'Is this art?' is one of the questions you’d probably not expect to hear at the VIP preview of a major contemporary art fair. And yet this query - too often shunned by many “art” people - is quite often heard (albeit often in hushed whispers) and opens up a complex debate about the current contemporary art scene.
The difficulty often lies in the overlap between art and design. The demarcation lines are quite often blurred within contemporary art, making the categorisation of each inherently difficult to pin down – especially within a fleeting 10-minute conversation shared at the art fair, in which viewers are attempting to do just that. Often, design is about the matter of usefulness but art goes beyond this.
Another complexity in answering the question of 'art', and a key concern for those within the industry, is the unstable nature of contemporary art. It is constantly being redefined, first by artists and curators, then by gallerists, collectors and critics. Whether deeply involved with the art world or making their first steps into discovering it, viewers are required to engage with the changes in the framework of contemporary art that are happening as we speak in order to fully understand the genre of work and the messages being conveyed.
Art fairs represent a particular context for displaying and discussing artworks in the public realm. A commercial context nonetheless, one of the aims of an art fair is to make art more accessible by facilitating an easy interaction between visitors and exhibitors, as well as through talks and public events. While explaining contemporary art can be harder and the question of "is this art" might seem unexpected and somewhat basic, it is one loaded with meaning and ripe for debate. There is a huge amount of conversation to be had at a contemporary art fair, and disputing the whole premise of the work being there in the first place is only the start.
Words and Photography: Sorana Serban