Interview with Georgie Pope and Eleonora Sutter, Co-founders
Tell us a little bit about the history of THE FAIREST.
We are a new story :) We launched THE FAIREST last year (2021) in March, as a repurposed art fair format–hence the name, which also alludes to a value system, the backbone of our initiative. Our opening project TEASER 01: Concept Drop focused on clearly setting the tone and presented 17 young, emerging, or independent artists and creatives across a variety of mediums. Everything was up for sale in the group exhibition, including a sound and participatory installation by APPARATUS 22–Urgent message from The Department of Art Investments, whereby following a self reflective questionnaire, an individual's net worth determined 1 of 3 prices set for the artwork.
We initially met at Art Basel in 2017 and both live in Berlin. We soon discovered our similar vision, and then always wanted to collaborate and join forces–things just needed to take shape. We’re in our early thirties and have worked in the art world (in Sydney, Hong Kong, Basel and Berlin) for over a decade, with various galleries, institutions and platforms. To simultaneously pursue curatorial ideas, research and autonomy, we were both always engaged with independent/side projects. Then the pandemic hit and the urgent need to update certain attitudes and systems surfaced. Seizing this moment, armed with our combined experiences and industry insight, we felt confident to start something new.
A natural catalyst was also our surrounding creative network, endlessly inspiring us. There is a lot of exciting talent out there, but if you are not with a gallery, then it is definitely harder to exist in the art market.
Don’t get us wrong, galleries are and always will play a crucial role in the system, but they cannot be the only gatekeepers. Important to us with THE FAIREST, was to create something totally fresh, providing an alternate solution and contemporary perspective to traditional structures.
In summary, THE FAIREST actions the abundance of relevant, urgent and experimental practices, under matched by exposure. A sustainable system, beyond homogeneous norms and patriarchy, is our mission basis. We want TF as a platform to truly reflect and re-evaluate contemporary practice, facilitating this in the art market and allowing for unpredictable discovery again in the context of an art fair.
How do you, as co-founders and curators of THE FAIREST, ensure that your event stays contemporary and current in the fast-paced world that is the art market?
It was important for us to conceive TF from the start with a fresh and ongoing strategy, so that it could organically develop and remain current. We are a fluid curatorial-market platform. Leading up to our annual main fair, we work with different spaces and cities, producing smaller scale teaser formats to introduce participating artists, who collectively go on to be positioned in the main fair. To engage and build up discourse, we explore different contemporary values. During the process of our second show, TEASER 02: Care About Every Body, we realised that these teasers are like a new book chapter–from here we conceived our project as THE FAIREST manifesto.
The titles of our shows are also specific. They take form as a call to action and claim the value we want to present and explore in that project. This also ensured a cohesive way to identify TF.
Artworks presented in THE FAIREST are curated to maintain meaning and dialogues in a group exhibition, rather than placing individual objects in booths. Lively, immersive settings for discovery are created, with sound, performance, participation and discussion.
Research and exploration is of course essential, for discoveries and remaining “open” to new talent and ways of thinking/perceiving. As we take a rather hybrid approach to practices and the market, we are in constant motion and dialogue with ourselves, each other and our surroundings. It is the journey of infinite (self)reflection that prevents stagnation.
This will be reflected in our upcoming inaugural fair (14–18 September) during Berlin Art Week, titled Open Your Eyes Again, at Kühlhaus Berlin—next to where the former ABC (Art Berlin Contemporary) took place. TF 01 Open Your Eyes Again is a hint to look, listen, think, touch, smell twice, three times, four times… forever. To be more aware, critical and question.
WHAT IS (ART/LIFE) RIGHT NOW?
Is there something in your inaugural program, THE FAIREST 01: Open Your Eyes Again, that you are particularly looking forward to?
We cannot wait to see the overall result of THE FAIREST 01! Being our inaugural annual main fair, this is the culmination of all our work since our launch last year. This main fair is built by the collective positioning of all artists from the previous cycle of teaser shows. We will exhibit over 60 artists on two floors in Kühlhaus. This is very exciting for us, to bring our whole community together–THE FAIREST family, as it is referred to.
Our opening on Tuesday, 13 September will have an energetic vernissage-bending vibe! We are taking over the street in front of Kühlhaus with performances and concerts by EXPAT and Jon Aro. EXPAT also made a Guerilla appearance with us in Venice at our opening of Teaser 04: Non Playable Character, during the Biennale preview days. It was a secret spectacle!
Then on a daily basis, we have a program of performances, music, readings and rituals, taking place.
It’s impossible to choose only one particular happening.
What advice do you have for the collectors that will be attending THE FAIREST 01: Open Your Eyes Again?
Come and chat or reach out to us for more information on the artists! We are still in our start-up phase and have certain limitations, so for THE FAIREST 01, we are presenting one work per artist. With 60 positions in the fair, collectors and visitors can really discover different practices and enjoy viewing art in an atypical fair setting.
Do not be quick to draw conclusions. We are in extremely precarious and sensitive times and our artists (mostly without galleries) put thought, time and labour into their work and processes. It helps to remember that access and affordability of materials is not the same for every artist.
If you are instinctively drawn to an artwork, if it triggers emotion, confusion or curiosity and you have the means to buy that, then go for it. Trust us with our carefully curated selection of the most interesting and shapeshifting young, emerging and independent artists of RIGHT NOW.
We do a lot of research, thinking and discussion, to be able to offer a place for discovery of contemporary practice. You will not find booths at THE FAIREST, therefore buying an artwork, means buying a piece of the exhibition and THE FAIREST vision as a whole. This is a niche point for collectors.
Also, please stick around for the performative interventions! There is a lot to be learned, felt and absorbed.
What do the artworks being presented at THE FAIREST 01 reveal about the current trends and market?
Our fair reveals that art practices go beyond -ism definitions, are fluid, interdisciplinary and even interdependent. Our fair trends the necessity to perpetually re-consider and refresh what current practice is and can be.
Richard Prum, a leading thinker in evolutionary ornithology (the study of birds) said in conversation with Lucas Zwirner “Art is a form of communication that co-evolves with its evaluation… it means that art is about communication, some kind of sensory exchange and that there is a feedback loop and this means that art is essentially a result of a process”. When the fore-running practices are evolving (and radicalizing) art, the market could tune in more to these feedback loops–where is the process or evolution of the market? We don’t just mean in the process of keeping up with the hottest trends.
Collecting can be so much more than acquiring a physical artwork, especially when dealing with more experimental mediums. Collector support can be more holistic, in the form of private residency initiatives; providing studio rent for a year, in exchange for an artwork; or offering exhibition space in the case of publicly accessible private spaces. Collecting can also be done as a collective or shared amongst friends, to split costs, combine resources, rotate works amongst different homes, and shape a common vision and form of communicating through “buying” art.
Art in the home setting will always form a large slice of the market pie, which we view as healthy, and reflected in emerging collectors or totally new patrons interested to buy art. We hope this further reflects an opening access to collecting, to be attainable by anyone willing to try.
We also like to question those who buy for storage–why accrue dust? Sure there is probably just not enough space or opportunity for display, but there are several ways to develop a collection more in motion. What about supporting the production of live art, so that performance artists can also live from their practice. Or supporting progressive platforms in general, who roster really great artists, to be able to provide decent fees to a multitude of artists, like a universal income, independent of sales. We’re sure that platform can mutually support you, for example with consultation, installation, network connections and goodwill. We would like to see a diversification of speculation and capital value, to not only be economical, but also social and cultural.
We very well need to thrive in the market, and at the same time there needs to be tribes of collectors all over the world who are willing to meet and facilitate contemporary art of now and tomorrow.
What is your biggest hope for a post-pandemic Art World?
That things become fairer, more inclusive, intimate, experimental, political, social and collaborative—less pretentious.
We hope that the perception of relationships and art in general will change. You can already feel a shift in how people interact, certain superficial notions have become more substantial, in a way. People have become more selective, but at the same time, are more open to new situations.
It was very interesting to launch THE FAIREST during the first wave of the pandemic–with a lot of advice not to. Learning how to navigate as a business during the pandemic has been very helpful for us, because we could take more time and be more experimental in problem solving or gathering resources. Also the mentality of society, people were longing for new input and inspiration to experience excitement and the unpredictable. So we came exactly at the right moment!
Closing galleries and museums etc. in accordance with businesses open upon necessity during the pandemic was very dangerous, it’s like censorship and further distanced art from everyday life. This action also increased consumption of digital culture, social media and algorithms, giving rise to unstable hype economies, digital community popularity contests and a flood of questionable graphic art. Digital technologies will remain important for art, but let’s never deny the physical, human effect and tangible presence of art.
In addition to THE FAIREST 01, what exhibition or event is on your “must-see” list for during Berlin Art Week?
- Anna Uddenberg, Fake Estate at Schinkel Pavillon. The artworks will further be used as the setting for a durational performance.
- Louise Bourgeois, The Woven Child at Martin Gropius Bau
- Leila Hekmat, Female Remedy at Haus am Waldsee
- Marnie Weber, Sweet Ravaging Time at Heidi Gallery
- Ed Atkins, Eden Eden at Isabella Bortolozzi
- Boros Collection, presentation 4