A guide to the global art fair scene

By Jeremy Larner

Whether you’re new to the art scene or you’re a seasoned connoisseur, learning to navigate an art fair is an essential skill for any collector or enthusiast in the 21st century market. The proverbial art fair has seen a tremendous boon in the past decade and has become one of the preeminent ways that people both collect, and experience art. Ostensibly, the art fair as a truly global phenomenon has fundamentally disrupted the way in which art is acquired. Fairs in every corner of the globe have whet the appetites of many potential collectors and have helped further stimulate an already robust global art market.

While there is a myriad of reasons one might decide to take the plunge and begin collecting art - a new home in need of beautification, an investment opportunity - a visit to an art fair is a great way to find your footing and your taste as an individual collector.

There is no “one size for all” when it comes to an art fair in 2018. They come in both large and more intimate settings and show a diverse range of artists, anywhere from emerging artists to old masters. If you are new to the art scene there is no reason to feel intimated. The old trope of the elitist gallery scene is very much a thing of the past. The advent of the art fair has helped to democratize the art market, catering to all tastes, levels of wealth, and levels of art historical knowledge.

A Growing Global Trend

The art fair is truly a global phenomenon with the most celebrated fairs occurring in London, Miami, and New York. However, many smaller scale fairs have popped up on the west coast as well as all over the US (LA, San Francisco, and Dallas respectively). At each of these fairs, the layout is generally the same, each gallery has a designated booth, which showcases the artwork of either an individual or group of artists. It is also not unheard of for the artists themselves to frequent such fairs in search of inspiration or personal connection with others in the art scene.

For a true art lover, visiting an art fair can be a truly rewarding experience. Unlike a museum or other institution, here you can actually purchase the art that you love. Entry fees vary among all of the fairs, however, tickets are usually less than $50. Once you’ve paid your dues just grab a map and start looking! Alternatively, another tactic may be to just roam the fair without guidance and allow the work to speak to you. Even if you have heard of some of the more popular or commercial galleries showing at the fair, it is important to stay open-minded and be receptive to the multitude of artistic visions, collaborations, and experiences that such a collective inspires.

Make Your Most of Your Day at the Fair

On the more practical side, there are a few hard and fast tips that will help you get the most from your day at the fair. First, you should try and get there early, practically speaking, you will beat the hoards of spectators and fellow art lovers that tend to come in the afternoon. To that end, if you’re at the art fair with the goal of purchasing an artwork, arriving early will ensure that you have the greatest selection from which to choose. If you are in search of something or someone’s work, in particular, be sure to do some preliminary research on the fair’s website. Don’t worry about sustenance as most fairs are equipped with ample food and beverage options.

Though you may not get the opportunity to meet your favorite artist in the flesh at the fair, each gallery’s booth will have a knowledgeable representative present, who will be happy to answer any of your questions about the work they are showcasing. They can offer guidance in many areas, such as the story behind a given artwork, an artist’s bibliographical information, or how the artist’s work fits in to the greater context or movement in the art scene.

An Inspirational Experience

A piece of art will either resonate with you, or not. When you know, you know, and when you see a piece you love it will speak to you. You’ll also have ample opportunity to network and speak with experienced collectors who can share their expert insight. At the art fair, you can dig deep and learn about what inspired the work, what the artist is referencing, what the details mean, how it was made, and what emotions it’s meant to invoke. Going to an art fair is a great way to ensure you come home with a piece of art that tells a story – art that actually means something to you. After all, if you chose a specific piece of art among the thousands of pieces you saw at the fair, it must be special, and the story behind it must have resonated with you.

Some of the larger fairs often offer a special preview before opening day, exclusively attended by art collectors and industry insiders who are considered VIP. Some of these VIP collectors will put a piece of art on reserve before the fair opens, which means that for the first hour of the fair, it can't be sold to anybody else. This gives the collector time to see the piece in person before making a final decision.

Naturally, some of the pomp and circumstance around the art market can be intimidating, even for the most seasoned collectors. Try not to focus on the frivolities and concentrate on having fun. Often the artwork at an art fair will come with a price tag of tens to several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Despite this, there are alternatives that are not so financially prohibitive. For example, many artists come out with work called editions that are made in small runs but that are not entirely unique. Though this may not come with the cachet of owning a Picasso, it’s a great way to get a piece from your favorite artist if you’re on a budget. Since art fairs boast the work of such a remarkable variety of artists, there should be something for everyone when it comes to price point.

The best part of any art fair is the collective spirit that it inspires among galleries, artists, visitors, and collectors. There are often satellite cultural events and special projects surrounding each art fair, which serve to enrich the sense of artistry and community around the event. Whether your first art fair is in New York, London, or your local city, art fairs are undoubtedly a great way to familiarize yourself with current artists and artistic movements all while having a bit of fun.

About Jeremy Larner

 Jeremy Larner is the Founder and President of the New York-based art consultancy JKLWorldwide.com, where he conducts art procurement and investment strategies for a select clientele.

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