Art Basel and the Next Generation of Art Fairs

In the balmy summer of 2013, Jay Z performed his song "Picasso Baby" at Pace Gallery for over six hours in a performance inspired by Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present," with guest appearances from a smattering of pop culture and art world icons including Adam Driver, Jerry Saltz, and Abramovic herself. This mash-up (and the varied reactions it elicited) points to the growing interpolation of popular culture into the art market, a seemingly inevitable if not entirely comfortable union that has come to characterize the hullabaloo around art fairs. As the stiffly starched collars of the old art world establishment continue to dissolve, the heady excesses of the art world are opening up as a viable entertainment option for the young, visible, and wealthy.

It's clear that this shift is precipitated in no small part by the rise of art fairs (rather than museums and galleries) as the loci of the art community. Fairs like Art Basel and Frieze are increasingly presenting themselves as public events, with a new emphasis on visitor experience; fair directors want these events to be leisurely and fun, with less pretension and hopefully more sales. Fairs have become weeklong parties where young people and celebrities from both within and beyond the industry gather in longtime art world hotspots (Paris, New York, London) as well as new destinations like Miami to see and be seen. Whether it's art that they're looking at is another question entirely.

Last year's Art Basel Miami Beach, for example, garnered mainstream attention not so much for the works on display as the smattering of celebrity spottings and general hijinks it evoked. The visibility is fodder for the gossip rags (see Leo and the 20 supermodels), but it's also an indicator of the fair's increasingly attractive veneer. Art is being treated with less hushed and staid attitudes across the board, and younger and hipper demographics are populating these fairs to insert themselves into the booming art economy.

One happy outcome of this increased visibility is the rise of the "start-up art fair" by nascent organizations looking to provide alternatives to the larger, more ostentatious events. There's a whole crop of younger fairs to be excited about, from Material in Mexico City (only three years old!) to the more-established NADA Art Fair, long dedicated to championing the work of emerging artists and their galleries. And collecting art does not only have to be the domain of the super-rich--events like the Affordable Art Fair celebrates a more friendly and locally sourced focus to collecting and selling, a position that seems to be gaining acceptance in reaction to the climbing prices in both the primary and secondary art market. While these events still exist in relation to their larger counterparts (they're referred to as "satellite fairs" in the industry), they just might represent a new way forward for the art world at large.