On Tuesday morning last week, the same day that Art Basel opened to invited guests, the third iteration of the Dream art fair, titled Dream Basel, launched—not in Switzerland, but at dreamfair.org. The webpage, with its whimsical font and picture-perfect background photo of Basel, embodies the ethos of the fair: straightforward yet playful, a way to look at art no doubt influenced by the aesthetic mechanics of Tumblr. Rather than ship artworks to the Swiss city, participating galleries simply upload images of faux fair booths, or just post photos of available works.
The online-only fair’s organizers, Rebecca May Marston and Barnie Page of London’s Limoncello Gallery, described Dream to me in a phone interview not as a simple alternative to the prototypical art fair, but as a whole new platform, one that is only beginning to scratch the surface of what galleries can do on the web.
Page and Marston said they have been frustrated by the high costs required to participate in fairs, which makes them difficult for small galleries to afford—to say nothing of turning a profit there—and so they decided to tweak the system in their favor. Teaming up with twelve other galleries, the first edition, Dream Hong Kong, went online in time for Art Basel Hong Kong in March, and it was followed in May by Dream New York, which took place during Frieze New York. In contrast to the grueling schedule and costliness that galleries usually experience with fairs, Dream offers a completely free channel for showing art.
The process that Dream uses to choose galleries is different from most other art fairs, as well. The selection process involves a sort of democratic chain of discernment. First, Page and Marston chose Kate Werble (New York), Seventeen (London), and Exile Galleries (Berlin) as the initial contributors, then invited them to choose the remaining exhibitors, singling out Lodos (Mexico City), SpazioA (Pistoia, Italy), and Hester (New York), to name a few. “The reason for it was because we don’t want to be responsible for the horrible selection process that can make you lose friends,” Page said. “By outsourcing it, we wanted to disperse some of the responsibility and for other people to have a say in it and for galleries to get involved.”
Galleries have taken part in the fairs in different ways. While Marston and Page said that they did not choose people on the basis of their engagement with the Internet and themes relating to the digital age, many of the galleries took the setting into considering what artists and works to feature on Dream.
Alex Ross, the director of Hester, said, “I reacted to my understanding of the remit of the project, so the works selected were by artists who were investigating thematics that were relevant to the presentation. So I thought through questions of identity formation, surveillance anxiety, and an aspirational subject. Those three factors triangulated selection.”
The way Dream’s organizers have partially unsubscribed from the fair circuit and embraced a perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek digital art world futurism is characteristically irreverent and cool for Limoncello, which has embodied a scrappy yet undeniably smart spirit since entering the London gallery scene in 2007.
All of that said, the short-lived nature of each Dream installment copies the limits of a typical fair’s accessibility. (Visit the website today and the individual gallery pages are gone.) After all, Page said, Dream Basel still intends to mirror art fairs in miniature, functioning as an unofficial satellite that has to orbit the real thing in order to work. Its transience means that it functions as a dynamic presence rather than an archival one. The name implies a certain aspirational aspect, and it comes into existence without the need for institutional support. The failure of the VIP Art Fair a few years ago notwithstanding, it seems possible that an online model for art fairs could become viable in the coming years, but for now, the charm of Dream Basel is rooted in the fact that it takes place right under the nose of its predecessor. Dream Fair will return October 4–9 for Dream London, and October 18–23 for Dream Paris.