What is an art fair ?

Recently I had the chance to go to the art fair Art Basel in Switzerland. Before that I went to Art Basel in Miami and before that I went to the FIAC in Paris. What am I talking about you ask? I went to art fairs all these times. What are these? What do people do there?

So many questions! Don’t worry I’ll explained it all. Let’s start at the beginning shall we?


Why do you go to an art fair?


If you are a gallery you go there to sell art.

If you are a collector you go there to buy art.

If you like art but don’t have the money to buy it (it’s okay) you go there to see art.

What is an art fair? Art Basel
Art Basel, Unlimited section, Basel Switzerland


Art Fairs are the opportunity to see all the artists the art world is crazy about, all gathered in one place for a limited amount of time. In one city many galleries come from all-over the world to show their best artworks. Basically it is like an international car show but for the art. Quite a weird/tough comparison to make, but now I know you can picture it clearly.

Let’s say you live in France and never travel. If you go to Paris for the FIAC, in one day, you will get to see the works of almost 200 galleries (which of course are not all from Paris, that is the point). It is like several amazing museums decided to rent out a space and display their collections during a week and then leave.

It is quite a lot of organization to be included in a fair for a gallery. First you have to pay to rent out your booth, the transport of all the work you will be displaying, the transport and accommodation for your team, and the party/diner you will be organizing. Of course there are parties.

But for many galleries it is a high-risk, you never know if you will sell enough not only to cover all the expenses for showing up there, but also so you can keep doing your work during the year.


What to do at an art fair?


Walk, walk, walk that fair.

Check that pacer on your phone and you will understand what I am talking about.

First art fairs are huge, to see everything it will take you at least a day, even more. I am one of the crazy visitors so on my map I check the galleries I want to see and also the ones I have seen. This way I am sure I did not miss any, unfortunately even then I do miss some. Damn it.

All of the pictures below were taken at Art Basel, Miami, USA.

The parcours

In multiples art fairs there is an outside “parcours”, a circuit in the city or in special places with artwork displayed. And since it is outside, well it is free (yay).

Usually you will also have performances, video projections, all presented in the program.

Get ready to see artworks, sculptures, everywhere and the fair has docents around to explain all of that to you, how nice. Mainly they are art students, if you are one I strongly suggest getting interested in art fairs and how you can get that job/internship.

In Paris the Fiac present artworks in the Jardin des Tuileries, near the Louvre museum. The fair has a partnership with the Ecole du Louvre, one of the most praised and hard-to-get-into school in France. The education there is focused on heritage and art history.

The round tables and other activities

If you are not a walking-kind of person, you might want to check the conferences/round tables program. They are inside the fair, so check before you go, so you don’t miss it walking around (a little) the artworks.

You also have guided tours of the fair, activities for children, workshops, many things to do.


Are there other stuff going on?

Other art fairs

During the week of the main, famous, art fair many things happen. Several smaller art fairs take place, with a cheaper entrance fee, they present younger artists. It is always interesting to check them out, you might discover an artist or even a gallery coming from your city you did not know about!

If you are looking to become a collector some day I would suggest starting at these kind of fairs. Since the artists are younger, not yet famous, or at least not on the same scale as the ones in the main fair, the prices are much more affordable. Also you would be supporting a young artist starting his or her career, as well as a gallery representing the new kids. How nice of you.

Marco Rios - What is an art fair?
Marco Rios – NYADA, Miami, USA

Museum and galleries exhibitions

If you really like an artist who is represented by a gallery in this city, check their website they might be presenting a solo show at the gallery as well. Or even a show at a museum. It is a good opportunity for a gallery to showcase a particular artist, maybe he or she was awarded a prize or has a big exhibition in an institution coming up.

Finally depending on the type of city you are, there might be some other type of events going on, parties, diners whatever. Keep an eye open but beware, it is a business, and some will take advantage of the effervescence that brings an art fair. Research, always research and you can check my blog before you go to your next art fair for some tips!


Did you ever go to an art fair? Did you like it or did you hate it?

Soon articles on my trip to Art Basel!


5 thoughts on “What is an art fair ?”

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