The Fair Unseen Amsterdam Declares Bankruptcy After Key Backers Pull Out

The international photography fair had boasted of the success of its last edition.

Unseen Amsterdam, 2017 © Almicheal Fraay, Unseen.

The organizers of the Dutch photo art fair Unseen Amsterdam have declared bankruptcy after losing a partner and key financial support in recent years. The fair confirmed the bankruptcy to Artnet News but was not able to provide further details. It is not yet clear whether the young fair, which has been taking place since 2012, will find a way to reboot in some new form next fall.

The international contemporary photography platform’s international arm, its media arm, and the fair are all bankrupt, while the Unseen Foundation, its independently run charity, remains standing. The fair was hosted in a historic former gasworks factory, Westergasfabriek in the Dutch capital each September. According to organizers, last year’s edition attracted around 25,000 visitors in 2019 and hosted 52 galleries.

The news comes as a surprise considering the positive note on which the last iteration ended last autumn. “This year’s edition of Unseen Amsterdam has been a great success,” artistic director Maurina Paulenka boasted in a statement at the time. “Every element of the programme has thrived over the past three days.” International fair participants included Gallery 1957 from Accra, Ghana, and Zilberman Gallery from Berlin and Istanbul.

Unseen Platform, the umbrella for the four ancillaries, was founded by the Amsterdam photography museum Foam, the Vandejong Creative Agency, and the agency Platform A in 2011. According to the Dutch newspaper Volksrant, the fair suffered a considerable setback in 2017 when Foam pulled out of the partnership. That same year, its two backers, BankGiro Lottery and the Blockbuster Fund, both withdrew their financial support. With that, the fair’s fate was apparently sealed, although it managed to ride out the turbulence for a few more editions.

Willemijn de Vries, coordinator of the Blockbuster Fund, told Volksrant that the investors could not see the possibility for growth in any platform that only lasted for three days a year. The BankGiro Lottery had donated a total of €3.3 million ($3.6 million) between 2012 and 2017; the Blockbuster Fund lent a total of almost €1.4 million ($1.5 million) to Unseen fair in that same time period. De Vries told Volksrant that all the loans to Unseen have been repaid.

Fair trustee Angelina Bakker told the Dutch newspaper that she hopes a reboot will still be possible. Bakker added that the fair was in talks with “interested” parties. For now, it remains unclear whether the upcoming edition, which is set to take place on September 18 to 20, will go ahead.

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