Ahead of Investec Cape Town Art Fair’s very first digital event – happening concurrently with miart 2021 in Milan – ArtThrob’s Keely Shinners chatted to Laura Vincenti (ICTAF Director), Emanuela Forlin (Exhibition Manager at Fiera Milano) and Nicola Ricciardi (Artistic Director of miart).1This is an edited version of the full interview. To request a full transcript, please email email@example.com
Keely Shinners: Can you tell me a little bit more about how the collaboration between ICTAF and miart came about?
Laura Vincenti: Because we are owned by the same company, Fiera Milano, we have always been in touch throughout the years. With this unique opportunity for the ICTAF to create a new format, this digital platform, we decided it was a good opportunity to start a more tightened collaboration with miart. It is just the first step. Our intention is to collaborate more on projects and content. For now, it use very important for us to use this opportunity to broaden our communities, to broaden our audience and to have a cross-reference between the two continents.
Emanuela Forlin: We had the same experience in 2020. As you know, we didn’t have the chance to have a physical edition of miart. Since miart, this year, is physical, the digital becomes something more focussed on content. The digital is also useful to find connections, to share ideas, and to find a way to collaborate together, having in mind that we have to reach a 2022 edition having more cooperation in terms of physical context, not just digital.
Nicola Ricciardi: For me, building bridges has always been key. Since day one, I saw this opportunity for connection between Milan and Cape Town. Of course, in terms of outreach to galleries, but also to sharing ideas and goals. We work in the same industry, and I do strongly believe that we can learn from each other by sharing our experience. And build on those experiences the fairs of tomorrow. It goes without saying that the whole industry has changed dramatically over the past two years. Our goal is to look at 2022 and 2023 and see, in those two fairs, more opportunities for us. Not just in terms of business, but also in terms of content and ideas.
KS: What are some of the challenges, as well as some of the opportunities, that come with hosting a digital event?
LV: This new format is now becoming very common in the world. We’re not the first, and we won’t be the last. I think it’s a great opportunity to be more inclusive. You just need a device with a good internet connection. That’s all. You are a part of the digital art community. In a way, it enhances your sense of belonging. You are in your own house, but you are a part of the community through the virtual world. Of course, it allows younger galleries or online galleries to be a part of this online event. You don’t have the cost of traveling or setting up a booth. It’s just being connected.
EF: If you think about a physical fair, you think also about how to present in a physical way. The approach is a little bit different with the digital. The digital becomes something with which you can add content that you cannot show inside a room. We tried to tell the galleries, this is an opportunity to showcase work to people who unfortunately, for whatever reason, cannot come physically to the fair. It becomes more involving for the public: collectors, advisors, directors, but also the general public.
NR: In 2020, the whole world was forced to go online. We had to do online-only fairs and attend online-only events. We’re still a very long way from reaching a sort of world in which the digital experience is comparable to the physical experience. But, this is why we decided to keep working on the digital platform. It’s, inevitably, the future. Even though we are in a situation where we can open a physical fair, we can’t forget that we still have to work a lot on the digital platform. To make it even more interesting, even more useful, even more engaging.
KS: What new audiences have you been able to reach through the digital platform? What audiences are you hoping to reach in the future?
LV: From our side, you can reach many more galleries. In the fair next week, we will have 16 new galleries. 6 of them are local. The others are from the continent and Europe. It gives you the opportunity to reach a broader audience in terms of galleries, collectors and visitors. When it comes to the general public, of course it gives you more chances to reach out because of the accessibility of the platform. I’ve always been a fan of the physical fair. But, I shifted my mind a little bit. It is a really good opportunity to have these instruments that add value to what you are offered in a physical space.
EF: I’m curious to see how many people will navigate both the platforms. Our two projects are connected, so there will be a bridge between them digitally. I’m really curious about whether the collectors, but also the public, will reach both.
NR: There is already an interest, that I can see, from collectors and galleries from South Africa in miart. In 2022 and 2023, we’re planning to host a few galleries from South Africa and the continent as well. The conversation so far has been extremely productive. I feel very optimistic that in the near future, we will actually host a number of galleries from South Africa and Africa in general. There are already of number of collectors coming from Cape Town and Johannesburg coming for this edition, even in this climate.
KS: Speaking to that, have you seen both ICTAF and miart evolve from a more local client base towards one that is more global?
LV: Yes. They were already. With this opportunity of the digital platform, even more. I think we will move towards a more hybrid model that will bring the digital and physical aspect of the fair together. That is the way we see the future of our fair. I’m sure miart is doing the same already in 2021 with both physical and digital fairs.
EF: As miart, we are international as miart. There are lots of galleries who come from all over the world. We still have 30% of galleries coming from places like France, Switzerland, South America, Germany, the Netherlands. Still, we always try to find a balance between Italian and international. We are in Italy. We are in Milan. For us, it is important to represent something that is related to Italy. For instance, we have what’s called our Master’s sections, where galleries present work from Italian artists. Only in Milan, at miart, can you find these kinds of pieces.
NR: Even in this very troubled year, we managed to bring 145 galleries to Milan. One-third of these are coming from all over the world: Athens, Moscow, Mexico City, the United States. Even if travelling has proven to be extremely difficult, there are a number of galleries that are willing to walk the extra mile to be in Milan. This is because, over the past eight years, Milan really transformed itself from a more local fair to an international stage. Emerging galleries can present themselves, but also more established galleries can reiterate their identity. It’s interesting for me to see how, this year, we managed to bring on board international galleries that had never done miart before. I’m talking about galleries from contemporary arts — such as Charim Gallery in Vienna — but also in the Master’s section. This is a section dedicated to art from the past century. We managed to bring on board a gallery like Edoaurd Siemons from Belgium, which is one of the leading galleries in that industry. Even though it won’t be, for sure, the miart of the 2019, there are still a number of young entrepreneurs who are willing to bet on Milan to present their artists.
KS: What do you think the future of art fairs are going to look like? Both in terms of content, such as more artworks reflecting this move towards the digital (NFTs and the like), and in terms of art fair structure.
LV: What happened in the world, it gave us the opportunity to reflect on what is the meaning of building an art fair and being a part of this art world. As I was saying, I think the right model will be a hybrid model. You’ll have your physical fair, because we still think it’s very important to connect people, to have people chat over a coffee or a glass of wine while you are looking at an artwork. Still, the digital world gives you the chance to add content to add juice to what you are presenting. When it comes to NFTs, I know for sure we will have local galleries that will present next week on our digital platform this new trend. We will explore this new way of doing and selling art. I know that, for me, art is a bit different, but I leave the floor to them.
NR: For me, it will change in the future. It has already changed. We came from a world, up until 2019, in which many fairs took for granted the participation of galleries. There was a fair, and then there was a queue of galleries outside wanting to participate. Now, the tables have turned. Now, the fairs need to convince galleries of their value. They need to convince galleries than an art fair is still an opportunity for them to see a return on their investment. This, for me, is something extremely good. It forced us to open new streams of dialogue with galleries (and with all the stakeholders of the fair). This will bring a more transparent communication between the fair and all the people who actually work with or around the fair. More transparency and more trust on both sides will inevitably lead to a more healthy business.
KS: Any final thoughts?
NR: The main message here is that we are building this collaboration based on a common ground. As Laura was saying, we have a shared interest in dismantling the silence. We have a shared interest in building this bridge between Milan and Cape Town. That’s not just a slogan or an advertisement for the two fairs, but it is something that we believe will prove to be extremely useful and fruitful for the respective stakeholders.
LV: Collaboration is key. It is the future between human beings, and it’s the future of art fairs.