A Guide to Art Fairs

Posted in The Art-Isms by Rise Art on 01st October 2019

Each year there's a myriad of art fairs to attend. Whether you’d like to adorn your walls or just have a gander, art fairs are one of the most popular ways of finding new and emerging artists. 

Art fairs can be hard to navigate, some are geographically complicated, it’s easy to lose your bearings and nearly impossible to see everything. However, there are various methods you can use to make the most of your valuable time. 

If you’re thinking of attending an art fair this year, here is our 6 point guide you need to know:

Frieze London 2018, Revolver Galleria, Focus. (Image courtesy of Frieze)


1. Do your homework

Firstly, go online. Each art fair will have its own website with a list of the exhibiting galleries and artists. There will be sections dedicated to established galleries as well as younger and emerging galleries. Identify galleries and artists you know or would like to visit, make a note of who you want to see and target what is in line with your collecting habits.

If you’ve never been to an art fair before and aren’t familiar with any artists or galleries, the best thing to do is walk the entire show at a brisk pace and make a note of anything that catches your eye. This is anything you find interesting, make a mental (or if you like, physical) map and return to the gallery or artist that caught your eye at a later point.

We also recommend, whether an experienced art fair goer or a first-timer, that you visit the project space. This is a section of a fair where an artist has created an installation. There is a different look and feel to this section and it is a space that is likely to be representative of true avant-garde artistic thinking. 

This will give you a structured approach to a fair, meaning you do not wander aimlessly. You can take your time, move slower and properly look at what’s going on. It’s also good to decide if you’re able to visit on more than one day, which could take the pressure off.

Frieze London 2018, Focus Stand Prize Winner. (Image courtesy of Frieze)



Art fairs hold a VIP day before the fair opens officially. This day is often the best as you get to view what the gallery has to offer before anything has been sold and the gallery director is often around for a chat. Tickets are given out by galleries and artists to friends and colleagues.

Weekdays differ from weekends. Gallery directors tend to leave by Friday and leave their juniors to run the stand on weekends. Holiday goers, families and people who are often spectators rather than serious collectors will often be present on weekends, and they are often quite crowded. If you are likely to be irritated by this or find it stressful, it’s best to attend a weekday. 

The general rule of thumb is that the earlier you attend an art fair the better, as well as a change to staff as the days go on and artwork gets sold, there are often re-hangs and work changes, so you may miss out on something.

Start Art Fair (Image courtesy of Frederik Florin)


3. The cupboard

In every stand, you will notice that there is a cupboard. The cupboard stores artwork ready for re-hang and display. If there’s nothing on display that appeals to you, something in the cupboard may. No matter which day you attend, there's often a lot of interesting pieces in there, so it’s good to get access if you can - just ask. 

Frieze Masters (Image courtesy of AFP/Getty Images)


4. The reserve list

It’s important to have an understanding of the dynamic of the sales team at a gallery. A galleries job is not just to sell art, but to sell it into the best situation possible. Having money does not mean you can always get the art you want and on some artworks, they will have a reserve list. The reserve list is a list of people wishing to purchase an artwork. The reserve list does not work on a first come first serve basis but on who provides the best situation for the artwork.

The Afforable Art Fair (Image courtesy of Morris MacMatzen)


5. Is it okay to ask for discounts? 

Yes! Most galleries, artists and sophisticated collectors know that asking for a discount up to 10% is far from an embarrassing conversation. If a discount is refused, the gallery is confident they will sell the piece at the price advertised. When negotiating for a discount it’s good to give some thought to the power shift between the artist and the gallery. 

Frieze London 2018, Union Pacific, Focus. (Image courtesy of Frieze)


6. The galleries

Galleries attending art fairs are often under financial pressure. A lot of galleries make a large amount of their yearly revenue from art fairs. Art fairs recognise this and financially squeeze galleries for being there. This has resulted in a palpable commercial pressure around art fairs which ultimately affects the gallery's core function, which is to make sure the artwork has landed in the best hands possible.

There is also a hierarchy to art fairs and not all art fairs are the same. Some art fairs are more academic and are particularly rigorous with which galleries they show, meaning it’s hard for galleries to get into those art fairs as there’s a high level of competition. Other art fairs are more commercial and much easier for galleries to attend. Before attending an art fair, it’s good to do your research not only on the galleries and artists they’re showing but also the art fairs themselves in order to determine where they fall on the hierarchy. 

London Art Fair at Business Design Centre (Image courtesy of visitlondon.com)