Monday. 4/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

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Attending art fairs in 2019 often felt like going for lunch with a friend who always talks about how busy they are. Everybody was “exhausted” but missed no opportunity to show up and tell you about it. And the word “proliferation” was among those frequently bandied about when discussing the increasing number of appointments in the calendar.

But after a fallow year of virtual encounters and large-figure online check-outs, even the most callous complainers will probably admit that they have missed the fanfare. Like any other trade show, an art fair is about so much more than selling: it’s a place to meet, chat, initiate projects and discover things. Online booths can satisfy the needs of a market that sees art purely as an investment. But buying art is often about much more – and few works benefit from being shown on a screen. Still, there are a few lessons from 2020 that should stick as the new year begins.

Lesson one: Many gallerists enjoyed the fact that face-to-face conversations in 2020 were typically deeper because collectors made a point of booking time for viewings. This slowed-down approach should stay.

Lesson two: Let’s be more selective, especially given how expensive it can be to attend so many events. Add that to gallerists’ renewed focus on their institution’s carbon footprint and we could see some fairs shutting up shop – or merging. It’s unlikely that the large players will perish but collaboration, in the form of projects such as the Gallery Climate Coalition, will be key. Smaller fairs enjoyed renewed relevance last year but, moving forward, they will need a proper raison d’être to survive.

Lesson three: However sceptical people might have been of buying art online, digital sales have broken a very important art market taboo: the mystique around pricing. Maintaining greater transparency will be fundamental to attracting new buyers and keeping those halls buzzing with chatter and excitement.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / North Korea

New year, new Kim?

Kim Jong-un skipped his usual New Year’s Day television address this year, opting instead to write a letter to his compatriots to wish them good health and thank them for their support. The North Korean leader has been suspiciously camera-shy throughout the coronavirus pandemic, despite his country’s struggles with sanctions and flooding. However, Kim is expected to make an appearance in the next few days at the Workers’ Party congress, a political gathering in Pyongyang that is supposed to be held every five years and is often accompanied by mass celebrations and a military parade. Regional neighbours will be keen to see what version of Kim emerges from seclusion. Washington will also be listening closely for any messages for the US president-elect; Kim is one of the few leaders yet to comment on Joe Biden’s election. While the world can hope for a friendly note of congratulations, a dose of North Korean fire and fury is far more likely.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / USA

Georgia on the mind

Voters in the US state of Georgia will decide the balance of power in the country’s Senate tomorrow – and by extension the trajectory of Joe Biden’s first term in the White House. The run-off elections being held for two open Senate seats have already become the most expensive senatorial campaign in US history. If Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (pictured, on right, with Ossoff) unseat Georgia’s two incumbent Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Democrats will regain overall control of the Senate.

It would also cement the demographic and electoral shift in Georgia: the state has been Republican since the turn of the millennium but voted narrowly for Biden in November. Opinion polls suggest that the outcome is too close to call but a state record of more than three million people voted early – a good sign for Democrats. Individual Senate elections have rarely felt so consequential: tomorrow’s results will set the tone not only in Georgia but for the next four years in Washington too.

Image: Getty Images

Society / France

Put in place

Restive regionalism and nationalism are the fear of central governments throughout Europe. But in France a familiar location is celebrating a return to the map: Alsace. Having lost its name in an administrative rejig in 2016, the fusion of the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin departments in the country’s northeast has led to the creation of the European Collectivity of Alsace, which held its first council meeting on Saturday. Alsace will sit within the larger Grand Est region but will have some special powers, including the ability to draw up cross-border co-operation plans with Germany and Switzerland, and set language and tourism policy. It’s hoped that the new approach will lead to 30,000 border jobs over the next 10 to 15 years. One point of friction is the location of the collectivity’s permanent seat; voters will settle that decision in June.

Image: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba

Retail / Canada

Counter argument

We might have seen the back of 2020 but not before the year claimed another victim: Winnipeg’s iconic Hudson’s Bay Company department store. The historic building (pictured) opened its doors on Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard in 1926 but a flagging retail scene and punishing pandemic led Hudson’s Bay to abruptly close the shop in November. What to do with a huge central landmark? Although a city advisory committee has been tasked with finding the answer, the head of Economic Development Winnipeg recently told local media that commercial outlets and office space will be the inevitable result. We hope that the city uses more imagination. Winnipeg’s relative remoteness and size might seem like a hurdle to pursuing an ambitious cultural project but naysayers need only to look to nearby Saskatoon’s Remai Modern, a public contemporary art museum that opened in 2017 to much global fanfare. After all, shouldn’t 2021 be a time for making bold changes?

Image: Stucio-Q

M24 / Meet the Writers

Writers we met in 2020

We bring you highlights from conversations with Academy Award-winner and LGBT activist Dustin Lance Black, Chilean author Isabel Allende, best-selling Nigerian-UK novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite and US presidential adviser Robert Reich.

Monocle Films / Global

Iceberg hunters

Monocle Films meets the little-known International Ice Patrol that is keeping ships safe as they navigate Atlantic waters.

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