‘The Galleries Show’ in Antwerp: Resurrecting Art Fair Alternatives
For Antwerp Art Weekend, the Antwerp-based gallery Office Baroque presents ‘The Galleries Show 4’ along with invited galleries Nadja Vilenne (from Liege, BE), Seventeen (London), and Valerie Traan (Antwerp). This particular ‘Galleries Show’ is the fourth iteration that Office Baroque resurrected in 2022 – which is a version of the namesake art fair project created by Extra City Kunsthal in Antwerp in 2006. (https://extracitykunsthal.org/en/exhibitions/the-galleries-show-2)
This new edition of The Galleries Show is devoted to redefining the local gallery scene in post-COVID times. It asks, “How do galleries and art spaces find new balances between local events and reaching larger international audiences?” and “What are the current needs, and how can existing presentation and support structures address them?” Asking galleries to develop new and shared practices.
The current edition is a four-day co-op art fair project that invites galleries to bring single (or two-person) presentations.
The idea of galleries creating alternative opportunities for their artists is not a new one. There are numerous examples of galleries taking the lead and creating new opportunities for their artists, pushing against a stale bureaucratic system. One of the earliest versions of this attitude was Unfair, which was organized by Gallerist Christain Nagel together with Tanja Grunert and Michael Jansen, created counter fair to Art Cologne, whose very name protested against its non-admission to Germany’s largest art fair. They devised an alternative fair called “Unfair,” where young galleries could show their artists as a group in an old factory building in 1992.
Similarly, in 1994, a group of NYC gallerists, including Colin De Land, Pat Hearn, Lisa Spellman, Matthew Marks, and Paul Morris, organized the Gramercy International Art Fair, which later became The Armory Fair in NYC. In 1996, Swiss gallerists Eva Presenhuber and Peter Kilchmann developed LISTE (Basel), which was born out of the same frustration with Art Basel‘s acceptance policies for younger galleries.
Over the years, other hybrids have been developed, including CONDO (http://www.condocomplex.org/) from 2016-2020. CONDO is an interesting international version of this phenomenon that links galleries in London, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Athens, and NYC. It reacts to a new global map of galleries, collectors, and art fairs. However, it still deals with the same problems of how to present young galleries to new international audiences and keep costs low, unlike the growing corporate influence of Frieze, Art Basel, and a growing economy of look-alike fairs.
So, what does this have to do with Gallery Weekends? Everything, as the ‘gallery weekend’ model, is also an alternative to the more dominant art fair model. This will be discussed in Part 2 of “Resurrecting Art Fair Alternatives.”