An Insider’s Guide to Attending Art Fairs


If you’re in search of great art and want to see the marketplace in full swing, consider attending an art fair. Art fairs are a great way to discover new artists, galleries, and current market trends. They’re an opportunity to spot trendsetting artwork, hot deals, and the occasional celeb. So, whether you’re building a collection or just window-shopping, here’s our insider guide to attending an art fair.


Grab a Map and Plan Your Route

frieze Image: Map of Frieze New York, 2015, Source: Frieze New York

Before you arrive, check out the fair’s website. You’ll be able to investigate the exhibitors’ list in advance to shortlist some of your favorite galleries. Let them know that you’re attending and that you’re interested in their artists – a simple message to the general gallery email will put you on their mailing list and may score you a free pass. Download and print a map of the floor plan in advance or grab one when you arrive at the fair. Mark the areas you’d most like to visit. Depending on their locations, plan your route accordingly and estimate how much time you’d like to spend at each of your favorite booths. This could be 5 to 10 minutes per booth or more, depending on your interest as a buyer.


Your Boots Better Be Made For Walking

9-frieze-london-street-style Image: Street Style at the Frieze Art Fair in London, Source: Mehdi Lacoste for Vogue

Comfortable shoes and clothes are key, but be sure to keep it sophisticated and chic. A stylish outfit that you can stand to be in for more than a few hours is your best bet. Jeans are fine as long as they fit well and pair with nice shoes and a dressy top or blazer. And ladies, if you’re looking at a pair of six-inch heels, avert your eyes. They’ll have your feet begging for mercy before you snake around the second aisle of galleries. If exhaustion starts to get the best of you, remember that art fairs tend to have a food venue or two to perk even the weariest of visitors back to standing form. There’s even booze…


Shall We Chat?

galleries_a-gentil-carioca-007 Image: Art Basel in Miami Beach 2014, A Gentil Carioca gallery’s booth. Source: courtesy MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG) via New York Observer

Most dealers and gallery reps are more than happy to answer questions about their artists abd speak with you about the art in their booths. If you have a question or would like more information about a work, just check that the dealer is free to chat. If they’re on a phone, computer, or texting furiously, they may be in the middle of a sale and it’s best to wait until they finish. If you score a VIP pass and make the vernissage (VIP Opening Night), beware that this is the super selling time for most dealers, so unless you’re a potential buyer, avoid them until later in the week. If you’re game to enter the buying game, be prepared to move fast. On opening night, your fellow attendees are also eager to score the latest and greatest work. Dealers will rarely offer reserves during the first day and only to their top collectors.

If you’re interested in taking photos of any of the art, politely ask the dealers if they mind (they rarely do) and take the image only once your flash is off.


Seeing Red

Red Dot #3 Image: Sold painting from Cernuda Arte, Coral Gables Florida

As a rule of thumb, if you see a red dot by any of the work in a booth, it’s been sold. If you’re interested to see other work by the artist, ask the gallery. There is usually a small (super small!) storage area within each booth that keeps additional inventory and the dealer may be able to show you other available work.


In Addition To…

164-image-966-483-crop Image: VIP Lounge at the Armory Show, March 2015

As mentioned previously, a VIP pass will score you an invite to the vernissage. Getting a VIP pass can be tricky if you’re not already well connected in the art world either professionally or as a collector. If you have one, however, you will not only receive exclusive access at the main fair, but also to many surrounding parties and events. One particular bonus is the schedule of studio visits that a VIP pass will receive, which are intimate gatherings made through RSVP only, organized by the fair’s curators, and a wonderful way to get personal rapport with contemporary artists.

So how do you score such a pass? Well, for starters, you can ask. Reach out to your favorite galleries in advance of the fair to see what’s possible. While you’re at the fair, strike up conversations with the dealers and attendees – networking is key in the art world and you may find yourself invited to a party or event that will put you on the VIP list for next year’s fair.


Feature Image: The Armory Show, New York City