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According to a couple of trustworthy art market reports, the number of art fairs taking place around the world grew from some 55 to more than 260 over the course of almost two decades. Among other things, this certainly means that their popularity is growing, both among galleries and collectors, and that they turn profits for both of these parties too.

And indeed, there is a number of reasons why art fairs represent the perfect venues for the business of buying and selling artworks - reaching a large and international audience, getting to know people face-to-face, finding about the latest tendencies and trends in all artistic spheres, checking out the competition, and of course obtaining valuable contacts (including those of emerging and established artists alike, but also potentially long-term collectors, curators, museum directors, critics, experts, dealers, etc.). Participation at certain art fairs brings good points to a gallery’s reputation as well, so it could be said that showing inventory at an art fair - and multiple times as well - is something of a must these days. However, if not prepared for or done properly, it could bring losses and disappointment, and turn into an overall bad business decision. How does one avoid that?

Take a glance at our latest interviews to important Italian collectors as Diego Bergamaschi and Umberta Gnutti Beretta.

What To Know Ahead of the Journey

Before we get on to what the best ways to sell artworks at an art fair are, it is important to accentuate a few things to know before actually setting foot (and art) inside the venue - given that the choice of the right fair (for your art to be exhibited to the right audience) has been made, and that a gallery is familiar with the application and admittance process that many fairs implement. The first thing to consider is probably whether a gallery’s budget is ready to accommodate the quite high costs of exhibiting at a fair. Let’s begin with the fee required for a booth inside world’s leading art fairs: a stand at Art Basel Miami Beach, for example, costs $35,800; at Frieze New York it’s $26,600; $27,000 is what it goes for at FIAC Paris, and $24,600 for Art Dubai, as seen in The Art Newspaper survey. Of course, these prices do include a certain amount of prestige, being asked for by renowned companies, as well as an extensive marketing campaign that will surely get your name and inventory out there. Furthermore, fairs like Art Basel, Frieze and FIAC have now adopted new sliding-scale price models, following a suggestion of big-shot gallerist David Zwirner at a conference in Berlin in 2018 - meaning that larger galleries will subsidize smaller ones at fairs by essentially paying more per square meter for bigger stands. This should come as encouragement for smaller businesses, though we are yet to see the results. Related articles --> Waiting for Art Basel 2019 - 4 Most Expensive Artworks by Living Artists!

Taking part in an event of the sort requires some logistical and legal expenses as well, among them being export and import licenses, but also taxes in cases of international shippings, shipping costs, booth designing and construction costs, paying the staff etc. Big players such as Art Basel often provide counseling which comes very much in handy for their first-time exhibitors, but also the more experienced ones, so becoming familiar with procedures and laws is pretty much required, if the job is to be done properly.

When it comes to setting expectations, many gallerists agree that when a gallery is a debutant at an art fair, it shouldn’t expect many sales, and should perhaps even brace itself for none. First-timers are generally at a disadvantage compared to their more experienced peers, for these have already established themselves by attending the fair several times already and/or by making contacts with numerous useful people. Building trust with an audience takes years, but it should also be said that every participation counts nevertheless: it offers a chance to get in touch with persons who matter, be it fellow exhibitors, attending artists or fellow professionals. As mentioned before, having your name out there could never be a bad thing either, and the fact that it is will definitely contribute to the gallery’s branding and marketing. Ending this paragraph on a more positive note: monetary satisfactions are likely to come in just a little bit later!


303 Gallery Booth at Frieze Art Fair 2015


How To Sell Artworks at an Art Fair

Although the number of people buying art online is now on the rise, a larger percentage of buyers still belongs to those who prefer seeing, and “feeling”, a work of art in person before purchasing it. This is naturally another advantage to being at art fairs: the audiences generally feel more comfortable to check art out at a fair than they would to enter a gallery off the street. This is also not just some random audience we are talking about here: at bigger fairs, it is an international one, one that is far away from the local scene that a gallery might already be quite familiar with. These are all new potential buyers, even for exhibitors who are not there for the first time.

Read more about How To Discover Emerging Artists!

This goes to say that those in charge of a gallery’s booth must pay attention to these attendees. Days at art fairs are long and tiring, but art on those walls will not sell itself, and it is paramount that the staff be friendly, patient, charged with information, and easily approachable. Collectors need to be catered to, and they are very likely to get in touch with a gallery if they feel comfortable in doing so, and if they feel invited and welcome. Here, however, gallerists and their staff should be careful not to take things to the other extreme and drive potential buyers away. Another set of rules which could be applied here are fairly obvious yet perhaps should be mentioned nevertheless: those working in a gallery booth should not be seen eating on the spot, or occupied by their phones and computers, as this shows a rejecting lack of interest. A friendly environment is of great importance, and it’s what makes one gallery stand out from many others who are there at the same time. Approaching everyone the same manner and with the same non-judgmental attitude can also bring sales and acquaintances in the most unexpected ways too!

Be inspired by the stories of famous gallerists, find more out in our MeetMe area!

Speaking of branding, the way a booth looks is another important element of how a gallery should sell itself and the art within. A cleanly presented stand with clear displays and comprehensive, yet discrete labels is the way to go, as is strategically placing the best artwork in the spotlight. Some galleries prefer to show these during Collectors or VIP Previews, as this is when buyers with more money and a more precise intention to purchase something come in. Others keep their “masterpieces” in the storage, so they can woo the collectors and “seal the deal” later. A curated selection of works on view is also more likely to attract people into the booth than a simple collection of “a little bit of everything” from the inventory.

The veterans in the business also suggest the gallery’s social media networks and website be up-to-date and active, as buyers are likely to visit these if they want to know more. An obvious yet sometimes overlooked tip is to have business cards ready for a mass handout; some galleries also bring catalogs for artists on view, in order to provide more information on what they are selling. Read more about the latest artistic trends on Instagram.


Selling art at an art fair


Pricing the Works On Sale

Should the price of an artwork be different when inside the gallery and when exhibited at art fairs? This is generally advised against, as collectors (and particularly the more knowledgable ones) can tell if something costs more simply for the sake of it; not to mention they can simply do a little research and find out how much it is actually valued at, especially if the artist is also represented by other galleries. Selling art is a game, no doubt, and bargaining applies to fairs of art too, but proper pricing should be done wisely and in advance, followed by the gallerist’s decision on whether there will be some wiggle room or not. A collector might also come asking the gallery to justify its pricing, so one should be prepared for that. The question of publicly displaying prices depends on an internal agreement and strategy as well, but when in a discussion with a would-be buyers, gallerists should be direct and avoid giving out vague information. Depending on the gallery and the fair, the costs of artwork shipping might also be covered by the seller rather than the buyer, meaning that it should also be taken into consideration when establishing a price.

Exhibiting at art fairs, as we can see, is hard work that requires lots of research, preparation and stamina. When all that is done well, however, the returns could be more than rewarding, and a gallery’s success can reach impressive levels. Bottom line? Buck up and good luck, because there is almost no doubt that fairs are a big part of the art business, and those who have a lot to offer should not miss out!

Image: BRAFA 2019 – Stand Brame & Lorenceau © Fabrice Debatty


Stay Tuned to Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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