Navigating an Art Fair

There has been a boom in the art fair world over the past few years, and it now seems that there are more art fairs than one can possibly attend. The good news, however, is that there are art fairs geared towards many different kinds of collectors. All you need to do is focus on the ones that are right for you.

First of all, galleries and art dealers pay to take booths at art fairs as a way of displaying their inventory and reaching a broad art audience. Often the material is vetted (or examined, quality tested, etc) in advance by reputable experts in the field so that you know the show has a level of integrity and legitimacy. Not every dealer gets a spot at a fair, and many are highly competitive to join. This works to the advantage of you, the buyer or attendee, as the exhibitors are usually established and respected dealers and galleries. Generally attendance is open to the public and costs between $10 and $100 depending upon which fair you choose. Your fair catalogue is generally included in that price. There are often preview parties in the evenings the first few nights of the fair that are special events for select groups of people. These parties give people the opportunity to have a sort of private viewing of the fair and socialize, and they are often fund raisers to benefit a charity, museum or for the fair itself.

How do you know what art fairs to go to? Here are some general pointers.

For example, if you are intersted in contemporary photography there are a few fairs that you will want to attend to see your area of collecting interest. Some fairs like the AIPAD (Association of International Photgraphy Art Dealers) fair in New York are devoted entirely to photography. Attending a fair such as this is a great way to familiarize yourself with the best and best-known dealers in any particular field. You may also find that you are able to spot trends and what is popular by walking through such a fair and seeing what is being featured and what has sold. There are other general art fairs that you will want to attend, as well, that will be comprised of all types of fine art from photography to painting to prints to sculpture. Though these fairs can be large and overwhelming you can walk through and focus just on the photography offerings.

How do you manage the larger fairs? It is often like visiting the Louvre for an afternoon and wondering where to begin. Here are a few ideas:

1. Read reviews of the art fairs in your local paper to see how the critics describe the offerings. You can get a lot of information this way and see if it is something you want to pursue.

2. Art fair organizers usually have information available on their websites in advance of the shows so that you can look at the list of exhibitors and make yourself a list of whose booths you don’t want to miss. When you enter get a map of the exhibitors and head to your intended booths. That will give you a focus and a plan which should help. You can always browse the other booths later.

3. Sign the guest book when you visit a booth that you enjoy at an art fair so that you will be on the gallery’s mailing lists for future art fair announcements. They will keep you informed about where they will be and when. Grab a flyer or business card from the gallery for your files as well.

4. Take breaks. Often you can buy a mulitple day pass which allows you to spend just a few hours looking at the artwork and then reutrn the next day for more so you don’t burn out. You can also often ask for a stamp for re-entry later that same day. There are cafes spread throughout the fairs, too, which many people enjoy for a chance to sit down and re-group.

5. Attend fairs in all price ranges to really learn about your area of interest. Some of the fairs are very high end and can be intimidating. Don’t be afraid to go, however, and treat it as a learning experience. You learn a lot by seeing the best. Don’t forget to ask for prices on anything you like — the dealers will tell you the price, and you should feel free to write it down. Chances are that if you try to remember it all by the end of the fair you will forget most of what you priced as there is just so much information out there. You should also go to fairs that are more accessible in terms of purchasing, such at the Affordable Art Fair which happens in many cities around the world. You will discover artists you have never heard of at these types of fairs and you can usually find something you can afford if you are in the market to buy.

6. Grab a catalogue on your way out (not on the way in — who wants to carry it around all day!). Each gallery or dealer will have a page or an advertisement in the catalogue which is a great way to remember everyone you saw and met.