All the Fun of the Fair: Our Beginner’s Guide to the Art Fair

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One advantage of working in the art world is travelling in search of creative talent. For this reason, on Blue Monday I had the good fortune of waking up in the thriving metropolis of Singapore for Art Stage, the city’s premier art fair.

Sitting down to write an article on the event, it struck me that the art crowd is often guilty of championing these gatherings without explaining why they matter. If you’re not a collector, gallerist, dealer, museum affiliate, artist or commentator, should you ever take an interest in an art fair?

My answer is a wholehearted yes. I would go so far as to suggest planning a business trip or vacation to coincide with one. At the very least, I advise attending your home offering; in fact, London boasts one of the finest in Frieze.

With this in mind, I’d like to present The Sloaney’s brief beginner’s guide to the art fair!

London’s Frieze Art Fair takes place later this year

London’s Frieze Art Fair takes place later this year and is definitely worth a visit

Why Go

While the thrust of an art fair lies in sales, seeing the latest work by leading regional and international artists provides a gauge for contemporary culture: essentially, what’s hot and what’s not. That principle applies beyond the visual arts, which influence fashion, design, architecture, literature, music and film. There’s inspiration to gain from seeing stunning examples of creativity and mingling with the key people that drive the cultural industries. You’re guaranteed to find hidden gems and try intriguing new experiences; for example, Frieze 2012 included role-play speed dating and crime-scene investigation filmmaking.

Of course, fairs offer a rare glimpse at the business of art: buying, selling, and trading. We forget that those Old Master paintings we covet in national institutions were once bought, sold and traded in similar ways. To be at the heart of a fair is to experience an otherwise secretive market at an unusually open and, therefore, hugely exciting time.

What To Do

First on the to-do list is finding a fair with an interesting theme or in a place you intend to visit. I recommend getting in touch with the organising committee who can help with travel, accommodation, and even local dining options. Beforehand, try to get a little reading done, from interviews with participating artists to previews of new commissions.

When you arrive, don’t be shy to get involved. There are plenty of talks by top professionals and tours by specialists – both an excellent way of seeking out key highlights (and making friends, if you decided to go it alone). Be inquisitive; ask questions to gallerists (yes, that does include prices) and if your trip is business not pleasure, take this exceptional opportunity to network over cocktails at some of the abundant after-parties in luxury locations.

Finally, fairs are daunting labyrinths so take a jotter to note pieces you like for ease of finding them again another day. You’ll be amazed at the creative buzz you feel discovering art you feel passionate about and how that sensation leaves you brimming with fresh ideas.

When To Go

The calendar is bursting with events, but top of the list is traditional favourite Art Basel, closely followed by London’s Frieze. Both brands now operate satellites in America well worth a visit (note that Art Basel Miami Beach happens at the height of chilly British winter!) In the Middle-East, Art Dubai is steadily growing in importance, while in Asia both Hong Kong (Art HK) and Singapore are excellent events.

Happy art travels and good luck!

To stay up-to-date, simply go online where you can count on for the latest information.


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