A Common Ground

The Shorties have returned! As well as the third edition of The BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors featuring even more collections, we also bring you completely updated bunch of Shorties. These little snippets of art world wisdom cover topics ranging from art fairs, auctions, to the relationship between artist and collector, written by leading journalists from around the world.

First up, we take a look at the commerciality of art fairs and biennale's and just how they have changed over the years.

How commercial may a biennial be? And how culturally engaged may an art fair be? Contemporary art fairs have become events that go far beyond their commercial function. Sections arranged by well-known curators, panel discussions, artists talks, and performances are all based on a model initiated by ArCo Madrid in the 1980s, and which MiArt´s artistic director Vincenzo de Bellis has recently defined as "a process of biennializing the art fair."

Biennials, on the other hand, have always claimed to be purely cultural events. Even mentioning “the art market” can cause waves of outrage. Yet, it goes without saying that biennials have a significant effect on the career and market-value of the artists they exhibit. Though some people still idealize biennials as events free of business and commerce, it is worth remembering that until 1968 the Venice Biennale had a sales office, and it is no secret that, even today, gallerists make deals during opening days.

What art fairs and biennials do have in common is the roles they play in proliferation at the global level; almost every single week, an art fair takes place somewhere in the world. Participation in these fairs is fundamental for a gallery's business and reputation, even though it requires significant financial expenditure. Accordingly, biennials are sprouting in the most remote places: from Dakar to Kochi, from Montevideo to Sapporo. Some critics have complained about this proliferation, questioning the need for yet another biennial. Undoubtedly both developments must be considered a side effect of globalization and the concomitant growth of interest in contemporary art. "The structure of the art world today is similar to a profiterole: it started out small and is expanding to fill demand”, says curator Francesco Bonami. “To put a limit on the number of art events that should exist is like putting a limit on the size of a profiterole."


The freelance journalist Silvia Anna Barrilà is specialized in the art market. Since 2008 she has been writing for the Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore and for international media covering art, including Damn, Auction Central News, Artinvestor, and Monopol.

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