Untitled Art Fair 2018 // Photo by Hrag Vartanian, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic

Love at First Sight, If You Can Get a Good Look at It

Nothing matches the buzz around art fairs: standing shoulder to shoulder, moving from one booth to the next, weaving through the jolting, serpentine paths to suddenly come upon the most stunning art piece to add to your collection.

But, are people still flocking to art fairs or is technology changing the way we consume art on a larger scale?

The long and short of it? As the art market experiences massive globalization, we have seen international art fairs rise from just 10 to 60 over the last ten years. Art fairs remain the predominant economic model for the art market, though there are a few disrupting factors to be aware of as we go into the next ten years.

Increasing Online Sales and Current World Events Are Affecting Attendance Numbers

Because fairs draw together galleries, dealers, collectors, and artists to one area for a limited time, people who choose to travel are presented with a desirable, densely populated audience. In short, you get the biggest bang for your buck.

According to Abby Bangser, Frieze’s Artistic Director for the Americas and Asia, art fairs benefit collectors with “an enormous amount of art all in one space and it is especially useful for galleries outside the major urban centers, who may see far fewer clients at their galleries. The fairs are also well attended by students and artists, who appreciate seeing a broad spectrum of art, without the need for taking the time and financial resources for wide-ranging travel.”

However, while financial factors can dictate your decision to attend art fairs, natural disasters, epidemic diseases, and political uncertainty also put limits on your ability to travel. Miami Basel 2016, for example, saw a decline in attendance because the Zika virus outbreak made people hesitate to travel.

The Problem Between Big Fish, Little Fish

With large, well-established art fairs, emerging artists and new galleries are finding an increasingly competitive application process where they are often overlooked for more reputable galleries and established artists.

Smaller and regionally-focused art fairs, while boosting a city’s tourism draw, must also compete effectively with their well-known older brothers.

Art buyers, as a result of this saturated market, are picky about the quality of art, and they want to get away from overly-crowded spaces. People are more deliberate about matching quality to the price they can afford, given the market’s uncertainty.

These factors create an atmosphere where art fair sales slow and the middle gets squeezed, which affects the quality and inventory found in second-tier art fairs.

Art Fair Malaga // Stand 36 // Palacio de Feria y Congresos de Malaga. Spain, July 2017. Torre Mayado.

Galleries Are Experimenting With Unique, Less Costly Ways to Draw in Audiences

Creativity abounds for galleries that lease vacant storefronts, using the space for temporary exhibitions and pop-up events. These galleries are setting the bar for revitalized urban spaces. Pop-up spaces allow collectors to consider artwork they like and the time to decide when to buy — process that doesn’t happen at the same pace during an art fair.

Alternative spaces give smaller galleries unique opportunities to gain exposure where they otherwise would not.

For example, two London galleries—Arcadia Missa and Supplement—went in together to lease a space in New York for six months, alternating exhibits each month. The temporary space lets them develop “new and stronger relationships” with artists and collectors in New York while giving collectors the opportunity to view their international inventory.

From Art Fairs to Pop-Ups, People Want Mind-Blowing Art Experiences

When art fairs become cost-prohibitive for galleries and stifling to artists’ creativity, galleries and artists are finding new ways to find buyers, driven primarily by the power of social networking and unique business opportunities.

However, art fairs in recent history have taken over the way we look at art, says Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief for Fine Art Connoisseur.

“Everything is becoming event-driven, and, in order to succeed, you need to give people a chance to succeed in person. You need to create unmissable events that make people come out and interact. It’s almost impossible to run a gallery with just a static storefront."

In a market filled with creatives, these business models will continue to evolve, adapting the tried-and-true methods to new ways to connect collectors, artists, and artwork.

With business-savvy directors, these unique events may offer lower costs and higher benefits to galleries who cannot compete with larger art fairs. However, art fairs remain the model for creating high-density, limited events filled with enthusiastic dealers, collectors, artists from around the world.

Local art fairs and pop-up exhibitions are a fun way to shop for collectible art. Take a look at our free e-book, Essential Guide to Collecting Art, where you can find more advice about finding and buying art that you love.