Art fairs for individual artists

Art fairs for individual artists: No artist can sell by himself at fairs, galleries do the job. But, the artist shouldn’t be the first concerned?

Why Art Fairs?

Art fair bubble

The number of art fairs in the world has increased from 55 in 2000 to over 260, according to the UBS and Art Basel art market report. Why so many art fairs? I think this tendency is caused by the gaining of market shares of the dealership. According to the TEFAF 2017 report on the art market, auction houses are losing their clients to art dealers. Dealers currently account for 62,5% of global art sales, growing 4% year-on-year. Galleries with an annual turnover of $1 million are growing 9%. As long as the dealership is going strong, art fairs tagging along.

Why galleries pay a high fee and attend art fairs?

For example, to attend FIAC, the largest fair in France costs around 15,000 EUR plus 20% tax for a 25 sqm booth (the size of my kitchen). Not to mention the other associated costs. There could be several reasons:

#1: Validation

It’s hard to get into major international art fairs. Some art professionals would event call Art Basel Miami the Olympics of the art world. Usually, the organization set a list of requirements such as: being operational as a physical gallery for at least 2 years, having attended X number of similar art fairs, having several artists under the label and the works must carry certain characteristics. To have exhibited at famous international art fairs like Art Basel Miami, FIAC, and in Spain, ARCO will bring you a reputation and respect in the industry.

#2: Sales

Dealers are business owners, they make decisions based on financial outcomes. Dealers can make almost half of what they would make during the whole year, by going to just 5 art fairs. Of course, this is just estimates and data from interviews with gallery owners. Regardless of the accuracy, it offers a snapshot of the economy behind art fairs. There is definitely a business drive behind paying tens of thousands of dollars to rent a booth and hire extra staff, not to mention the logistics!

Art fairs for individual artists
“My artists still consider art fairs as a necessary evil, but it is by far from a satisfactory means of presenting work and interacting with the public. And one doesn’t want to lose sight of the fact that it’s not just about sales for the artists; it’s about communication and platforms for disseminating ideas.
Certainly, the world is a smaller place, and information travels much quicker because of email and telephone and electronic media, but there is still no substitute for direct engagement with a work of art.”
• quote from Simon Lee
• interview Randian Magazine

#3 Communication:

ARCO alone can bring 100,000 art collectors to your booth, making it a great opportunity for exposure, for networking. Art critics and journalists will be visiting the fair, generating some news pieces more likely to catch people’s attention. Also, internally, many artists will be more attracted to a gallery that brings their works to different fairs, than the ones who don’t.

#4 Fear of Missing Out (FOMO):

If you are not attending the larger fairs, you might be missing a lot of potential opportunities. In order to keep returning to large fairs, you need to attend smaller ones to be admitted. It goes into this circle of ‘fair after fair’, and once you are used to it, you fear to change.


Art fairs are dynamic, they can bring lots of opportunities, and keep you feeling achieved. But it seems like they are also a bit overdriven: each time there is a theme, there is a special program that focuses on one country. For example this time ARCO is about the ‘Future’ and ‘Peru’. But it’s not about the future of Peru. But it’s just commercial art fair that aims to sell. You can say what you want, as long as there is going to be transactions, people are happy.

Why Art Fairs are not for You?

For most of you, artists and art dears, art fairs are probably not the best investment for you!

Why? Art fairs are expensive.

As a gallerist, you can easily spend $20-30K on a single art fair. As an artist, the cheapest outdoor flea market art fair I saw in California costs $200-$300 for one day. It’s a lot of risks, not only financially but emotionally too.

Art Turnover

Unless you have over 1 million turnovers annually or similar… I don’t think art fairs are for you. Instead, you can invest the costs of attending one art fair, in showing your online presence. Here I tell you why you should skip one art fair next year, and invest in an alternative choice – digital communication:

#1: Authority

Have you heard of the domain authority? Yes, it’s the validation of your digital authority. In the real world, as a small gallery, you will never be able to go near the authority of a museum. But online, this time you can. When your client searches for a keyword (e.g. photorealistic portrait), you can rank on top. This is your domain authority and page authority. They can bring you traffic which leads to sales.

Art fairs for individual artists
“as a gallerist, you should do everything possible to make the highest quality possible and increase the reputation of your artists and better their career. This is more a question of responsibility towards your artists that the economic benefits you might get from the investment. (…) Gallerists from my generation who have decided to do more than 6 fairs a year have had to present art that is more easily sellable just in order to cover the costs, which might mean compromising on your program”
-Wilfried Lentz @wilfriedlentz gallery

#2: Sales

Online marketplaces are growing 12% at least, year over year. There is a huge market online for buying and selling art. Most of the marketplaces are for artists, but there are some platforms are dealer-friendly.

#3: Communication

Art fairs can bring you 100,000 visitors but your website can bring you the same. Unlike at art fairs, their attention is only for you! They browse through artworks, make inquiries, and give away their contact details. The info stays on your website, which does not go away as the fairs.

#4: Rights

You generate the content, you have the copyrights. All rights reserved, here it is! This article said very well, today artists work with several galleries simultaneously and it’s like this. If you are afraid to lose your talents, you need to offer them something others can not. Having a solid online communication means your artists get the exposure like nowhere else, and you have full control over, like take the bull by the horn. As an artist, it’s the opposite. Having your own communication gives you the ultimate freedom.

Let’s do an estimation:

you pay $30K to attend an art fair, you get $120K in sales, your commission is $60K. In your pocket, you can make $30K if everything goes well. The profit margin of attending art fairs is not that lucrative considering the risks.

Art Webstore margin

If you pay for a Webstore on your own website, you pay Shopify or another provider $29/month plus 2,4% payout fee. If each month you sell one artwork at the price of $1500, you take $750 commission. That makes it 91,33% profit margin. If you don’t sell anything that month, you just lost 29$ – which is not a big deal at all.

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