Art fairs for individual artists
Traditionally, no artist can sell by himself at fairs, galleries do the job. But, the artist shouldn’t be the first concerned? Art fairs are for individual artists but based on this paradox.
First, What is an art fair?
Basically, an art fair is a center where a limited offer of artworks on sale that gives the possibility become from a simple spectator into a key actor of the art world’s club which consists of a network that includes people in producing, commissioning, presenting, preserving, promoting, chronicling, criticizing, buying, and selling and only held together by a common belief: Art.
The main actors involved in art fairs are:
- Art dealers
- Art critics
- Art dealers
- Ordinary visitors
Are art fairs worth it?
Why do galleries pay a high fee and attend art fairs? Are art fairs good for artists? 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.
1. Art fairs validate you as an artist
It’s hard to get into major international art fairs. Some art professionals would even call Art Basel Miami the Olympics of the art world. Usually, the organization sets 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. They bring sales opportunity
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, these are 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!
3. They connect your art to the art world
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 that don’t.
4. Be careful with the 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.
What is the purpose of art fairs?
- Stimulates collectors competition
- Provides networking opportunities
- Increases the visibility of artists and galleries
- Develops the art culture with conferences and talks
- Announces promising artworks to the art world
- Introduces and educates new collectors with galleries and artists
Art fairs are a necessary evil
“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.”
– Simon Lee – Randian Magazine
Why art fairs are not for artists?
For most of you, artists, art fairs are probably not the best investment for you!
1. Art fairs are expensive
As a gallery owner, 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.
2. 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 (It doesn’t mean social media presence).
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.
3. Online 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 that are dealer-friendly.
4. Owning your 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.
5. Owning your 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 solid online communication means your artists get 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 a 2,4% payout fee. If each month you sell one artwork at the price of $1500, you take a $750 commission. That makes it a 91,33% profit margin. If you don’t sell anything that month, you just lost 29$ – which is not a big deal at all.
Art fairs gradually became unpopular before the pandemics. It even has a name: the “fairtigue”.
- Lack of efficiency
- Ethical problems
- Elitist structure: VIP system (gallery breakfast, cocktails in collectors house) and small interest to the general audience
- Not adapted to the fast changes between art forms and digital technologies
Covid-19 was in fact more like a perfect time to rethink the model than the problem itself.
What sells at art fairs?
“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 than 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 – Wilfried Lentz gallery
Art fairs in 2023
Art fairs are experience-based and were impacted by the pandemic. Due to the spread of covid-19, they had to announce unexpected cancelations: 61% of global art fairs planned for 2020 were canceled, and only 37% managed to have live events, although in a restricted format and with rescheduled dates (Art Market report 2021).
New strategies were designed to react, yet few are successful.
Art fairs post-covid evolutions
Post covid isn’t meant as an end of the pandemic but the mentality adaptation to it ( The contagious risk is accepted now and there is a slow return to public events. And the “new normal” mindset gives openness to changes). Few solutions are in fact solely covid related as the pandemic was just speeding the digital transformation for those dinosaurs:
- Online viewing rooms
- Online conferences (Mainly using Zoom)
- Online performances
- De-centralization with Gallery weekends
- Longer event duration (even all year
- Increased periodicity
- More ventilated and more space for booths
- More connections with the local art scene (Galleries)
Did it work? Not really
But it saved them
- Fairfatigue became digital fatigue. With the over-saturation and not user-friendly digital events
- VR especially with the hyped word metaverse is just concerning a small group of people. Compared to other industries (porn, video games…) the tech isn’t really well used.
- More than a transformation it became a hybridization and a better understanding of the digital tools for reaching out, networking, and selling.