Art Fairs: Reflecting and Shaping the Market

What are They?

The major art fairs are huge dates in the international calendar of the Art World.  Prestigious occasions such as Art Basel, TEFAF (the European Fine Art Fair) Art Miami, dOCUMENTA and Frieze bring together artists, galleries, curators, critics, collectors and art enthusiasts from all around the world.

They are opportunities for galleries and art institutions to showcase the work of the artists that they represent, to sell the work, and for the world to take a look at the themes, ideologies, techniques and aesthetics that are shaping the current discourses of art. They show who is making what, why, and how it lines up against all the rest of the work that is being produced at that point in time.

Who Attends?

Art fairs are a convergence of everyone that has some kind of connection with the art market. Artists, gallery owners, curators, writers, critics, collectors, art fans and a wide spectrum of other groups and individuals all attend in a mix of styles, backgrounds, attitudes and motivations. This incredibly diverse crowd creates an eclectic and exciting atmosphere. Often talks, discussions and presentations take place, and they are a great place to network, learn and engage in the Art of the moment.

art fair

The History.

The history of Art fairs is long, varied and rich. Traditional 2 and 3 dimensional mediums such as painting, drawing and sculpture have always needed a setting to be showcased and sold.

The Académie des Beaux-Arts opened their first Salon exhibition in Paris, 1667. This displayed their chosen artists, the roster of individuals who were deemed by the institution to be the best at the time. If you were a painter or a sculptor that wished to exhibit work, there was a rigorous application procedure, and of course, nepotism and institutional motivations played their significant parts in the shadows behind the scene.

This event was one of the most important displays of visual culture of its day. From 1748 – 1890 it played a huge role in determining the developments of Western art, both in accordance and in opposition to its declared values and tastes on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ work. You will find that many of the artists that you love interacted with the Salon at some point during their careers: Painters such as Jacques David, Gustav Courbet and Edouard Manet for example.

In England, The Royal Academy (founded in 1768) also held regular exhibitions known as summer shows. These events became a way to display and sell artworks by the artists that were affiliated with the Academy. Like the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the Royal Academy held a supremely powerful position within English culture, and almost dictated public opinion on what Art should be, how it should be judged and the aesthetic values it should uphold.

In many ways the contemporary Art fairs owe a debt to this model. They are certainly influenced, in a historical sense, by the way that these institutions functioned within, and influenced, the cultural tastes and values of the societies that they were a part of.

What effect they have on the Art Market?

From this background, it is clear to see how the largest art fairs have become institutions in their own right. Art Basel recently titled their fair ‘Art Basel in Basel’, an odd and slightly pretentious act, but one that does demonstrate just how the event has grown to become a cultural symbol in its own right.

Art fairs exert a huge influence over what it bought, sold and seen in the international art market.

What do they Mean?

Art fairs are a reflection of the Art world at any one particular time. The themes that run through them in turn demonstrate the wider opinions and tastes of contemporary trends.

What is great about art fairs is that they are so varied. We have looked at a few of the most prestigious and famous examples, but they are many different varieties all across the world. Fairs that specialize in certain mediums or locations are popular, and every art fair is always an interesting affair. The Internet has rapidly changed the way that Art is discovered, shown and sold, but Art fairs remain hugely influential and important within the global Art sphere.

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