First TIAMSA conference on art fairs

The first conference organized by The International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) will take place in London from 13 to 16 July 2017. A cross-discipline and international gathering of scholars and practitioners will be looking at one of the most remarkable developments in the art market in the past two decades: the proliferation of art fairs. Speakers will examine the history of these institutions and their proliferation worldwide, and why they have become such important events in the art world.

My own contribution will focus on the historical roots of art fairs in Europe. The birth of the modern art fair is usually associated with the Cologne Fair of 1967, but predecessors can already be found in Antwerp during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A sales room – referred to as Our Lady’s pand – built purposely for the marketing of art was already operational in 1460. During the bi-annual trade fairs, this was an important meeting place for artists, dealers and an increasingly international clientele. This fair greatly stimulated the art trade, and afforded Antwerp to emerge as a net exporter for on spec produced paintings, prints and other goods of fancy.

Furthermore, around 1540, the first permanent gallery called the schilderspand was set up in the halls above the Antwerp exchange with new fewer than one hundred shops displaying mostly paintings. We know from archival materials that dealers kept a large stock, and that new subjects and styles were on display, allowing potential buyers to compare and evaluate before making their choice. In addition, the face-to-face contacts between artists and dealers, and among artists themselves, created significant opportunities for artistic exchanges and knowledge transfers. This meant that there was room for experimentation which in turn allowed for the surprise of novelty. And once a particular new style or new subject caught on among the art lovers and merchants visiting the galleries at the pand, it could be commercialized and reproduced in large numbers. Examples of these are landscapes, nudes and other mythological scenes, and genre paintings.

In my talk I will argue that the Antwerp panden were not just predecessors of the contemporary art fairs, but that they constituted a significant phase in the development of the present-day art market system.