Introduction to Art Fairs

“Fairs are tentpole moments in the art world, where galleries can showcase their artists’ work to a broader audience, gain better insight into the market by seeing other gallery presentations, and, of course, meet new collectors.” – Artsy Asks: What Galleries Need to Know about Fairs


The international art market’s annual calendar is shaped by high-profile art fairs, which bring together the most esteemed artists, artworks, gallerists, and collectors. Most people who work in the industry plan their schedules around the fair seasons, spending the year preparing for and building up to said events, which usually last no more than a week each.

However, in an increasingly competitive market, the most renowned fairs (the likes of Frieze and Art Basel) now stage year-round iterations in cultural centres across the world.

The core business of art fairs is selling booths to galleries and dealers, who want to exhibit their artworks in the most prominent positions. Most fairs employ exhibitor relations teams to manage the sale of booths; support preparations for the event, including shipping and logistics; and ensure that exhibitors take part year-on-year. On the other side, larger galleries have started investing in teams that are dedicated to managing their fair presence. These in-house teams work with fair staff to coordinate all aspects of assembling booths, including overseeing shipping and installation logistics.

The largest fairs are high profile events that bring together most of the art world’s power brokers. These fairs have the prestige and brand recognition to attract VIPs, as well as wealthy corporate partners and sponsors. As such, they tend to hire staff to manage these relationships. These VIP relations teams are typically responsible for ensuring the attendance of the most preeminent figures in the art world, as well as organising and facilitating events catered specifically to them. Most fairs open to a VIP contingent a day before the public and it is on these days that the majority of art fair sales tend to take place.

What sold on Art Basel’s first VIP day: from a $22.5m Bourgeois spider to a huge $2.5m Richter sculpture. Source: The Art Newspaper


As well as VIP events, many fairs capitalise on the large crowds they attract by developing ticketed events and tours in parallel to the fair. Meanwhile, corporate development and partnerships teams broker and manage contracts with sponsors, maintaining relationships both at the fairs themselves and year-round, to ensure repeat business. Large fairs also employ dedicated in-house communications departments that oversee press relations and marketing campaigns to promote the fairs and build their prestige.

As international and often fast-growing businesses, jobs at art fairs are highly sought after. During the pandemic, some of the larger fairs grew larger still, having consolidated and expanded in new geographies. This has resulted in more job opportunities within the sector.

Given its seasonal nature, the sector employs a lot of its staff on a temporary basis, ramping up headcount dramatically in the run-up to opening, as well as taking on extra staff to support their front-of-house, hospitality, and events teams. Whilst these roles are not permanent, they can be an attractive prospect for entry-level candidates.

Art Fair Salaries in the United States. Source: SML Art Market Salary Report 2023

Although the large-scale gatherings continue to dominate the art world calendar, there are also smaller happenings which tend to operate as either satellites catering to a specific market niche, or as regional events that highlight artworks from a particular geographic area. The continued establishment of these additional annual highlights has also contributed to an increase in the number of jobs available in the sector.

Though the nature of the work offered by art fairs differs from traditional art world careers in galleries and auction house, fairs typically seek to bring in candidates with a good understanding of the wider art industry to benefit from their transferable knowledge and experience. As the industry recovers from pandemic restrictions on international travel and large in-person events, the sector offers dynamic opportunities for candidates looking for work at the heart of some of the industry’s key events.

SML and Art Fairs

SML have been instrumental in the sourcing and placement of staff who are integral to the fair ecosystem both on the ground, overseeing the wide-ranging demands of this rapidly evolving and growing industry, and in-house as art world businesses seek to maintain momentum and efficiency behind their participation. Over the past few months, headed towards an important season in the fair calendar, we saw a particular increase in demand for individuals skilled in nurturing visitor or exhibitor relationships and securing ticket or booth sales.

“From an entry-level (or career-change) perspective, positions within or closely aligned with specialized or more generalized fairs (in roles such as communications, VIP/exhibitor relations, and fair administration or coordination) are a really great way to not only gain a birds-eye view of the market, but to build out strong skills (administrative, operational, social, commercial) and relationships (exhibitor, collector, partner, supplier) that will put you in a strong position for whatever eventual art world path you choose. 

 As for senior candidates, fairs tend to offer a new challenge that can be incredibly rewarding for those at the top of their game in other sectors (such as galleries or auction houses) looking to leverage their expertise in an environment that involves and caters to a multitude of stakeholders, be it from a commercial, operational or promotional standpoint.” – Allison Therrien, Associate Director

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Cover Image Credits

  • Toimetaja Tolkeburoo