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On the Road: Going to the Fair

Published May 18 2017 by Deborah Carver, Director

Until very recently, if an artist wanted to move into a new geographical market, she would look for a gallery to represent her in that market. One artist would work towards having several galleries nationally or internationally and would “feed” them regularly with new work. Two new developments have dramatically changed this approach. First is online or digital marketing. The second is the rise of art fairs. Through these opportunities, a single gallery can market an artist’s work globally. The old regionally exclusive arrangements made between artist and gallery – such as a gallery as the exclusive representative of an artist in Nova Scotia but not elsewhere- will soon go by the wayside.

Art Fairs are now the prime and booming environment for business in international contemporary fine art. They now take place by the hundreds, across the globe. Studio 21 has taken the initiative to promote Canadian artists at the Toronto International Art Fair (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016); at Papier 2015, 2016 and 2017 (Montreal, Canada); and at international fairs, including Art Hamptons in July 2015, SOFA Chicago in November 2016, Art Wynwood in February 2017 and CONTEXT New York just a few short weeks ago.

From left to right: Richard Mueller, Jean-Sebastien Denis & David Sorensen at CONTEXT New York

In the business of fine visual arts, there are no non-retail trade shows. The participant exhibitors are commercial galleries. Art Toronto has approximately 120 galleries; one of the most famous European fairs, Art Basel, has 285. Business is conducted directly with the client. The visitors are private and corporate collectors, designers and museums. The activities of the participant galleries include on site sales, and also developing long leads for future sales and establishing new connections for their artists’ work with other galleries, museums, etc. The Toronto Art Fair (or “Art Toronto”) had more than 19,000 visitors in 2016. Art Miami in December attracts more than 72,000. Art Basel, June 2014, attracted 92,000.  

Entrance to art fairs is competitive and expensive with high up-front costs. They are not open entry events. In order to participate, a gallery must submit an application and be accepted by the Fair Organizer, and often by a committee that can include current exhibitors or international art curators. Fairs may be organized based on a theme – either a medium (paper for example), or the experience of the gallery in the marketplace, or the category of artists (emerging, mature), or the period of the artwork (contemporary, i.e. current; modern, i.e. 20th century; historic). Fair entrance may be selective based on the quality of the work and the track record of the gallery – which are desirable criteria.

Studio 21 plans to continue to exhibit artists to Canadian and international art fairs. We regard it as important to introduce the work of young, emerging artists, as well as exposing longstanding artists to new opportunities


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