The importance of art fairs in the ever evolving art industry

On 14 June, Basel hosts the 49th ’Art Basel’ fair and promises 289 participating galleries from 35 countries, dominating the early summer art world for collectors, dealers and just curious bystanders. However, it also highlights the increasing rise and importance of the international art fair within the industry.

The ’Basel’ brand has expanded to include Miami (December) and Hong Kong (March), now in their 17th and 6th years respectively. This year also sees a Cities Week in Buenos Aires, which is no surprise with a growing focus on artistic talent in Central America and Miami Basel featuring a large number of Hispanic galleries and artists. A move into South America is therefore logical, both artistically and commercially.

The organisation behind the Basel brand is MCH Group AG, an international exhibitions and marketing company and the brand has grown with just under 80,000 visitors to Hong Kong, 82,000 to Miami and 95,000 in Basel last year alone  ̶  indicating the popularity of art fairs and the need for them in today’s art world.
’Frieze’ is another popular art fair which started in 2003 in Regents Park, with New York following in 2013 and Los Angeles to be launched in 2019. Frieze London attracts over 60,000 visitors and New York is just behind with between 45,000 – 50,000 visitors.

Not to be outdone is the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) held in Maastricht, established in 1988 and covering both fine art and antiques, and expanded to New York in 2016 which shows in spring and fall. Unusually it runs as a not-for-profit organisation, but attracts 75,000 visitors in Europe though a lower number in New York which is expected to grow. There is also the ARCO Madrid and Lisbon International Contemporary Art Fairs and Madrid 2018 was the 37th such event and reputedly attracts 90,000 visitors.

So with large footfall, international participation and millions of dollars changing hands, it is little wonder that these fairs are coming to dominate the skyline of the art world. However, this brings with it a number of challenges for the industry and a potential dynamic shift in the way that buyers connect with galleries. With the importance of the fairs to galleries becoming increasingly important, it raises the question about the place of the more traditional galleries in London, Paris, New York and other major cities. How can they remain relevant and draw in collectors and potential buyers outside the cycle of the fairs? Taking this a stage further, how can those running the fairs also encourage the public (and buyers in particular) to still visit galleries, shows and other events outside of these high profile events?

At Frieze New York it was encouraging to see a space given to Allied Editions, a collective supporting New York and London not-for-profit enterprises, with works available for much lower prices than elsewhere in the fair. Including a partnership with Camden Arts Centre, this was a first show in New York following successful support for the initiative in London.

Frieze also produces the Art Newspaper which promotes other shows and events, which is encouraging but ultimately comes down to galleries connecting with buyers ̶ –  both known and potential – following up and inviting them to other previews and events. Therefore networking, as well as selling on the day, with an eye to the collector of the future.

Eyes will shortly be turning to Basel 2018, where we will see the efforts it is making to widen the appeal with new galleries and names, and see where it is looking to shine its spotlight.

For more information on how we can support the art world, please contact Philip Clark.

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