The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

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Course Description

spring 2012

01240 | ARC 696

Designing an Art World: the Contemporary Art Fair

Igor Siddiqui

Art Basel Miami

Art Basel Miami Beach, 2010.



The studio will consider the art fair as a contemporary spatial condition that presents an opportunity for negotiating a set of relationships between art and design today. An art fair may be defined as a temporary event of commercial nature, a serial exhibition in which multiple art dealers and galleries present selected works from their roster of artists and/or collections. Although art fairs have evolved into public events experienced by broad audiences - often providing exposure to visual arts not entirely unlike those facilitated by non-profit institutions like museums - their primary intent is to connect dealers with collectors in order to generate sales. Such fairs range in scale, scope, content, and reputation. Our specific focus will be on annual international art fairs that deal with contemporary art, in other words those fairs whose mix of member galleries is international and where the fine art that is presented is primarily new and in commercial circulation for the first time (also known as the primary market).

According to a 2011 study commissioned by the European Fine Art Foundation, an average of 30% of art dealers' business is conducted at art fairs and over half of all sales are generated in the global art market. Based on similar data, the same study concludes that traditional on-street gallery model as the primary venue for art commerce is in steady decline. The status of urban brick-and-mortar art spaces that defined the 20th century gallery system has been increasingly challenged by the prevalence of temporary art fairs (as well as by electronic sales) altering as such the rituals of public art appreciation and the protocols that shape fine arts commerce.  From the very first art fair of its type - the 1967 KUNSTMARKT in Cologne, Germany - to the ongoing annual installments of Art Basel, Frieze, Pulse, and NADA fairs, these events temporarily take over municipal buildings, convention centers, private estates, warehouses, parks, even hotels, and their impact on the local economies that they interface with can be significant. Moreover, the most elite fairs serve as attractor points for a constellation of other spin-offs that surround them, creating as such new forms of temporary urbanism that annually transform entire sections of cities like London, Miami, and Basel. While such environments are undoubtedly designed, the design often plays a secondary role in the overall experience and atmosphere of these events. More recently, however, the status of design - namely architectural, interior and product design - has been increasingly elevated at such fairs. This is evident not only through the proliferation of simultaneous spin-off design fairs or by the presence of discrete sections within art fairs where design artifacts are sold as art, but more significantly by the recent commissions of young design practitioners (such as Aranda/Lasch at Design Miami in 2008 and 2009 and SO-IL at the upcoming 2012 Frieze fair in New York) to create the actual environment of the fair itself. The potential for innovative interaction between contemporary art and design in such an environment forms the point of departure for this studio.


As such, the premise of the studio is to investigate alternatives to the prevalent role of design as "background" in the display of contemporary art. The art fair as a site and program will provide the framework for the synergy - as well as significant tension - between cutting-edge art and aesthetically innovative design. In other words, if contemporary art fairs present an opportunity to introduce the public to all that is new in the art world, how can they also be leveraged so that they may do the same for spatial design?  



The studio is divided in three interrelated parts, each dependant on intensive research as well as extensive use of design techniques to produce possible spatial strategies:


1.     Visualization of data (Project 1)

As an introduction to the subject matter, the studio will gather comprehensive information about contemporary art fairs and their relationships to the broader contexts within which they are situated. The content of the research will be organized into following interrelated categories:

a.     Chronologies - historical, seasonal, relative to specific locations, durations, protocols, etc.

b.     Geographies - global distributions, adjacencies, locations, destinations, etc.

c.     Economies - markets, profits, revenues, costs, etc.

d.     Typologies - various species of art fairs, relative to their content, scope, scale, etc.

Gathered data will be presented primarily through visual means, with mapping and diagramming as primary methods of representation. The work, to be conducted in students groups, will be compiled in a publication-ready format (book-sized).


2.     Morphological research (Project 2)

Given the fundamentally cellular nature of art-fair organization, the studio will investigate the morphologies of those systems that are multiple, component-based, repetitive, but also flexible within limits and allow for degrees of variation. Working in pairs, students will investigate cellular patterns and their three-dimensional potential. Work will be produced primarily through models - digital and physical - with the aim of the studio to produce taxonomy of morphologies for collective use.

The central aim of this project is to delve into the long lineage of and probe the current status of form-finding and generative design techniques. Self-organization, self-assembly, cellular growth, material agency, aggregation protocols, and other allied issues will be engaged, exploited, and questioned as viable models for design generation.


3.     Site-specific deployment (Project 3 - Final Project)

The final project will be to design an alternate interior environment for the upcoming Texas Contemporary art fair in Houston (http://www.txcontemporary.com/texas). Sited at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the art fair features presentations from 70 national and international galleries and attracted over 10,000 visitors during the course of four days in its first year. The studio will not only consider the fair's current capacity and status within the existing art climate in Houston, but will also take into account its expanding scope in the future. Given the cyclical, but temporary and brief nature of such an event, significant emphasis will be placed on the tectonic aspects of the design (fabrication, components, assembly, materials, detailing) as well as its expanded lifecycle (disassembly, storage, repurposing, reuse, maintenance).


The site, the Exhibit Hall A of the Convention Center, is approximately 135,000 square feet in size, with the ceiling height of 35 feet. This space needs to be programmed, planned, and designed in anticipation of the fair's growth as well as in working with the infrastructure provided by the given building that is essential for the proper functioning of the event.


Aranda/Lasch, Design Miami façade (detail), 2008.



As an advanced studio, it is expected that students will bring in their own expertise and experience in the areas of visual communication and digital media. Fundamental knowledge in digital imaging, drawing, and modeling, gained through the Visual Communication sequence or its equivalent, is required. The studio will not offer any special tutorials in the use of digital media, however students are encouraged to take advantage of available learning resources available through the Office of Information Technology. The School offers orientation for the use of the woodshop, the CNC router, 3D printer, and laser-cutters. It is advised that each student addresses his or her individual needs early on in the semester to ensure the most productive use of the facilities and resources.


The evaluation will consider the rigor, precision and sophistication of both intellectual thought and material investigation. Informed participation in discussions and completeness of assignments is crucial. Refer to individual assignment and final project handouts for specific criteria.


Grade percentages

1. Project 1                      25%

2. Project 2                      25%

3. Project 3 (Final Project) 50%


Grade scale

A/A- : excellent

Project surpasses expectations in terms of inventiveness, appropriateness, verbal and visual ability, conceptual rigor, craft, and personal development. Student pursues concepts and techniques above and beyond what is discussed in class.


B+/B/B- : above average

Project is thorough, well researched, diligently pursued, and successfully executed. Student pursues ideas and suggestions presented in class and puts in effort to resolve required projects. Demonstrates potential for excellence.


C+/C/C- : average

Project meets the minimum requirements. Suggestions made in class are not pursued with dedication or rigor. (Note: C- does not meet the minimum grade to be counted toward the student's degree.)


D+/D/D- : below average

Basic skills including graphic skills, model-making skills, verbal clarity or logic of presentation are not level-appropriate. Student does not demonstrate the required design skill and knowledge base.


F : failure

Minimum objectives are not met.  Performance is not acceptable.  Note that this grade will be assigned with excessive unexcused absences.


X : excused incomplete

Given only for legitimate reasons of illness or family emergency. Incomplete assignments are not a cause for assigning this grade. An incomplete is assigned after consultation with the Associate Deans' offices. Incomplete coursework must be completed prior to the beginning of the following semester.


Any grade can be re-evaluated based on student concern. Subsequent evaluations can cause the grade to be reduced, remain unchanged, or increased. Grades can only be discussed on an individual basis, not as a comparison with other students' grades.



Attendance is mandatory.  Participation is expectedStudents with three (3) unexcused absences may be dropped from the course without further notice.  The minimum penalty for more than three unexcused absences is a full letter drop in your final grade for the course.  Please contact the instructor prior to class if you expect to be late or miss class.

Religious holy days sometimes conflict with class and examination schedules. If you miss an examination, work assignment, or other project due to the observance of a religious holy day you will be given an opportunity to complete the work missed within a reasonable time after the absence. You must notify each of your instructors as far in advance as possible prior to the classes scheduled on dates you will be absent to observe a religious holy day.



Students with disabilities who require special accommodations need to get a letter that documents the disability from the Services for Students with Disabilities area of the Office of the Dean of Students (471-6259 voice or 471-4641 TTY for users who are deaf or hard of hearing). This letter should be presented to the instructor in each course at the beginning of the semester and accommodations needed should be discussed at that time. Five business days before an exam the student should remind the instructor of any testing accommodations that will be needed.



Art Fairs

Horowitz, Noah. Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Mehring, Christine. "Emerging Market: the birth of the contemporary art fair." Artforum, April 2008.

Stallabrass, Julian. Art Incorporated: The Story of Contemporary Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Thompson, Don. "Art Fairs: The Dealer's Final Frontier." In The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, 169-176.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

Thornton, Sarah. The Fair." In Seven Days in the Art World, 75-107. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), 75-107.


Technical References

Hausladen, Gerhard, and Karsten Tichelmann. Interiors Construction Manual. Basel: Birkhauser, 2010.

Schittich, Christian, ed. Exhibitions and Displays: museum design concepts, brand presentations, trade-fair design. Basel: Birkhauser, 2009.

Van Onna, Edwin. Material World: Innovative Structures and Finishes for Interiors. Basel: Birkhauser, 2003.



Art fairs - general





Online articles about art fairs




Additional references will be provided with individual assignment handouts.



Week 1

W 1/18 Lottery

F 1/20 Introduction ; Project #1 assigned


Week 2

M 1/23

W 1/25

F 1/27


Week 3

M 1/30 Pin up

W 2/1

F 2/3


Week 4

M 2/6

W 2/8

F 2/10 Project #1 Review; Project #2 assigned


Week 5

M 2/13

W 2/15

F 2/17


Week 6

M 2/20 Pin up

W 2/22

F 2/24


Week 7

M 2/27 Pin up

W 3/29

F 3/2


Week 8

M 3/5 Project #2 Review

W 3/7 Final Project assigned

F 3/9 Houston site visit


Week 9

M 3/12 Spring Break

W 3/14 Spring Break

F 3/16 Spring Break


Week 10

M 3/19

W 3/21 IDEC Conference - Prof. Siddiqui is out of town

F 3/23


Week 11

M 3/26 Pin up

W 3/28

F 3/30


Week 12

M 4/2 Pin up

W 4/4

F 4/6


Week 13

M 4/9 Mid-project Review

W 4/11

F 4/13


Week 14

M 4/16

W 4/18

F 4/20


Week 15

M 4/23

W 4/25

F 4/27 Pin up


Week 16

M 4/30

W 5/2

F 5/4


Week 17

M 5/7 Final Project Due - time TBD

W 5/9 Final Review - TBD


The published schedule is for planning purposes only. The instructor may revise the calendar as necessary. Students will be notified on any changes at least one class meeting in advance.