Why new photography fairs need to think beyond the booth

None-Zone Moving – The Meridian Gate, 1975-2002, by Hsieh Chun-Te
None-Zone Moving – The Meridian Gate, 1975-2002, by Hsieh Chun-Te. Courtesy of Cultogethery Gallery, Taiwan
(Image credit: TBC)

If the world’s largest casino may seem like a bizarre location for a preview of Asia’s newest international art fair, then that’s because it is. Entombed deep within the Venetian Macao hotel and its labyrinthine network of beige carpeted halls and comically chintzy chandeliers, Photo Macau recently offered a taster of its programme ahead of the fair’s first edition dedicated to art photography and moving image. 

The preview included seven regional and international galleries including DNA Macau (Macau); Osage Gallery (Hong Kong); Cultogethery Gallery (Taiwan); The Reference (Korea); Galerie Dix9 (France); Anita Beckers (Germany); and Galerie Volker Diehl (Germany). There was also a perfectly pleasant – if distinctly paint-by-numbers in its arrangement – Horst P Horst selling exhibition (the booth’s Horst-red walls, though well-intentioned, did little to augment the experience).

Untitled, by Taedong Kim

Untitled, by Taedong Kim. Courtesy of The Reference, Korea

(Image credit: TBC)

A few weeks old, the youngest exhibitor at the preview was by far its most interesting. The Reference – established only mid-March by photography magazine and art book publisher IANN – had an especially strong showing of works by Korean artists, including JinHee Kim’s embroidered digital pigment prints, and Seung Woo’s architectural photographs.

The most compelling work at the fair – a rarely-exhibited piece from gallerist Mike Steiner’s video collection – was conceptual artist Ulay’s art-heist 1976 performance piece, There Is a Criminal Touch to Art. The mononymous artist famously stole Hitler’s favourite painting – The Poor Poet, 1839, by Carl Spitzweg – from Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie and hung it in the living room of a Turkish immigrant family (Ulay’s then-partner Marina Abramović captured the art robbery on his Super 8 camera).

Also on the Photo Macau agenda: a two-day symposium with an academic-heavy line-up. (a common misstep by fair organisers who often underestimate their audience’s zeal for creative speakers, and overestimate their capacity for banal self-promotion). ‘Photo Macau will present an insight into the world of photography and digital art for audiences in Macau, Hong Kong and the wider region,’ offered executive director Cecilia Ho, who is described the preview edition as ‘an introduction of the fair’s vision that we are continuing to develop’.

It’s unclear what exactly that vision is. Will Photo Macau thrust the next generation of Asian photographers into the spotlight they so deserve? Unlikely in its current format – or location. As collectors and consumers alike find unprecedented new ways to devour the medium, art fairs need to think beyond the booth. The future of photography fairs is undetermined, but it almost certainly doesn’t lie in the bowels of the Venetian Macao.

Here are six more photography fairs and festivals setting a rich agenda for the rest of the year…

Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA)
1-30 April
Where: Los Angeles, US
Presented by the Lucie Foundation, MOPLA’s 10th anniversary edition features a jam-packed month of happenings around Los Angeles. From Instagram jams to charitable silent auctions, MOPLA’s programme is among the most diverse of photography, with exhibitions, seminars, workshops, film screenings and more unfolding across the city. Highlights include photojournalist Ron Haviv’s analogue trove of lost rolls of film (12-15 April); Brooke DiDanato’s surreal photographs (17-23 April); and The Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition of photography greats Diane Arbus, Brassaï, and Nan Goldin (4 March – 3 September).

Kyotographie International Photography Festival
When: 14 April – 13 May
Where: Kyoto, Japan
The sixth edition of Kyotographie is looking ‘up’ in every sense of the word, courtesy of this year’s theme. Established in 2013 by artist couple Lucille Reyboz and Yusuke Nakanishi, the festival is hosted across various venues throughout Kyoto. It’s a special event – in spite of the festival’s international scope the founders have managed to crack Kyoto, a city steeped in old traditions and often weary of outsiders. And do we need more of an excuse to visit Japan during springtime?

Photo London
17-20 May
Where: London, UK As this year’s Photo London Master of Photography, Canadian fine art photographer Edward Burtynsky will present an exhibition of new and rarely-seen work that will be accompanied by a newly developed augmented reality (AR) experience. Stage designer Es Devlin – who has created sets for the likes of Kanye West – will present a photographic installation; Daido Moriyama is set to take over the Pavilion with a special commission; and the ever-brilliant Discovery sector of the fair has been expanded for the 2018 edition.

Star Shoes, 2017, by Alex Prager

Star Shoes, 2017, by Alex Prager. The Los Angeles-based artist will be speaking at ‘Staged Reality’, part of the Photo London talks programme, on Friday 18 May, 11am –12pm. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Rencontres d’Arles
When: 2-8 July, with exhibitions running until 23 September
Where: Arles, France
Europe’s oldest photography festival, Rencontres d’Arles is also its most prestigious. Established in 1970, the weeklong festival takes place during summer, though exhibitions remain open until autumn. Some of Arle’s historical buildings – from 12th-century chapels to 19th-century industrial spaces – are open to the public only during the festival period. In recent years, the crème de la crème of photography festivals has invited handed over the reigns to guest curators, entrusting its programming to the likes of Martin Parr (2004), Raymond Depardon (2006), and fashion designer Christian Lacroix.

Unseen Photo Fair
When: 21-23 September
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Unseen is a year-round platform for new photography, with the main fair taking place in September in Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks factory turned cultural complex. It places emphasis on emerging photographers and premiering never-before-seen projects, making it an especially attractive destination for new discoveries. The programme includes exhibitions, lectures and debates, films and documentaries.

Paris Photo
8-11 November
Where: Paris, France
Held each November in the historic Grand Palais, Paris Photo is the largest international art fair dedicated to the photographic medium with over 200 exhibitors from across the globe. Paris Photo is divided into sectors: Main, Book, Film, and Prismes, which is dedicated to installations and large-format photography and installations. For its 22nd edition, a titillating new sector christened Curiosa will focus on the theme of eroticism in photography, and its cultural misappropriations and divergences.

Related: Explore the art fairs spreading to new destinations in 2018 and beyond

April-021, 2014, by JinHee Kim, embroidery on digital pigment print.

April-021, 2014, by JinHee Kim, embroidery on digital pigment print. Courtesy of The Reference, Korea

(Image credit: TBC)

Back EB-#009, 2013, by Seung Woo.

Back EB-#009, 2013, by Seung Woo. Courtesy of The Reference, Korea

(Image credit: TBC)

Road View, by Yoon Seung.

Road View, by Yoon Seung. Courtesy of The Reference, Korea

(Image credit: TBC)

For more information, visit the Photo Macau website