We love to hate on art fairs, especially when we’d rather be in the studio than schmoozing.
But in the wise words of Frieze’s Abby Bangser, “I don’t think we can completely distance ourselves from commerce, because it’s kind of what makes the system work.”
Art fairs present the single best opportunity to meet collectors, gallerists and curators. They open doors you might never expect. Fairs are also your best chance to see upcoming work, all in one room surrounded by people who also love art.
Art fairs matter. We surveyed a few artists from the Indiewalls Community to help us explain why.
Curators come to see what’s trending and envision their next exhibit. And when you put tens of thousands of art professionals in one place, deals are bound to happen.
Nothing beats face-to-face networking, especially since buyers are often inaccessible any other time.
So if you’re an artist who wants to do business, art fairs are the place to get stuck in.
You know you need to network, but you’re not sure with whom. The good news is that the best way to get a feel for who you should connect with, is by seeing a lot of work at once.
Art fairs allow you to quickly digest many exhibitions in one fell swoop, giving you a better feel for who you should approach.
But it’s not just networking inspiration that makes these shows so wonderful, it’s creative inspiration. “It’s the best place to see how your work can fit into different arenas,” says painter Alexandra Wagner.
Plus, there’s no better feeling than witnessing work that moves you—the art that lights you up and makes you run back to the studio and create.
“Fairs expose your work to a market of interested art buyers,” says New York-based contemporary artist Jeremey Penn. “In many ways, these shows act as precise target marketing.”
Showing builds momentum.
Participating in an art fair incentivizes galleries to offer you more fairs and sometimes solo exhibitions. It provides exponential benefits. Ones you can only prepare for by simply showing up, even if you’re not able to exhibit just yet.
Plus, supporting art fairs has its own snowball effect: “With the expanding number of art fairs, the interest and importance of art increases,” Penn continues. “This is always a win for artists.”
Creating an artist’s community isn’t just good for the career, but good for the soul. Good networking doesn’t have to just mean schmoozing with the big boys.
Artist Mark Samsonovich is a huge fan of Armory Week’s SPRING/BREAK Art Show. “It’s like an entire museum curated around one central idea,” he says, “with hundreds of curators adding their own perspective.”
And while the artists and gallerists are technically working on separate exhibits, they’re “all participating in the same project,” Samsonovich continues. “The sense of community during install days was the highlight of my experience.”
Participating in art shows is not only a means to an end, but an experience in and of itself. Together—with visitors, curators and artists—you’re making this big, temporary experience happen. In a way, shows are their own type of art.
Whether you’re exhibiting or browsing, watch and listen carefully.
Which exhibits have a crowd? Who seems to be buying? Which artists look happiest? Talk to them, especially if their work is similar to yours.
Ask about their experiences. Most artists are happy to swap stories and share info. Any feedback you hear will prove to be valuable again and again throughout your career.
Treat everything as a learning experience.
The benefits of art shows—even if the cost is high—are often not just black and white. There are “soft benefits” for everything, so remember that success often comes in waves, sometimes weeks, even months after major events.