Art Market

Why You’re Seeing So Many More Works on Paper at Art Fairs

Casey Lesser
Nov 1, 2017 10:18PM
Camilo Restrepo
Land Reform 15, 2017
Steve Turner

This week, as Artissima opens its 24th edition in Torino, the art fair debuts a new section, “Disegni,” a selection of 26 galleries from around the world with solo booths devoted to drawing, which aims both to boost the medium’s prestige and engage new collectors with the approachable medium.

This fresh addition to the fair, curated by Luís Silva and João Mourão, both directors at Kunsthalle Lissabon in Lisbon, is the latest and perhaps most prominent example of the growing presence of drawings and works on paper at international art fairs. For example, leading galleries like Gagosian, Skarstedt, and Lévy Gorvy had significant portions of their booths given over to the mediums last month at Frieze London and Frieze Masters.

While drawings are traditionally understood as lesser than paintings or sculpture, in terms of both artistic and monetary value, the Disegni section at Artissima makes the case for drawings as formidable works in the art ecosystem, not just within an artist’s practice, but as staples for new and seasoned collectors alike.

“I didn’t want to focus on drawing as a specific medium but rather as a way in which artists express themselves,” said Ilaria Bonacossa, Artissima’s new director, who instituted the Disegni section.


Bonacossa attributes the current enthusiasm for drawings in part to the ubiquity of electronic screens and digital devices. “I think, at least a little bit, all of the digital platforms we live with make the idea of pencil on paper is kind of nostalgic, the gesture really brings you back,” she said. “On the other hand, I also think the art world is in continuous cycles, so things go out of fashion and disappear, and when no one is thinking about them they come back, and all the artists deal with them again.” She cited a period during the 1970s when drawing were particularly popular among collectors in the Western art world.

She was motivated to launch the Disegni section through her own passion for collecting drawings, as well as the important role that drawings play for artists—“the idea that it’s really the way in which artists think”—as well as the appeal of the medium to collectors. With Disegni, Artissima also introduces the Refresh Irinox Prize, a €5,000 juried award sponsored by the Treviso-based company Irinox, which will be given to one artist employing the medium in innovative ways.

Silva and Mourão, who have also curated for ZsONA MACO in the past, sought to convey drawings as an important artistic vehicle—as a specific and ideal means through which artists can communicate. But they also kept the commercial remit of the art fair in mind. “We know it is a big commitment for a gallery to buy a booth, ship works, pay for trips, and hotels,” Silva acknowledged. “They need to at least break even and we thought about that while we were choosing artists and galleries to include.”

“We always understood the creation of this sector as an effort by Artissima to create new collectors, and drawing tends to be a very easy way into the world of collecting,” Silva continued. “Potential collectors could feel overwhelmed by large-scale installations or performative works or videos; drawing may seem safer, as a non-threatening medium.”

Patrizio Di Massimo, Animism, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and T293, Rome.

From a collecting standpoint, there’s no denying that drawings are accessible, particularly in comparisons to other art forms. “I think drawings have a big advantage because you can love or hate a drawing but you’re not going to question if it’s a drawing,” Bonacossa explained, noting that drawings are particularly well suited to those who claim not to understand or feel comfortable with contemporary art. “This is a drawing. You can just look at it and decide if it moves you or produces an emotion; you love it or you don’t.”

But that’s not to say that the section is filled with straightforward, ink or pencil drawings on sheets of paper. Works range from figurative, acrylic works by Vanessa Beecroft at Lia Rumma to a large-scale, booth-sized work by Patrizio Di Massimo at T293. There is a diversity of artists represented as well, in terms of ethnicity, gender, and career stage, from emerging artists to established names like Tony Oursler, Mark Dion, and Jan Fabre. In doing this, the curators not only sought to illustrate the artistic range and integrity of drawings but they were also looking to appeal to a broad range of collectors, from novices to experts. And galleries, cognizant of this, were eager to partake.

“We wanted to present scope—from very traditional approaches to drawing and works on paper to the other drawing as a metaphor, as a narrative rather than a tool,” Silva said.

Indeed, Bonacossa noted that the section could have been double the size, based on the enthusiasm on the part of galleries.

Lucia Nogueira, Untitled. © Estate of Lucia Nogueira. Courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

“It’s a good idea, not just because it might attract a less wealthy market but because it encourages a more intimate engagement amidst the spectacular,” said British gallerist Anthony Reynolds. He acknowledges there are entire fairs devoted to drawing or works on paper, like Salon du Dessin and Art on Paper, but Disegni is unique within the context of a larger fair.

Reynolds added that the fair was an ideal environment in which to present the lesser-known drawings of the late Brazilian sculptor Lucia Nogueira (priced on the range of €3,000–€6,000), who is esteemed for her three-dimensional works. “The curated aspect of the section with its focus on solo presentations is in tune with our current activity in general,” he added, nodding to the gallery’s program, which has operated itinerantly through projects and art fairs since 2015, when he closed his brick-and-mortar space in London.

Rome-based gallery T293 also approached Disegni as a timely opportunity, presenting the young Italian artist Di Massimo’s large, wallpaper work titled Prediction (2017). “The scene has an apocalyptic—hence the title Prediction—and, at the same time, erotic and ironic flavor,” says the gallery’s Monica De Sario. While that main work, priced at €10,000 (22% VAT excluded), is the focus of the presentation, the gallery is also showing small drawings by Di Massimo, at a range of €1,200–€1,500 (22% VAT excluded).

Lucia Nogueira, Untitled, 1990. © Estate of Lucia Nogueira. Courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.  

De Sario describes Disegni as “a perfect stage” for the artist’s recent works, “as it was conceived to celebrate this discipline and to explore the most recent developments in this medium,” while also acknowledging that the section “will be an intelligent way to engage with new collectors.”

Los Angeles gallerist Steve Turner, who is showing at Artissima for the first time this year, said the fair was “ahead of the game” in its decision to create a section of works on paper. He is bringing Colombian artist Camilo Restrepo to an Italian audience for the first time, with three groups of the artist’s work—which addresses the Colombian drug war—ranging from small diptychs priced at $2,500 each, to a large, colorful drawing priced at $28,000. He described the works as dynamic and dense in a way that will delight collectors who may normally focus on paintings.

“I never felt that I’m doing something less than a serious booth by having works on paper,” Turner said. “I just think that drawings have always been the realm of the connoisseur, and it’s nice to see them get more attention with a section.”

For her part, Bonacossa is confident in the ability of drawings, in the broad sense of the term, to speak to viewers. “I think drawings have this strength, you feel they’re intimate, as if they’re talking just to you” she said. “And this is something I think collectors really love.”

Casey Lesser
Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Director of Content.