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The Changing Landscape of Art Fairs

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The changing landscape of artfairs cover

On this blog we often reflect on the fact that the art world is changing in dramatic ways. Artbeep itself is the result of the art world transforming through technological innovation. Our mission is to empower and connect artists, local curators and art lovers.

Beyond technology, there are other forces that are contributing to the globalisation of the art market.

In 2005 the art magazine Art + Auction declared that “the age of the art fair” has begun. For galleries and dealers, the art fair is now a major platform to conduct business. Once a mere gathering of local artists and galleries, the art fair has now evolved to become a global event - and a lucrative one at that.

Among the most well-known art fairs are Art Basel, which was launched by three art gallerists from the city of Basel, and Frieze, which is an initiative born out of the popular Frieze Magazine. Staged all over the world, art fairs typically take place over several days. Gallery owners rent a space showcasing their artists, art sales are conducted and key players in the art market network and build new collaborations.

Art fairs attract various types of participants and have the following “customers”: (1) Art sellers: galleries and dealers which benefit from press exposure, access to buyers, meeting peers and artists; sourcing art and selling artworks; (2) Buyers - getting access to many galleries in one place, comparing offerings, exchanging info, meeting peers and artists; (3) Sponsors – finding new prospects of sponsoring and investing in art.

Over the past several decades the number and size of art fairs has grown exponentially - primarily due to technology and globalization. During the 1950-60s there were only a handful of major art fairs which took place mainly in Europe, in cities such as Cologne and Brussels. By the 2000, another dozen important ones had appeared, among them Art Basel, FIAC, ARCO, TEFAF (born out of the European Fine Art Foundation), Armory Show, Artisima, and Art Taipei. This growth in art fairs continued quite steadily, but since 2001 we have seen that approximately a hundred of new art fairs have popped up worldwide.

Indeed, the art fair has become a global phenomenon. With just over 250 art fairs that occur annually these days, 39% take place in the US, 48% in Europe, and 8% in Asia and the Middle East.

Art fairs are a powerful force for developing tourism and cultural image of a country and there are a number of reasons for such a flowering of the art fair trend. One of the reasons is internationalisation of art and the art world. Fairs provide networking opportunities that local galleries would never be able to provide. Art fairs expand and integrate the market, bringing buyers, sellers and dealers together in an unprecedented way.

Art fairs are also providing a substantially larger choice of art pieces in one place – in few hours you get a chance to see what many galleries from different parts of world are offering. Major art fairs provide opportunities for artists and galleries to make their mark on a global stage. Art sellers benefit from global press exposure and gain access to a much larger segment of buyers. Similarly, buyers gain access to a much larger swath of galleries, all of which are presented in one place, making it easier to compare pricing, exchange information and meet with artists.

Ease and affordability of international travel has also greatly contributed to the popularity of art fairs, which have become an attractive idea of a weekend away.

Art fairs have also an interesting social impact: visibility and show off opportunity to nouveau riche buyers - buying high-priced art at a prestigious Art Fair has become a ticket to certain circles of the Western society and a means for a peer approval. 

Internet penetration and smartphones resulted in many preferring to browse artworks online rather than visit local galleries, thus saving time, which further contributed to the shift from gallery to art fair model.

Evidently art fairs have become an important venue for art sales, and it seems they are steadily taking up more and more of the market. According to some reports, art fairs made up 41% of all sales for galleries in 2016, reaching $13.3 billion, which is a 5% increase from the year before.  

Art fairs continue to grow in size and function, Art Basel, for example, which began in the relatively small city of Basel, is now a global event that also takes place in Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Many fairs focus to distinguish themselves by narrowing their purview and themes.

In light of a sense of “fairtigue”—people growing tired of art fairs—there has been a steady consolidation of many smaller events, resulting in fewer names, and regional fairs being renamed and eaten up by larger global brand names.

The era of the art fair is here to stay, and as the trend takes up more and more geographies, one has to wonder how this trend will evolve. No doubt in the future interaction in the art market will become increasingly virtual. Whatever the future holds, Artbeep is ready to play an innovative part in the evolution.


The Most Popular and Important Art Fairs

  • Art Basel (www.artbasel.com) Established in 1970 in Basel by a group of local art gallerists. In addition to its annual 5-day June fair in in Basel, Switzerland (approximately 75,000 visitors), Art Basel has expanded to the United States - Art Basel Miami Beach, Florida is taking place from 2002 in December and has approximately 65,000 visitors; Hong Kong - Art Basel Hong Kong is taking place from 2013 in late March and has approximately 60,000 visitors
  • TEFAF (https://www.tefaf.com/home) Established by art dealers in 1988 in Maastricht and run as a non-profit foundation. In addition to its annual March fair in Maastricht, Netherlands (approximately 70,000 visitors), TEFAF has expanded to he United States. From October 2016, it presents two new fairs TEFAF New York Fall and TEFAF New York Spring, held in October and May respectively in New York City
  • FIAC (www.fiac.com) Established in 1974. Takes place every October in Paris, France. Attendance: approximately 85,000                                
  • Frieze (www.frieze.com/fairs) Established in 2003, Frieze London takes place every October in London’s Regent’s park. Attendance: approximately 60,000. In 2011 Frieze expanded to present two new fairs - Frieze New York held in May in New York City and Frieze Masters held in London’s Regent’s park at the same time as Frieze London
  • Armory Show (www.thearmoryshow.com) Established in 1994.  Takes place every March in New York city, USA.  Attendance: approximately 65,000
  • Arco Madrid (www.ifema.es/arcomadrid_06) Established in 1982. Take place every February in Madrid, Spain. Attendance: approximately 92,000. Most visited single art fair in the world
  • Art Cologne (www.artcologne.com) Established in 1967 as Kölner Kunstmarkt and organized by commercial galleries. Takes place in mid-April in Cologne, Germany. Attendance: approximately 50,000. Oldest contemporary art fair on this list
  • Artissima (www.artissima.it) Established in 1994. Takes place every November in Torino, Italy. Attendance: approximately 50,000. Predominantly focuses on cutting edge contemporary art and also on undiscovered artists
  • Art Brussels (www.artbrussels.com/en) Established in 1968. Takes place every April in Brussels, Belgium. Attendance: approximately 30,000
  • Art Dubai (www.artdubai.ae) Established in 2007. Takes place every March in Dubai, UAE. Attendance: approximately 30,000
  • Art Stage ( www.artstage.com) Art Stage was founded in 2010 in Singapore to focus on south-east Asian art. In addition to its annual late January fair in Singapore (approximately 45,000 visitors), Art Stage has expanded to Jakarta, Indonesia in 2016, holding a fair every August
  • MiArt (www.miart.it/en) Established in 1996. Takes place in late March / early April in Milan, Italy. Attendance: approximately 30,000
  • Arte Fiera (http://www.artefiera.it/en/home/776.html) Established in 1974. It is the oldest art fair in Italy. Takes place at the end of January / beginning of February in Bologna, Italy. Attendance: approximately 45,000. Predominantly attracts local collectors and galleries
  • Art Miami (www.artmiamifair.com) Established in 2002. Takes place every December in Miami, USA. Attendance: approximately 80,000
  • Contemporary Istanbul (www.contemporaryistanbul.com) Established in 1963. Takes place in September at Istanbul Congress Centre in Istanbul, Turkey. Attendance: approximately 74,000
  • India Art Fair (www.indiaartfair.in) Established in 2008. Takes place around early February in New Delhi, India. Attendance: approximately 67,000
  • SP-Arte (http://www.sp-arte.com)  Established in 2005. Takes place in early April in São Paulo, Brazil. Attended by local, European and US galleries
  • Art Buenos Aires (www.arteba.org/?lang=en#) Established in 1991. Takes place every May in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Attendance: approximately 75,000
  • Art Rio (www.artrio.art.br/) Established in 2009. Takes place in late September / early October in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Attendance: approximately 50,000
  • ZONA MACO (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zona_Maco) Established in 2003. Takes place twice annually during February and September with three different events focusing on different types of arts, all in in Mexico City. Attendance: approximately 40,000
  • Expo Chicago (www.expochicago.com) Established in 1980 as Art Chicago, Expo Chicago from 2012. Takes place in the middle of September in Illinois, Chicago, at Navy Pier. Attendance: approximately 32,500
  • Viennafair (www.viennacontemporary.at) Established in 2005. Takes place in September in Vienna, Austria. Attendance: approximately 25,000
  •  ArtMarket Budapest (www.artmarketbudapest.hu) Established in 2011. Takes place every autumn in Budapest, Hungary. Attendance: approximately 24,000
  • CosMoscow (www.cosmoscow.com) Established in 2010. Takes place in September in Moscow, Russia.  Only contemporary art fair in Russia, reflecting countries weak contemporary art market
  • LA Art Show (www.laartshow.com/) Established in 1994. Takes place in January in Los Angeles, US. Attendance: approximately 70,000
  • Masterpiece (www.masterpiecefair.com) Established in 2010. Takes place at the end of June / beginning of July in London, UK. Attendance: approximately 35,000
  • 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (http://1-54.com) Established in 2013. Leading fair for contemporary African art
  • Art Los Angeles Contemporary (www.artlosangelesfair.com) Established in 2010. Takes place in January in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. Attendance: approximately 15,000. Predominantly attracts local collectors and galleries
  • Liste (www.liste.ch) Established in 1996. Takes place in June in Basel, Switzerland. One of the most popular art fairs among emerging galleries and young artists