Report Says Art Fairs Have Replaced Galleries as Dealers’ Main Source of Revenue

The Art Newspaper spoke to several dealers in response to a report by the non-profit organization Cinoa (Con­féd­ération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art), which said, somewhat unsurprisingly, art fairs and online business are taking over as the main method of selling art. The report and the article touch on a number of issues we’ve covered this summer at The Observer, including the abundance of pop-up galleries and the rapidly growing business of buying art online. Some very important dealers had a lot to say to The Art Newspaper about this shift in the art market:

“The overall weight has shifted to clients who don’t live where you work—so you service them through art fairs,” said dealer David Zwirner.

“It is more convenient and inspiring to work in a more unconventional format, having an office and platform, and doing temporary projects and pop-up shows,” said Berlin dealer Matthias Arndt, when he announced earlier this year that his gallery would now open only sporadically for shows.

Dominique Lévy of L&M Arts was decidedly less positive.

“The proliferation of fairs is ridiculous. They will strangle each other in the end,” she said.

We tend to agree with Ms. Lévy. In fact, just this weekend, at NADA Hudson, where a number of dealers overtook an old factory on the edge of town (despite there being art for sale the event was not officially an art fair), NADA’s director Heather Hubbs talked to The Observer about her upcoming collaboration with Art Cologne, where NADA will hold a fair within a fair.

“I think that fairs, there are ways to make them different and to change them up so that they remain interesting,” Ms. Hubbs said. “The reason Art Cologne is so attractive is because Cologne’s not buying us out, we’re not merging, it’s a real collaboration. Nobody’s doing that. What art fair has invited another organization to come in and do something inside their fair? If anything, people are pushing each other away. They don’t want anyone on their territory. They don’t want anyone in their timeslot.”

If fairs have replaced galleries as the predominant way of buying and selling art, fairs themselves will eventually have to adapt. It makes us think of something Gordon Veneklasen, director of Michael Werner gallery, said to us when we were discussing the possibility, now fulfilled, that Frieze Art Fair would be coming to New York.

“The joy of being at a fair is absolutely nonexistent,” he said. “The suffering that goes on in terms of putting a fair together is endless. But fairs are the way that most people discover things. I would say they’re a necessary evil.”

Report Says Art Fairs Have Replaced Galleries as Dealers’ Main Source of Revenue