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A consideration of the art fair as curatorial platform

Brien, Paulette (2016) A consideration of the art fair as curatorial platform. Masters by Research thesis (MPhil), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis documents the introduction and impact of the curatorial role into contemporary art fairs. Set within a time-line of contemporary art fair evolution from 1967 until the present day, I describe how the introduction of the curatorial role has followed two particular paths. Using this distinction I generate two classifications of contemporary art fair, ‘curated’ and ‘non-curated’ to structure my communication of the divergent impacts of the curatorial role on the contemporary art fair model and on the wider art world infrastructure in which art fairs sit. On the one hand, in non-curated art fairs we see how the role of the curator is defined by specific curator-led sections that have expanded the size and scope of the contemporary art fair, while on the other, in curated art fairs, the role of the curator and the tenets of exhibition-making have sought to re-evaluate this expansion by bringing forward redefined operational models. With a particular focus on the latter of these two categories, I contend that as a result of the curatorial decisions made, the curated art fair creates distance between the event and its status as an art fair and between the art work and its status as an object for sale. In doing so this thesis argues that curated art fairs challenge the oft-cited notion that art fairs are only about money not art via an exploration of sociologist Viviana Zelizer’s ‘hostile worlds’ theory and its application in the work of economic sociologists Olav Velthuis and Erica Coslor.

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