there for them.”

People queuing for the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale, May 2015. Photo: Romano Cagnoni/Getty Images.

Kill the Hungry Artist

“Until 1973, the biennial had a sales office, and it was pretty simple,” says Pozzoni, recalling a time when sales weren’t so maligned. “It’s not that I’m in favor of it reopening, but I think in 2022 we can stop pretending to be so naïve; At the end of the day, these galleries are paying for the show to go on, so I think it’s normal that they try to take advantage of it.

By and large, everyone agrees that whatever the market aspects underlying the world’s first contemporary art exhibition, the real focus remains the art, and then the ensuing conversations between dealers, collectors, journalists, and above all, given the institutional scale and the quality of the works on display, curators and museum directors.

“You come together the same way you do at trade shows: there’s a social aspect and a business aspect,” said Marta Fontolan, senior manager 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 later.”)

To maximize your time in Venice, Pozzoni recommended “deciding on three or four must-sees and then wandering around the rest of the time.” Taurisano keep an eye on exhibition locations on Google Maps; Haimo makes restaurant reservations months in advance; and Rochat curates an array of events per day, prioritizing exhibitions by artists she knows the least about: “I try to get out of my comfort zone,” she says.

Murphy remains indifferent to the reality of sales. “If contemporary art and the market are so intimately linked, is it still a relevant criticism to distinguish these aspects? she asked. “If these artists are paid, too bad. Perhaps we are the generation that kills the myth of the starving artist.

To follow Artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive breaking news, revealing interviews and incisive reviews that move the conversation forward.

Back To Top