Ragnar Kjartansson’s 2015 video ‘Me and My Mother’
Ragnar Kjartansson’s 2015 video ‘Me and My Mother’

It’s famine to feast in the art market this weekend as the quiet summer gives way to a slew of art fairs. Events on the slate around the world include Photofairs Shanghai; FNB Joburg; Cosmoscow (all September 8-10); Tribal Art London (until September 9); and the VIP opening of the now-annual Paris Biennale on Sunday (until September 17). And for those still twiddling their art market thumbs, there are also gallery weekends in Brussels and Budapest.

At the same time, the smaller galleries that support emerging art events are dropping like flies, pointing to an unsustainable status quo. In Switzerland, Freymond-Guth closed at the end of August, after nine years, a decision that its founder describes as “the hardest I have made as an adult”; while in London this summer the doors have closed at Breese Little, White Rainbow and, after 12 years, Laura Bartlett Gallery.

Fairs have undoubtedly been part of the problem. “If you add everything up on a booth for emerging artists, it’s difficult to see how galleries can make the costs back,” Bartlett says — while also describing herself as a fan of the ever-popular events. “I gained so much profile through international fairs; they just need to be as flexible as possible now and adapt to the market.” She plans to continue working with her artists and collectors “towards a more fluid exhibition programming model”.

Alexander Montague-Sparey, artistic director of Photofairs (which also hosts an edition in San Francisco), acknowledges that “the pressure to do fairs is part of the reality that the art market has become more international, with an increased number of buyers. This requires galleries to be more creative in the current climate.” His events are not exclusively for emerging art — but, he says, fair organisers in general have become more open-minded about allowing in gallerists who don’t have a traditional space, “as long as the booth is on brand and on par, in terms of quality, with the overall mission of the fair”. He sees a silver lining: “Fairs have become more sophisticated with more curated booths; if your edit is on point and your messaging is effective, collectors will come.”

Merve Iseri’s painting ‘Her Brain is a Traveling White Bullet’ (2017)
Merve Işeri’s painting ‘Her Brain is a Traveling White Bullet’ (2017) © Merve Işeri/Ballon Rouge

Two previous gallerists have come up with an alternative way to show emerging artists around the world. Helene Dumenil and Nicole O’Rourke, previously an associate at Istanbul’s Rampa gallery (which also shut its doors this summer) have launched what they call a “collective, nomadic” space called Ballon Rouge. Using a network of curators, they plan a series of pop-ups initially for local artists, starting in Istanbul and then London, Los Angeles, New York, Brussels, São Paulo and Paris, all between now and November 2018. Most shows will be based around events already on the art world calendar — for example, this week’s opening show of works by Merve Işeri (£1,200-£1,800, Boğazkesen Caddesi, No 78) coincides with the opening of the 15th Istanbul Biennial. Ballon Rouge will officially represent its artists, who have the opportunity to show in a new city within two years, O’Rourke says.

Washington DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for modern and contemporary art has bought all current and future versions of Ragnar Kjartansson’s uncomfortably amusing video work “Me and My Mother”. The film shows the artist’s mother, Gudrún Asmundsdóttir, a well-known actress in their native Iceland, spitting on her son. Asmundsdóttir has said that she got into the right mood by imagining that Kjartansson was one of the financiers responsible for the country’s recent recession.

It is not just the content of the work that makes it unusual — it is part of an open-ended series that began in 2000 and for which a new film on the same theme is made every five years (so the fifth instalment is planned for 2020).

Kjartansson became an art world favourite last year, punctuated by a powerful solo show organised by the Hirshhorn and London’s Barbican Centre; a show that included “Me and My Mother”.

Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn’s director, describes the work as “foundational . . . blurring the boundaries between performance and everyday life”. The museum is not disclosing the cost of the work, though Kjartansson’s video pieces are generally priced between $50,000 and $100,000 and institutions tend to get a good deal.

Works by a further 17 contemporary artists also enter the Hirshhorn’s collection, including General Idea, Shirin Neshat, Zhang Huan and Hurvin Anderson.

Richard Ellis, a long-time art crime investigator, was in strong voice at the fourth Art Business Conference in London last week. Responding to concerns that Scotland Yard’s already slim Art and Antiques Unit (three detectives) was at risk, Ellis — who ran the unit from 1989 to 1999 — said that to close it “would be madness”.

The three specialist officers, responsible for art theft, forgery and related crimes, have been reassigned to the investigation into London’s catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire in June. Their original roles are officially due to resume on September 19 but, as Ellis put it, “in my 30 years at the Metropolitan Police, I’ve seen too many temporary placings become permanent”. Ellis, now a director at security specialists Art Management Group, said that while “ideally the unit would be upgraded and enlarged, these are difficult times.” Changes are inevitable, he said, and suggested a dialogue between interested parties — including insurers, lawyers and art dealers — to identify how best to fill the potential “vacuum” in Europe’s largest art market.

If Tim Goodman, who is relaunching the online auction platform Fine Art Bourse this month, wanted to cause a stir with its opening sale of Erotic, Fetish & Queer Art Objects (September 25), then job done. A series of planned adverts, including additional emojis to cover up the naughty bits, was immediately blocked from Facebook. The social media group then flagged Fine Art Bourse’s entire account, thus generating rather more coverage than afforded to many of the models in the forthcoming auction.

Photograph: Merve Işeri/Ballon Rouge

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