South American Galleries Report Slow But Steady Sales at Digital-Only SP-Arte Fair

South American Galleries Report Slow But Steady Sales at Digital-Only SP-Arte Fair

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most fairs—from big ones like Art Basel and Frieze to medium-size ones like the Dallas Art Fair and Intersect Aspect—have shifted their in-person offerings online. The latest one to do so is Brazil’s SP-Arte, which opened its online viewing rooms on Monday.

The online SP-Arte was mostly populated by regional galleries from throughout Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. That meant this year saw the marked absence of blue-chip international outfits like David Zwirner, White Cube, and Marian Goodman, who have participated in past editions of the fair.

Two of Brazil’s leading galleries, Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel and Galeria Nara Roesler, which both have locations in São Paulo and Rio de Janiero, declined to provide specific sales reports, but had numerous high-value works listed in their viewing room.

Roesler had two works on offer in the $250,000–$500,000 range by Julio Le Parc and Abraham Palatnik, as well as an Antonio Dias shaped painting for $100,000–$250,000. In an email, a spokesperson for the gallery said “the fair has been successful overall” and reported sales of work by Sérgio Sister and Laura Vinci. (The gallery also launched its own online viewing room on its website in tandem with its participation in SP-Arte.)

Fortes’s offerings included a 2011 mixed-media work by Valeska Soares, a 2020 painting by Janaina Tschäpe, and a 2020 painting by Sarah Morris, each for $100,000–$250,000. In an email, Alex Gabriel, partner and director of Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, said that, of the online fairs the gallery had done, which included Art Basel and Frieze, they had the most engagement from SP-Arte.

“We received a very significant number of inquiries directly from the platform,” Gabriel said. “However, since we are in São Paulo, our hometown, there is a different temporality when it comes to concluding sales. We are pleased with the results so far and have high hopes for the upcoming weeks. In terms of comparing with the physical fair, it doesn’t. It’s an altogether different experience.”

Another one of Brazil’s leading galleries, Casa Triângulo, sold works by Brazilian female artists, including a painting by Mariana Palma ranging in price from $30,000–$50,000, a painting by Sandra Cinto for $70,000, and a sculpture by Lucas Simões for $6,000–$10,000. A drawing by Juliana Cerqueira sold for a price between $1,000 and $2,000. Leite currently has a solo exhibition titled “Hotel Marajoara” on view at the gallery.

Jan Fjeld, a director at São Paulo’s Vermelho gallery, reported the sale of a bronze sculpture, titled We the Enemy, by Carlos Motta for $8,000 and a work by Cinthia Marcelle from her “Calendário series” for $32,000. He added that sales at other online fairs, such as ArteBA and Frieze New York, have had “slower traction” than the in-person ones. “My guess is that the VR fair experiences is far from substituting the good old fashioned hustle of a real art fair,” Fjeld said. “Human contact and experience are vital. We’ve had some interest, already closed a couple of sales, but nothing that compares to a real, analogue, pre-Covid-19 art fair.”

São Paulo’s Galerie Leme reported selling works by artists in its stable, including America :democracia racial, melting pot and pureza de razas (2019) by Jaime Lauriano for 40,000 Real ($7,393) and Rebecca Carapiá’s drawing Caderno 1 – Tela 5 from the 2020 installation series “Como colocar ar nas palavras” (How to put air in words) for 10,000 Real ($1,848). The gallery had also launched its own online viewing room, and Eduardo Leme, the gallery’s director, said the enterprise had seen more interest there than through SP-Arte’s platform. “Even so, there is a lot of interest in works presented at the fair,” he said, adding that he expects the excitement to continue mounting.

Uruguay’s Galeria SUR, which specializes in Latin American modernists, received various inquiries for works by Joaquín Torres García, Eduardo Cardozo, María Freire, and Marcelo Legrand, all of whom are on its roster. All the works offered are priced between 100,000 to 1 million Real ($18,482 to $184,829).

“It has been a new challenge, and very interesting for the entire gallery team,” said Martin Castillo, the gallery director regarding the first edition of the online fair. The shift to virtual collecting has proven to be manageable, he said. “The challenge is how to create a consistent virtual exhibition which shows the profile and quality of the gallery.”

Unlike most online fairs, SP-Arte’s online viewing rooms required dealers to curate their booths. If at times this led to a more overwhelming experience, it also created a more interesting one overall—almost every artwork was accompanied by a paragraph-long description of the artist and the work, and some had added video components featuring the gallery’s artists as well.

Fernanda Feitosa, a collector and SP-Arte’s founder and managing director, said, “I think the result is powerful. It established a connection and a proximity with the gallery and especially with the artists. When you go to fair, the main figure is the gallery owner, talking to you about the artists, but when you go to our online edition, the protagonist is the artist.”

Fernanda Resstom, director of São Paulo’s Central Galeria, said, “We really wanted to use this opportunity to present a concise idea and connection between our team of artists. It is much more than just creating a simple online portfolio and content, it’s a platform that enhances the gallery’s positioning toward collectors, curators, museums/institutions, artists, and other galleries.”

Gus Moura de Almeida, a sales director at Galeria Jaqueline Martins in São Paulo, agreed. The gallery had sold work by Charbel-joseph H. Boutros (for €4,000) and two Xerox works  by Hudinilson Jr. (each for 25,000 Real). “The selection highlights key aspects of the gallery’s program: to shed light over productions marked by an experimental character and promoting potent dialogues between artists of different generations,” he said.

A sense of optimism punctuated the fair. São Paulo’s Galeria Aura reported that it was settling negotiations for two works by Guerreiro do Divino Amor and Bruno Weilemann, both valued at 25,000 Real ($4,619). The high level of interest left gallery director Bruna Bailune hopeful for even more sales. “The art market in São Paulo has had ups and downs since the pandemic started,” Bailune said. “For Aura it’s been a good moment, our clients are not traveling and the lifestyle has changed so they are investing a lot more in art.”

And the energy is palpable, according to SP-Arte’s organizers. Typically, SP-Arte welcomes around 36,000 visitors to its physical edition, but according to Feitosa, within its first two days, the viewing rooms registered more than 30,000 hits. “It has the potential for us to become truly global,” she said, “with more chances of reaching the global community.”


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