Messe Berlin, organizers of the Art Forum Berlin fair since 1996, which was scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 2, issued a press release on May 28 announcing its withdrawal from the art fair business “for the time being.”
Coming amid the flurry of activity leading up to the Venice Biennale, the announcement resulted from a breakdown in negotiations between Messe Berlin and the younger Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC) fair, which since 2008 has been mounted by the rival Berlin galleries that also organize the highly successful Gallery Weekend every spring.
News of the potential merger had only come to light a week earlier when it was reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine. The two fairs had been attempting to join but came to loggerheads over the division of responsibilities. ABC pulled out of the merger discussions.
Messe Berlin, which organizes numerous trade shows, determined that “it makes no sense to hold two art events in the space of three weeks” and notified applicants to Art Forum Berlin that their registration fees would be refunded.
In 2008, Eva-Maria Haeusler and Peter Vetsch were hired away from Art Basel to become co-directors of Art Forum Berlin, which would seem to have guaranteed success. Vetsch resigned in April for undisclosed personal reasons.
In a press statement, Messe Berlin CEO Christian Göke said, “A joint venture only makes sense if both parties recognize what their respective input is and if they are willing to commit to it. With an art fair Messe Berlin’s added value is through its organization of the event. If this is not desired then there is no basis for conducting joint business other than solely through sponsorship. The same applies to the hosting of art forum berlin 2011. Without the support of the galleries for whom we are organizing it, it would indeed be a counter-productive event.”
ABC plans to proceed with its fair, which will take place Sept-7-11, according to its website.
ABC was launched by Esther Schipper, Galerie Neu, neugerriemschneider, Klosterfelde, Max Hetzler and Galerie Ariane Beyn. The first edition featured 44 Berlin galleries. It was billed as an “exhibition,” obscuring the commercial aim of the event for participants, collectors and observers. Sales were disappointing. In 2009, ABC timed its event to coincide with Art Forum, and the two fairs issued a joint press release and held a reception at that year’s Venice Biennale opening.
Last year, Art Forum Berlin featured 110 galleries from 18 countries and received 40,000 visitors. By comparison, the venerable Art Basel received 62,500 visitors in 2010, with over 300 galleries from 36 countries.