Now the Only Major Fair in a Once-Saturated Field, Market Art + Design Doubles Down on the Hamptons

The fair opens its eighth edition at the Bridgehampton Museum this week.

Exterior view of Market Art + Design, 2017. Courtesy of Market Art + Design.

Last year, the Hamptons art scene hit its proverbial tipping point. The once-oversaturated market thinned out in rapid fashion, as fairs that previously vied for East End dominance during the summer months, such as Art Hamptons—the original Hamptons fair—and Art Southampton, quietly called off their 2017 editions. The Market Art + Design fair, then going into its seventh edition, was left as the last fair standing during the destination’s busiest season.

The market contraction may not have been a bad thing, though.

“A big part of why fairs are effective is because they are a collective marketing effort on behalf of all the participating galleries and institutional partners,” says Max Fishko, the co-founder of Market Art + Design. “When there are multiple enterprises competing for the same thing, it’s difficult to get people excited and interested. But when you have you a focused effort on everyone’s behalf, you see more dramatic results.”

Of course, the shrinkage of the scene was particularly good to Market Art + Design. The fair, which rebranded itself from Art Market Hamptons in 2015, enjoyed its best year yet in terms of both sales and exhibitor numbers, according to Fishko.

Now, it’s growing again. The Market Art + Design fair opens its eighth edition at the Bridgehampton Museum this week. This year’s edition will cover 55,000 square feet—20,000 more than last year—and will add 20 more exhibitors, for a total of 75. The 2017 fair brought in 12,000 people; this year, Fishko expects around 15,000. The fair is also restructuring its layout, adding more parking and hospitality options, and expanding the design section to accommodate more ambitious programming.

Max Fishko. Courtesy of Market Art + Design.

Fishko is quick to point out, however, that just because his fair has found itself in the enviable position of being the only game in town at the moment, it can’t overextend itself. Growth, he says, has to happen steadily and organically.

“We don’t want to just explode,” says Fishko. “We have a lot of people, and we need them to be successful. There is a limited number of people who are going to come and shop the fair, so you can’t just show up with double the number of galleries and expect everyone to have a good experience.”

Though the total number of attendees is limited, attendance at the Hamptons fairs has never been an issue. The problem—and the main reason that Market Art + Design’s competitors failed, Fishko believes—is that those visitor numbers don’t always translate into sales.

“We’ve always had a different focus in terms of what we want to present,” he explains. “Some of the other shows seemed much more caught up in trying to get these big-ticket purchases to happen, particularly in the secondary market. But this isn’t really the forum for that. We always focused very heavily on skewing towards younger, more contemporary galleries. We want to keep things lighthearted and keep the price points accessible because that seems to be what people want.”

Interior view of Market Art + Design 2017. Courtesy of Market Art + Design.

The most important thing, Fishko has learned, is being able to bring people back.

“People out here are sophisticated and they’re not going to make an impulse purchase, especially not at a certain dollar number,” he says. “You need people to feel like they can show up and look at something and then say, ‘Hey, let’s come back and check it out and make a final decision.’”

Market Art + Design is on view July 5–8, 2018 in Bridgehampton, New York.

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