Exhibitions represent a cost intensive delay to selling art that it is hard to see how dealers benefit from, other than by how it creates an obstacle to participation in the art market in the form of high entry costs. Competition is limited, but at the price of increasing volatility, as maintaining your operation is relatively expensive (you need the means to rent and staff a suitable space in a central area). Still, even dealers on the precarious margins of the market celebrate this practice. This reveals a commitment to an archaic ritualism that contrasts the increasing pace in markets elsewhere, where actors are either eager to onboard any practice or innovation that cheapens production and distribution costs, or awaiting inevitable doom.
This ritualism likely has to do with a need to scaffold the idea that art is more than a commodity. That it exists outside the profane realm of economic transactions, its price only a fumbling approximation of a value that is essentially non-fungible. But despite our pretentions otherwise, economic evaluation still attends to our interactions with art, even when it manifests only as vague impatience. It reminds the spectator that appreciation in any form, including that of a pure attentive presence before the object, is in the end an investment of resources, an opportu- nity cost. Time too is money, they say, which is probably why art increasingly is rewarded for the efficiency of its appeal, its immediacy.
The catalog has a long standing as a practical commercial vehicle for art. Its convenience and distributability solves the cognitive dissonance generated by a desire for art paired with reluctance towards an economy of presence that solicits involuntary, appreciative behaviors from audiences and collectors. The catalog retains a modicum of suitable ‘context’ that online marketplaces lack, yet with- out requiring human or object to show up for a cumbersome song and dance of veneration in a rarified space, to consecrate art’s presumptuous otherness. The catalog distills the work into its concrete qualities (dimensions, materials, year, bio) and gives a test of its photogeneity – all one needs to decide, really. And you can flick through it at leisure.