Madrid: A gloomy air surrounds ARCO, one of Europe’s biggest contemporary art fairs, with participants predicting the global financial crisis will put an end to the boom in sales enjoyed in recent years.
“Before people would buy fast and then think about it, people now take their time to decide,” said Fiona Liewehr, the director of Georg Karyl Fine Arts gallery in Vienna which has taken part in the fair each year since 2002.
During boom times, contemporary art was sought after by the new rich as a badge of affluence as much as luxury cars and branded jewellery.
But with Spain and most major European economies facing their worst recession in years, art galleries are finding it harder to sell contemporary works.
“People have no money to spend. In the end we will sell less than last year,” said Floor Wullems, the director of the Annet Gelink gallery in Amsterdam which displayed mostly black and white photographs at the fair.
A total of 238 galleries from 32 nations are taking part in ARCO this year, 57 fewer galleries than in 2008 when the event drew a record 200,000 visitors.
ARCO director Lourdes Fernandez said some foreign galleries declined to take part in the six-day fair this year because of the global economic crisis.
“It is undeniable that the economic recession will affect the fair,” she said on the eve of ARCO’s opening.
Daniele Pescali, who runs the Imago Art gallery in London, said now is a good time to invest in contemporary art since prices have fallen between 15 and 25% over the past six months.
“There is a very, very low cash flow but I think it is still a good investment for people, better than houses or stocks,” he said.
Some participating artists, like Britain’s Jodie Carey, whose works include sculptures made up of plaster replicas of bones, believe the global economic slowdown could be an opportunity for younger artists like herself.
“Galleries are interested in lower prices, and that is an opportunity for the new generations,” the 27-year-old said.
The fair is turning its spotlight on emerging markets once again this year, with India as the featured country. Brazil was the spotlighted nation in 2008.
Thirteen galleries and 50 artists are taking part in the “Panorama India showcase put together by Mumbai-based curator Bose Krishnamachari who said he had sought to highlight “talent and creativity” during recessionary times.
Organisers said the rise in the number of private collectors in India, the nation’s booming economy and the constant appreciation in value of its artists make the Indian market “one of the most promising focal points for contemporary art in the 21st century.”
“In recent months India has become, without a doubt, the big star in the art market,” ARCO organisers said in a statement.