Unseen 2016

A report of my visit to the opening of Unseen 2016, the annual photography fair, Amsterdam.


Generally, I find art openings a little overwhelming. New art pieces, big audiences, and countless distractions make for a rather chaotic environment, not the best if you want to visit an exhibition properly and to get an article out of it. The Unseen opening could be considered even more challenging than normal, since the fair counts 54 participating galleries, more than 150 artists and ‘I-don’t-even-wanna-know’ how many artworks/visitors.

This abundance of art (and people) is held within the fascinating Gashouder, a circular building with an industrial soul, in the middle of Westerpark. The interior design of the fair is considered its trade mark: it consists of a wheel-shaped structure, lying on the floor, whose spokes become the walls where the artworks are shown. All these walls are pointing at the same vertex, in the middle: the bar, with its flashy blue neon. It’s the mother that feeds her own branches, it’s the heart that pumps alcohol through the veins of the building in this pseudo-futuristic architecture.

Unseen 2016, © Iris Duvekot

First of all, I must say that Unseen showed me a pure and incomparable aesthetic of photography. Walking through the fair, I experienced the astonishing beauty of our reality captured by the wise eyes of great photographers, both established and emerging.

HvdWoude_Egbertenonderbroek (1)
Hanne van der Woude

All the participating galleries are competing in a creative battle that does not allow any false step. In an art world where the innovation becomes every day harder to be found, the innovation itself is still considered one of the main values of an artwork.

Sometimes the obsessive search for the new could lead to grotesque results that culminate in some contentless stylistic exercises. Other times, instead, it brings to some interesting experiments that go beyond the physical limit given by the paper print: photography is slowly abandoning the two-dimensionality by enriching the artwork with details that transform a picture into a 3D installation.

Mari Katayama


Stephen Gill

Content-wise I’ve noticed a (strongly) emphasized approach towards a few specific topics that have been the protagonists of this edition: ethnic diversity, African culture and female body.

Lana Mesic
Stephanie Syjuco_300 DPI
Stephanie Syjuco
Namsa Leuba

Ntomb'zane, Mayotte, 2015 - 9932

Atong Atem
Atong Atem

Insofar as on a first impact, it’s nice to see how these topics are actually getting under the public eye, I can’t help but wondering what is the purity of intent behind these choices.
I have to ask myself: have these contents been selected by the gallerists because there was a firm belief behind them, or because it’s easy to ride the success of their temporary mediatic value?

Empowering women, feminism, female bodies: these topics were addressed quite often by many different galleries.

Jesus Madriñan
JunoCalypso_TheHoneymoon_A-Dream-In-Green-2015 (1)
Juno Calypso


This content choice made me reflect upon the criteria used by the gallerists in such an occasion as an art fair: where is the boundary between a strong artistic belief and the exploitation of a temporary trend? Which are the reasons behind a selection of an artwork instead of another? And how is the involvement of money influencing this decision?

Immediately I thought about the recent H&M commercial (see the video here) : “while the video is undeniably fabulous, there is one looming problem. It’s an ad. It’s an ad that, at its core, is designed to promote the idea that H&M stands for something great. They just want to capitalize on the idea of empowering females in order to sell their clothes. But feminism isn’t a trend to be enjoyed for autumn 2016, nor is it a privilege that is only supposed to be accessible to women who can afford to shop.” Read the full article here

While visiting Unseen, I sometimes noticed the same shrewd mechanism popping up from the artworks.

But let’s assume that the selection of artworks was based on money profit (after all, Unseen is an art fair): would it be ethically right to accept the compromise as long as people keep on addressing these social issues in contemporary art? Till which point “the end justifies the means”?

I haven’t found an answer yet.
I guess this is the mirror of a contemporary art market made of money, trends and life stories.

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