10 Tips To Make Art Fairs More Fun

For the pros and novices alike.

Jerry Saltz at Frieze. Photo: J Grassi/Patrickmcmullan.com
Frieze London 2014 Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

Frieze London 2014.Photo: Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

As any seasoned art lover knows, art fairs are a double-edged sword: while attending them is an easy way to see and sell art, they aren’t always the most enjoyable experience (see 11 Art World Rules Decoded for 20-Something Newbies) thanks to myriad factors like inconvenient locations, overcrowded aisles, and the sheer amount of ground you have to cover. But with the major fairs growing in attendance each year and smaller satellites springing up seemingly overnight, art fairs have become a force to be reckoned with. Here’s how to make the most of them.

1. Make Google Maps Your New Best Friend
Shuttles, ferries, and Ubers have become the necessary evil of art fairs, which are often situated in far-flung, if scenic, settings. Make Google Maps your new best friend. In the case of Frieze, you must register in advance in order to board the ferry to the fair. But if you somehow forget to register, try borrowing a friend’s old press or VIP pass—water taxi security have been known to be pretty lax about inspecting the credentials of those Frieze-bound ferriers.

The ferry to Frieze New York. Photo via: Frieze Art Fair.

The ferry to Frieze New York.
Photo via: Frieze Art Fair.

2. Have a game plan and stick to it
To avoid the dreaded “fairtigue,” before setting off, decide how to approach the fair. You might want to pick out the galleries you don’t want to leave the fair without seeing and refer to it every time you find yourself getting off track. Of course, part of the fun of the fair is letting your eye guide you spontaneously from booth to booth. But alas, that can lead to premature exhaustion. One artnet News staffer swears by doing an initial loop around the entire fair upon arrival, scoping things out and making notes of places to return to. Whatever your plan, try to have one and stick to it.

3. Find out about the special sections in advance
The most exciting thing about art fairs is the opportunity to scout out new artists. Most large fairs have special sections that feature younger galleries showcasing the work of up-and-coming artists or more focused presentations. This is a great way to learn about the up-and-coming, and also a place to pick something up for a lower-than-six-figure price tag.

Jeremy Penn's work at Dorian Grey Gallery at Scope turned the booth into "selfie central." Photo: Courtesy Dorian Grey, New York.

Jeremy Penn’s work at Dorian Grey Gallery at Scope turned the booth into “selfie central.” Photo: Courtesy Dorian Grey, New York.

4. Take pictures, and don’t forget the trusty wall labels
The best way to remember your top picks from the avalanche of art you’re about to encounter is to employ that external brain known as a smartphone. But don’t just snap photos of the art, and yourself—remember the wall labels as well, or else your bound to forget crucial details like the name of the artist and gallery; all the better for touting your visit on social media (see 32 Fabulous Armory Week Photographs from 6 Fairs).

5. Bring a phone charger and extra power
As your energy level inevitably drops over the course of the day, so will your phone’s, with all those pictures and notes you’re taking. Be sure to grab a charger before you leave the house. Better yet, pack an extra battery or portable charger so you don’t have to hang around the cafe waiting for your device to re-power.

6. Check in with social media, early and often 
Sharing images of your favorite works is a great way to enhance your social media presence, but sites like Instagram and Twitter are also useful for finding out what other people are enjoying that you might have missed. Most art fairs employ custom hashtags that make it easy to see what (and who!) other fairgoers are looking at (see See Everything You Missed at Armory Week’s VIP Parties and 10 Tips for Promoting Yourself on Instagram).

The Dallas Art Fair.

The Dallas Art Fair.

7. Don’t be afraid to talk to dealers
Dealers are typically eager to discuss with you the artists whose work they’ve brought, even if you’re not necessarily able to make a purchase. Ask questions about the artist, how the fair is going, and what’s on next at the gallery. But keep trickier questions about the prices of specific works to a minimum, unless you’re seriously considering, or a member of the press.

8. Get your snack on
While eating at art fairs is notoriously expensive, it’s often worth sampling the fare if only to be able to try the many hip restaurants, you normally would have  trouble getting into—due to the massive wait times you have to contend with. Roberta’s Pizza, a Bushwick staple that’s practically impossible to get into since Beyoncé and Jay Z recently stopped by, has become a regular at Frieze and is definitely worth the cash (see Roberta’s, Milk Bar, and Frankies Spuntino Headline Frieze New York Food Vendors).

Roberta's pizza at Frieze (2014).  Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Roberta’s pizza at Frieze (2014).
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

9. Make time to get outside
Some of the most interesting works are often located in the section for special projects, which during Frieze New York will be situated outside the tent on the fairgrounds. Typically, these are site-specific installations that offer a unique experience. And, they also offer a much-needed opportunity to get out of the aisles and breathe in some fresh air.

10. Stop and say your hellos
Don’t get so caught up in looking, snapping, and noshing that you forget to say your hellos. Part of the fun of art fairs is seeing your friends in the industry you rarely get to see because they live across the country, or the globe. It’s a good opportunity to meet new friends; but make sure to take some time for the old friends. Yet another good excuse to slow yourself down.

Bonus tip: Get noticed. 
Of course, you should wear comfortable shoes. But if you do, just know you won’t get called out by Jerry Saltz.

Jerry Saltz at Frieze. Photo: J Grassi/Patrickmcmullan.com

Jerry Saltz.
Photo: J Grassi/Patrick McMullan.


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