by Jeffrey Grunthaner
Normally, when people think or talk about places to buy or sell art, the first location to come to mind is an art gallery, followed closely by art dealers. But there’s another arena that’s well worth considering seriously as an artist, and that’s art fairs.
Art fairs exist the world over, includw an immense diversity of art, and range from small and local to large and international. They retain great popularity with artists trying to reach a slightly different market and art-lovers looking for a fun day out, for a specific work of art, or to keep up with trends in the art world and seek out new talent.
But in all that hustle-bustle, what is the key to standing out in the crowd? How do you make the most of an art fair as an artist? Here’s what you need to do.
Choosing A Fair That Suits You
Art fairs have undoubtedly become crucial in elevating local art scenes to an international level. For an artist, what could be more beneficial and exciting than showcasing their works in front of thousands of potential buyers and participating galleries?
Art fairs give artists an opportunity to not only expose their art on an international level to several different kinds of audiences but also to build their network and assess their potential markets.
However, hard choices come along with the rise of immense possibilities. The first decision to be made is locating the kind of art fair that is best suited to you. Local fairs often have an intimate feel and can be valuable sources for new interested buyers, as visitors may be struck by what you have to offer and seek to follow up with you.
Larger art fairs may seem like the more attractive option. Frieze London and Art Basel are world-famous, and stage well-known events which draw an annual influx of visitors from all over the globe. However, Art Basel is in no way a fair for galleries that are just starting out. Only the most established galleries have a shot at participating, and there are no favorites.
Regardless of how many times a gallery might have shown with Art Basel, they still have to reapply each year. Underlying all this is a highly selective committee composed of an international panel of six experts; their main task is to make sure weaker applications are eliminated.
Along with all this, your average booth costs approximately $50,000, while some high-end booths are known to cost $100,000. Factor in the cost of travel, paying for the shipment of artworks, remunerating your staff, and even acquiring WiFi ($800 to access), and you’ll see why some galleries simply break even in their effort to reach out to a new collector base. All this for an event which lasts for 4 – 5 days.
Frieze London is similarly difficult to access. About 500 galleries apply each year for the fair, but only an average of 160 actually make the cut. As a new gallery or artist-run space, you might want to apply for Focus, which is still affiliated with Frieze, but showcases galleries exhibiting emerging artists who have not have entered the international market yet.
More locally, some US states have well-known annual events which draw visitors from a wide area, and you may feel that those might be beneficial to your career. However, you need to also think about and prepare for the difficulties. The first and foremost would be the financial commitment that goes with such large-scale art fairs. You should also consider the costs of transportation and/or shipping before making your decision. It is always better to plan how you are going to deal with the obstacles before committing to anything.
Then there are the international events, such as the ArtExpo, which, while not having the key-player status of either Art Basel or Frieze London, take place every year and are now accompanied by a number of alternative shows at the same time. Most artists consider these events as ideal settings for moving their art into the global scene, while others fear getting lost in the crowd. You have to think seriously about what is most appropriate for you, your work, and your market.
Decide who you would like to exhibit in front of and what the geographical location should be. With the sheer number of art fairs around and little guidance, it’s easy to lose track of the main goal.
Agora Gallery presents the ways in which an artist can participate in an art fair. Whether you’ll show your art through art galleries, individually, or with the help of a competition, we’re here to explain to you everything about showcasing your work at art fairs.Agora Gallery’s booth at the Affordable Art Fair 2017
The most common and, perhaps, the easier method of securing presence at an art fair is to go via an art gallery. If you are an established artist, you may already have representation in a gallery and all you would need to do is convince the gallery to take part in the fair you think would suit you best. The rest of the procedure is usually handled by the gallery itself. However, this does not mean you can just sit back and relax.
You must make sure that you are up to speed with the process at all times and help the gallery staff in providing any information they might need from you. Being a part of an established gallery’s art collection can help you gain access to their international clients, and enhance the assumed value of your works.
However, as an emerging artist still on the lookout for gallery representation, the process would be slightly different and a little more demanding. In most cases, art fairs do allow you to secure a space or a booth individually. Do keep in mind, that there are usually limited spots for such booths and you would have to be vigilant about signing up on time and that the larger the fair is, the harder it is to get accepted.
Signing up individually will also require you to have some funds at hand, as you will need to travel, take care of accommodations and often hire another person to assist you while working at the booth, so that should be another thing to consider before you make your final decision.
Useful Article: 8 Benefits Of Gallery Representation
Another way to be a part of one such event, although it’s only valid for some fairs, is through participation in competitions affiliated with the fair. These competitions are usually announced months before the fair, so make sure to sign up on time. More often than not, they focus on a particular theme or region, which might require you to create completely new artworks. However, if your art does get selected, it is sponsored and featured by the fair, giving your artwork a significant advantage.
Once you have an idea about the fair you want to participate in and a plan for actually doing it, there are some other things you need to consider.
For one, you should pick your booth carefully. In order to exhibit a clear affiliation with fine art, avoid being too close to craft stalls. Another precaution would be to make sure your booth is away from the food and drinks stalls.
Fairs differ in what they will provide, from a simple empty space allotted to you, to a table or to a wooden stall. It’s important to find out beforehand what the conditions are so you know what to expect.
If you can, visit the fair or try to find pictures of the previous editions and, if possible, in the same location, to give you an idea of how it usually looks when it’s all set up. Plan well in advance, make sure you are prepared and have all the items ready: from the right chairs, a nice tablecloth and vinyl lettering of your name.
Subsequently, when you have enrolled into the fair, the space should definitely be something you concentrate on. If you are being represented by a gallery, it may not be your topmost priority but as an individual artist, you need to give some thought to the design of your space. You want to stand out, but in a friendly and approachable way rather than an intimidating one. People should be able to see and admire your work and feel comfortable coming up to you to ask about it. Don’t clutter the stall with so many pieces that individually, they can’t really make an impression. Choose carefully which art will go on display. It’s generally worth having a range of differently priced works available, to target a good spectrum of visitors. If it’s the kind of fair where people are likely to walk off there and then with the pieces they buy, make sure to have thought about which of your other paintings you have with you to put in their place.
It’s important to have more information available than just the works you display. Keep enough business cards at your disposal to distribute to interested buyers. This way they can contact you in the future if they are not completely sure about making a purchase. A catalog from a recent exhibition, or a folder showing other examples of your work, will give interested viewers a chance to see your art in a broader context. A short artist statement, and perhaps an artist bio, can be useful – people like to get a sense of who they’re seeing. And, of course, be ready to talk about your work, your background, and yourself.
Useful Articles: Writing an Artist Biography & How to Write an Artist Statement
How To Present Yourself
For starters, it’s not necessary to be present at the art fair, but it helps. Even with the gallery staff present at the booth, ready with all the required information, it is sometimes helpful for potential buyers to have the artist around. Most collectors want to know more about the artist and their process to really get interested in the works.
Useful Article: Promoting Artwork: Context, Context, Context
If you are there, give the impression that you’re happy to talk to people – smile, shake hands, chat, be friendly. You’ve every reason to be predisposed to like these people – they were caught by your work and wanted to find out more. Relax and enjoy explaining!
Remember, art fairs can be a really great opportunity for networking, securing sales and even achieving international success. However, all that doesn’t come easy. You need to make a conscious effort to stand out in the vast crowd of extremely talented creative contemporaries. A little hard work and a few great first impressions can take you very far. Just be yourself, be prepared and let your art do its magic!
Have you got any good tips or fun experiences to share about art fairs? Let us know in the comments section or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Would you like to participate in such events? Visit Fine Art Initiatives to discover the opportunities that we present.
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer based in New York. You can find his work in BOMB, artnet News, The Clauduis App, Archinect, Imperial Matters, Folder, or Hyperallergic. He curates a reading series on contemporary poetics at Hauser & Wirth, West 22nd Street.
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