How to: Survive an Art Fair as a New Collector

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by Alicia Puig - contributing writer for Create! & Co-Founder of PxP Contemporary. Create! is a sponsor of the upcoming Affordable Art Fair - where we’ll be exhibiting at Stand A16!

Once September rolls around, the art world returns in full swing. Exciting new museum shows, gallery exhibitions, and art fairs open almost weekly. With a multitude of fairs coming up over the next several months, it is a perfect opportunity for emerging collectors to get started with buying their first works of art. Admittedly, stepping into an art fair for the first time can be intimidating for the uninitiated, with a seemingly endless array of booths and an overload of artworks. However, there are a few easy tips to remember that will help you navigate this experience successfully and hopefully find that incredible new piece to add to your collection! 

Find the right fair.

Set a budget in advance to make sure that you know which art fair would be presenting the type of work that you can afford. Luckily, there are now many more options than those strictly featuring blue chip galleries and several even have a cap on artwork prices. The upcoming fall edition of Affordable Art Fair in New York, for example, only allows work to be exhibited that is $10,000 or under. A few other examples of more wallet friendly options include Superfine, Spring/Break, Art on Paper, The Other Art Fair, Moniker, and Scope, among others. 

Take a look at their websites to browse the participating galleries and see if there are any that interest you so that you can make a note of them (along with their booth numbers!). It is important to do this beforehand so that you don’t waste time going to an event where the style of art doesn’t suit your taste. Granted, what each gallery lists on their art fair page will likely only be a fraction of what they bring to the show and fairs are often known for the immense variety of work displayed. Yet it is still worth taking a peek beforehand to make sure that there are at least a few things that you would want to check out in person.

Get in with a discounted or free ticket. 

Ideally, you’ve already been invited by a gallery or an artist friend, but if not, feel free to reach out to any of the specific exhibitors that you are interested in visiting at the fair. Most small and mid-range fairs end up sending each gallery an excess of complimentary passes to give to their clients. Especially if they hear that you’re coming to see work that they will have on view, the gallery should be more than happy to send you a ticket for free or a discount code at the very least. If you join their mailing list beforehand, you may receive an invite via email. Maybe you’ll even snag a coveted VIP pass so that you can take breaks in the secluded lounge areas ;) 

And speaking of…

Take your time.

Some fairs can have more than 100 exhibitors. Don’t feel that you need to see everything or rush through each aisle. Walk through the booths at your own pace and step into ones where you see something that catches your eye, even if it wasn’t initially on your list. If there is a work that you know you want to purchase upon viewing it in person, then feel free to start discussing the terms with the dealer on the spot. 

If you only have a certain amount to spend and want to make sure that you’re walking away with something that you absolutely love, however, it might be a good idea to see as much as you can first and then double back to get a second look at any artwork still lingering in your mind. You may also consider returning on a different day, but if the work you are mulling over is a unique piece then this option does run the risk of losing it to another collector. In this case, it would be a good idea to express your interest to the gallery and leave them your contact information so that they can get in touch with you if someone else wants to buy it. 

Ask the dealers questions. 

Even when the gallery attendants look a bit disgruntled, give them a little credit. An art fair is an exhausting week of late night installations and all day events. It’s not you, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions! Honestly, most of the time they would be relieved to have someone to talk to and will light up as soon as you engage them in a conversation about the work on display. If you’re going to spend a significant amount on a piece of art, you’ll probably want to learn more about the artist, the materials and process used to create it, or the meaning behind the work. Additionally, it is always good to know what services the gallery provides, such as whether they cover any shipping or framing costs. 

Negotiate, but know your limits. 

Landed on a work you love that’s a smidge out of your price range? Don’t write it off quite yet. Many galleries can offer a modest discount or you can ask if they offer payment plans either directly or via a third party like ArtMoney. Whether it’s a $600 or $6,000 work that feels like a lot to pay off at once, if you were to split it into two, three, or even six equal payments, then it could be much easier to make room for in your monthly budget. That being said, every gallery will have their bottom line and definitely those who also have to pay out the artist will only be able to discount to a certain extent. Try to be considerate of this fact and remember that you’re also supporting an artist’s career by buying their work! If you simply can’t agree on the price, then perhaps it’s not meant to be. Never feel pressured to spend more than you are willing to.

Trust your gut & enjoy! 

It would be nice to know for certain that a potential investment will increase in value over time. While that is the case with a fair amount of art, there’s no way to guarantee it happening so listen to your instincts when searching for or deciding on what to buy and don’t listen to a gallerist who says otherwise. Collecting should be a fun experience and it won’t be if you’re spending your time stressing out about the finances or trying to pick something only because you think it will be worth more later on. 

On a more practical note, your time at the fair will also be more enjoyable if you opt for low heels, sneakers, or flats and certainly try to have a snack before going or make dinner plans afterwards. Prices for food and snacks at fairs are notoriously expensive for what limited offerings are provided - although a glass of champagne might be worth the splurge! 

In conclusion…

Whether it’s a statement piece above the sofa or the chance to support an emerging woman artist, an art fair could be an ideal place to find the artwork you seek to collect. Rather than having to travel to multiple galleries in your area, all of them will be presented together in one space, often with many others from around the world. Using the aforementioned tips, you can make the most of this wonderful opportunity to view art, connect with dealers, and meet contemporary artists! 

Cassandra Fiorenza