INTRODUCTION TO ART FAIRS
Art fairs have come to define the seasons of the international market and dictate the diaries of most working within it. While a small handful of the longest-standing and most renowned of these fairs continues to dominate, in recent years there has been an efflorescence of smaller and satellite fairs catering to new and niche markets and providing a growing sector of employment within the art world. The bigger fairs are high-profile events with the power to corral the most esteemed artists, artworks, gallerists and collectors, and it is little wonder that the prospect of working for an art fair has great appeal.
These are businesses that centre on (usually) annual events, giving the work a cyclical rhythm, with the majority of the year spent preparing for and building up to a commercial crescendo which typically lasts no longer than a week. However, in an increasingly competitive market, art fairs strive to build their international presence and programme year on year, and the most renowned now stage multiple iterations in cultural centres across the world.
The core business of art fairs is the selling of booths to galleries and dealers, who will vie for the largest and most prominent areas in which to exhibit. Most fairs have an exhibitor relations department that oversees booth sales as well as managing an exhibiting gallery’s needs once they have secured their space, and making sure they take part year on year. Increasingly, larger international galleries are investing in employees dedicated to managing their fair presence, people whose job it is to work closely with fair staff in order to coordinate all aspects of putting their booths together. Exhibitor relations teams also coordinate with operational and technical staff to oversee complex shipping and installation logistics during the setting up and taking down of the fair, and for the remainder of the year liaise closely with exhibiting galleries to plan and prepare for future shows.
As the role of art fairs in the industry has become more prominent, most have sought to capitalise on the vast numbers of visitors they attract by developing programmes of ticketed events and tours surrounding the fair itself. Whilst some of these are educational and open to the public, others are exclusive, invite-only and reserved for an elite list of VIP guests. Most fairs open to a VIP contingent before opening to the public (indeed, the majority of sales take place during previews). These are guests who have been identified and personally invited by a VIP team responsible for ensuring the attendance of the most preeminent figures in the art world.
The big fairs are some of the best-known brands in the industry and as such can attract partnerships and sponsorship deals from other luxury businesses. This area of activity requires a different set of skills in the brokering and management of these deals by a corporate development team. Larger fairs also have communications departments that oversee press relations and marketing campaigns to accompany the fair programme, as well as being responsible for the production of printed materials for distribution at the fair itself.
In the run up to and during the event itself, an art fair’s employee base expands exponentially as they take on temporary staff to assist with front of house, hospitality and events. Whilst not permanent roles, such positions tend to be open to junior candidates and provide a fantastic entry-point into a career in fairs.
Although they operate quite differently from a gallery, auction house or any other art-focussed business, art fairs usually seek to bring on candidates who have a good understanding of the nature of the art world and translatable industry experience. As international and often fast-growing businesses, they can offer exciting careers across various departments, and the opportunity to be at the heart of the most key events in the art world calendar.