Clarissa Ricci | Iuav University of Venice | Arte Fiera in the 70s, or did the Art Fair System develop after the Closure of the Venice Biennale Sales Department?

Ringvorlesung | Kunstmessen ↔ Kunstmarkt │ Art Fairs ↔ Art Market | 09.01.2020 | Vortrag

The artistic and commercial changes that occurred between the 1960s and the 1970s gave way to the rise of contemporary art fairs in Europe. This presentation critically addresses this formative moment with a close analysis of the foundation of the earliest contemporary art fair in Italy, Arte Fiera (1974). The fair was part of the first wave of art fairs (i.e., Art Cologne in 1967, Art Basel in 1969, and FIAC 1974) and was, from its beginnings, international in reach. It was immediately successful and quickly became one of the must-go places in Italy and Europe.

However, in order to better grasp the development of the contemporary art fair, the account departs from the analysis of the Venice Biennale Sales Department, Italy’s major commercial art platform until 1970s, because its disappearance is often considered by scholars to be a cause for the rise of the art fair format. While challenging this interpretation, a sketch on the specific history around the closure of the Venice Biennale Sales Department is provided to establish Italy’s cultural framework, on which the foundation of Arte Fiera also depended. The presentation also challenges the traditional account of the moralisation of the art system that separated art from its commerce, demonstrating that the formation of a platform of art commerce (fairs) occurred in tandem with the formation of platforms of contemporary art production (biennials). Moreover, a ‘Bologna specificity’ must be taken into account. Arte Fiera, in addition to being part of an international shift in the art system that called for a specific platform for the art market led by intermediaries such as dealers and galleries, developed in Bologna because of the financial and urban development plan that began in the city in 1959 and comprised a fair district. The first years of Arte Fiera (1974–1979) were an eventful period in which changes occurred rapidly. In 1974, the galleries that started the fair numbered only 10, but in 1975, there were 200, and by 1976 and 1977, the fair included international participation by galleries such as Castelli, Sonnabend, and Artes Visuales. Furthermore, since its foundation, Arte Fiera was accompanied by a full schedule of collateral events, supported by the municipality and the newly formed Gallery of Modern Art, revealing that the foundation of Arte Fiera was strictly connected to that of Bologna biennials and large-scale exhibitions of modern art (e.g., Guido Reni) meant to attract large numbers of visitors.

Clarissa Ricci is a scholar at Iuav University in Venice and a recipient of the Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Art (2019–2020). Her research focuses on the history of exhibitions, biennials, fairs, markets, and contemporaneity. She was entrusted by Iuav University in Venice (2017–2019) with researching the foundation of Arte Fiera and analysing the art market in Italy in the 1970s. She has written numerous essays and edited a volume on the Venice Biennale entitled Starting from Venice. Studies on the Biennale (et al., 2011). She has published entries on the Venice Biennale for the Grove Art Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2017) and the Art Market Dictionary (De Gruyter, 2018). She was a visiting scholar at Columbia University (NY), a library grant recipient at the Getty Research Institute (GRI), and received her PhD from the School of Advanced Studies in Venice (SSAV), Cà Foscari (Venice), with a thesis on the Venice Biennale between 1993 and 2003.

Universität zu Köln | Hörsaalgebäude | Hörsaal E | 17.45 (s.t.)


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