The 10 Worst Art Fair Ideas in History

It gets worse.

LONDON - OCTOBER 12: A visitor to the Frieze Art Fair ooks at a mannequin sitting on a trash can on October 12, 2006 in London, England. The fair is held every October in London's Regent's Park and features over 160 contemporary art galleries and a sculpture park. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Photo: The Armory Show.

Photo: The Armory Show.

Taking a wheelchair down a steep hill. Letting your dad ride a skateboard. Braiding your hair with an eggbeater. If these risky activities appear dangerously exciting, they are also among the dumbest people can think of executing. Unsurprisingly, similar epic fails exist in the world of art fairs. For the purposes of this article, artnet News has filed these flops under the heading: The ten best worst art fair ideas ever.

In anticipation of next of week’s opening of the Armory Show, we have highlighted a few memorable examples of incredibly poor decision making by art fair organizers, exhibitors and attendees. Read, consider, and marvel at these art world stunts—they offer lessons in hubris, criminal mischief and just plain poor planning.

1. Create, Participate in, and/or Attend a Juried Art Fair
Looking for quality art fair destinations worth your time? Then stop considering juried art fairs. Fairgoers encounter glorified craft shows and artists get ripped off. No doubt artists think of these events as resume stuffers, but the exposure afforded by such cattle calls is far outweighed by the costs of framing, transport, and exhibition, which artists commonly incur in the form of “participation fees.” There are an estimated 15-20,000 such “invitational shows” in the US each year, all skirting the same basic truth—art fairs are for galleries, not artists. As anti-sweatshop activists urge Nike: Just don’t do it.

2. Put Up an Art Fair Tent When the Weather Calls for Snow
In March 2009 the Armory Art Show insisted on the idea of installing an outdoor pavilion for Audi, its official car sponsor. The problem was the weatherman had previously called for snow. The result: Armory staff had to reportedly shovel and reinstall the collapsing tent in a snowstorm with a $162,000 sedan in place.

Just to prove big companies rarely learn from their mistakes—it is owned by MMPI Properties, the nation’s largest trade show operator, after all—a few years later, the Armory Show ordered up their Box Office tent. Predictably, the effort was called off 12 hours prior to opening night due to “inclement weather.”

Guests arrive at ArtMarketHamptons. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Guests arrive at Art Market Hamptons. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

3. Hold Three Art Fairs with Similar Names in the Same Month
“How many art fairs can the Hamptons sustain?” was one art world headline during the summer of 2012. Since then, people have a hard time telling the names of New York’s July art fairs apart.

As artnet News’s Cait Munro put it, all three “have some combination of the words ‘Art’ and ‘Hamptons’ in their names, which is extremely confusing.” The organizers of ArtHamptons, Art Market Hamptons, and Art Southampton may have attended the same Kenneth Goldsmith lecture on originality. However, one fair apparently got the memo: Art Market Hamptons rebranded itself Market Art + Design in 2015.

4. Mistake a Kill-Crazy Stabbing for Performance Art
When 24-year-old artist Siyuan Zhao turned a run-of-the-mill stalking into a stabbing, onlookers at Art Basel Miami Beach 2015 continued to mill around clinking glasses. “I had to kill her and two more, I had to watch her bleed!” Zhao told arresting officers on the floor of the city’s convention center.

Instead of helping the victim, CNN observed patrons “wandering around sipping champagne.”

Newsflash for the simulacra-besotted: A stabbing is not life imitating art. It’s assault with a deadly weapon.

The stabbing suspect, who has been identified as 24-year-old Siyuan Zhao, is arrested at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Photo: Rudy Perez, courtesy the Miami Herald.

The stabbing suspect, who has been identified as 24-year-old Siyuan Zhao, is arrested at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Photo: Rudy Perez, courtesy the Miami Herald.

5. Kit Your Art Fair Out With a “Staircase of Doom”
Not satisfied with the fair’s tenuous connection to Marcel Duchamp’s painting about a staircase—the Frenchman’s Nude Descending a Staircase caused a ruckus at the 1913 Armory—the Armory Art Show decided to unite Piers 92 and 94 with a code-challenged platform made from construction scaffolding.

Dubbed “the staircase of doom” by art critic Paddy Johnson, the rickety stairs sported “public safety” signs that read “Low Clearance” and “Only 10 People At a Time.” Located near the southwest corner of Pier 94, the door between both piers is still visible (unless the fair has wisely decided to board it up this year).

As one staff member who worked on the project observed: “If you open it, you’ll fall straight to your death.”

6. Celebrate An Art Fair On a Yacht
After selling Art Palm Beach, David and Lee Ann Lester decided to celebrate their inner Donald Trumps in style. Unsatisfied with normal frills, they put on a floating art fair on a yacht called Grand Luxe.

Titled Seafair, the art fair booked dealers and their wares for month-long jaunts that typically cruised from Miami to Maine and back. Their biggest problem: What dealer has time to spend a month on a fancy barge? Just last week Seafair’s 228-foot “megayacht” was spotted quietly docked at the port of Miami. It is currently rented out for “product launches, exhibitions, birthdays, galas, fundraisers, anniversaries.”

Local labor unions protested at Frieze New York on Randall's Island las t May.

Local labor unions protested at Frieze New York on Randall’s Island las t May.

7. Pit Your Startup Art Fair Against Local Labor Unions
When the London-based Frieze Art Fair landed in New York in 2012, the British company unwisely decided to forgo using union labor. Predictably, the decision led to protests by local Teamsters and members of the Occupy Movement, who demonstrated loudly for two years outside the fair’s Randall’s Island tent, giant inflatable rat included.

Eventually, condemnation passed from protesters to Frieze-invited speakers and exhibiting artists. Finally, a shift in municipal politics forced the carpetbagging fair to come correct. Key in making Frieze negotiate fairly with the city’s carpenters and joiners was New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The worker’s slogan: It’s de Blasio time!

8. Operate An Art Fair Without a Permit
Self-described as “the premier art fair in the US dedicated to unrepresented artists” the Pool Art Fair was shut down by Miami police a mere fifteen minutes after opening in December 2011.

The issue: the fair did not have a permit and the Sadigo Court Hotel, which played host to the fair, did not possess a valid hotelier’s license. After guests and exhibitors were evacuated, a spokesperson for the city summed up the dilemma for Pool’s paying participants: “Unfortunately, the real victims here are probably the artists. We learned [they] were staying there as hotel guests.” (See entry 1 about juried art fairs.)

9. Prominently Feature Relational Art Involving Frat Boys
The vogue for relational art was given its Kappa Sigma pledge test at New York’s SCOPE Art Fair in 2011. For his work C’mon Guy (Frat Boy Box Party), artist Richie Bubb invited three real-life fraternity brothers to cohabitate in a glass box that SCOPE placed prominently at the center of the fair. Beer, food, magic markers, and a bucket were provided for the bros necessities.

Eventually, one inebriated “Greek” made used of the bucket to spew Technicolor chunks in front of the public. Barring Matthew Barney’s Cremaster videos, this installation takes the cake for art world’s best “Jackass” stunt.

10. Defecate In Your Own Art Fair Booth
Never an art fair to give shock a pass, Frieze London 2005 served as the stage for our last best worst art idea. Hosting Japanese Noritoshi Hirakawa’s installation The Home-Coming of Navel Strings, Maurizio Cattelan’s The Wrong Gallery filled a booth with three succinct elements—a seated young woman reading a novel, a magenta-colored photo of a sphincter, and tidy pile of excrement.

As Adrian Searle wrote in the Guardian, there was really only one question to ask the poor lass. “Is that your poo?” He was wrong. The right question was: Bran or oatmeal?

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