Hope you got some rest over the holidays, because it’s time to start gearing up for… drumroll, please… art fair season! And we all know that “season” is a loose term; these days, if we’re being honest, art fair season runs all year. Your agenda is probably already stacked with all the perennial heavy hitters, but we’re making a case for adding these 5 under-the-radar art fairs to your docket. Hear us out.
“It’s not easy getting out of bed during an art-fair week.” Piece by Eva Kot’atkova at 2018 miart opening.
If you work in the art world, you know that art fairs can bring up a lot of feels—excitement, dread and everything in between—but lately, the most common one has been overwhelm. Hundreds of fairs already beckon galleries and collectors from all around the world, and new ones are popping up faster than psychedelic mushrooms after a tropical downpour (or so I imagine).
So, despite the the plethora of comprehensive guides published each year by ArtForum and the like, it’s becoming more and more difficult (and more exhausting) to plan your art fair circuit. Not to mention actually attending. While some perennial stand-outs are bound to make everyone’s lists—Frieze; Art Paris; and of course, this year, the Venice Biennial—others are bound to slip through the cracks of the endless scroll. You might have the best intentions of branching out from the usual scene, but how to choose from the crème-de-la-crème?
Money, money, money… not so funny for small galleries
To answer this question, let’s take a quick dive into the anatomy of today’s art fair. In the past decade, fairs have swallowed up nearly a 50% share of the art market’s gallery sales, up from just 16% in 2010. This trend makes a lot of sense from an efficiency standpoint—who wants to trek out to one gallery space after another when you can see (and buy) all your art in one fell swoop?
But centralization of the market comes at a price. For smaller and medium-sized galleries, sales at art fairs often doesn’t cover the hefty up-front costs of participating. This leaves them in a frustrating Catch-22: if they go, they’ll probably lose money, but if they don’t go, they probably can’t gain enough exposure to… make money. Look at it that way and it’s no surprise that more galleries closed than opened in 2017.
What can I do about it?
Some fairs, like Art Basel, have staggered their participation fees so that smaller galleries pay less for booth space than giants like David Zwirner, who was one of the first people to float this idea. Other fairs will hopefully start making similar concessions, but in the meantime, if you want to support a healthy and diverse gallery ecosystem, why not check out some off-the-beaten-path fairs?
These 5 fairs from all corners of the world focus on underrepresented artists and markets, offer alternative models to the classic art fair structure, or both. Check them out so you can have your cake and eat it too: discover young and emerging artists while getting to pat yourself on the back for doing your part to keep today’s fragile art market #thriving.
To be fair (no pun intended), Condo isn’t actually an art fair but a very appealing alternative for gallerists and buyers alike. Born in London in 2016, Condo is a collaborative pop-up event that has spread to galleries in Athens, São Paulo, Shanghai, New York and Mexico City. To bypass the stress and hefty price tag of attending a fair, why not hold the equivalent in the comfort of your own home? Think of it as the inviting-people-over-so-you-don’t-have-to-go-out hack of the art world.
Condo London will include 52 international galleries showing independent and co-curated exhibitions across 18 London spaces. The hosting aspect brings in that global flavor that makes art fairs so exciting, while the collaborative, DIY ethos promises a fresh selection of work. Don’t miss it!
Artwork by Anna K.E., who will rep Georgia at the Venice Biennial.
How many times have the words “friendly” and “cosy” come to mind as you battle your way through hordes of swanky collectors at an art fair? Probably few to none.
Well, the Tbilisi Art Fair (TAF) aims to be exactly that, according to the site’s landing page. Going into its second year, TAF is putting Georgia on the art world map, bringing in more than 8,000 international visitors in its inaugural year.
According to TAF’s about page, it focuses on the emerging art scene in the Caucus region, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, areas with “rich and vibrant emerging art scenes, underrepresented in art fairs.”
One of the more nontraditional destinations on our list, ART JOG isn’t technically a fair but, to use the phrase from its IG bio, a “contemporary art agenda.”
Unlike your typical art fair, ART JOG invites artists directly to participate, cutting out the middleman, the gallery. Their Open Call Application also provides an arguably more democratic channel for some 50 artists to connect with the public, and the Young Artist Award explicitly celebrates the achievements of an artist under 34 (a bit of a random age, but okay).
After 10 successful years in Indonesia, ART JOG set up camp in Bali for the first time last October—as if you needed another excuse to jet off to Bali. And since it’s no secret that the Southeast Asian art market is poppin’, we recommend you get in on the hype early. See you in a straw hut in paradise!
Australia might be a bit of a trek just to see some art, but you won’t find work like this anywhere in the world. Tarnanthi presents contemporary art made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, helping the artists gain exposure to Australian and international buyers. In this way, it also supports their work and their communities financially, art production being a major source of income.
On a global scale, the fair also combats the common misconception that relegated “indigenous” art to the past and views art by indigenous people as a historic, cultural artifact rather than a contemporary creation.
Since many of these artists live and work in remote locations (as if Australia weren’t already remote enough for most of us), the fair is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to connect with these artists face-to-face.
Over 40 art centers from around Australia participate—oh, and the café serves “kangaroo bushman pie.” That in itself should be enough to get you on that 20-hour plane, right?
Shot from “spiritual” Aye performance at Art X Lagos 2018.
You might not think of West Africa as the contemporary art market’s next frontier, but Art X Lagos’ 22,000 visitors since its launch in 2016 would beg to differ. Since its inception, critics and collectors have flocked to Art X Lagos for unprecedented and unrivaled access to the African and diaspora art market.
Like the Caucus region, West Africa has long been far from the art world’s spotlight, which means that many of Art X Lagos’ artists are largely unknown to international audiences. Many of these artists will soon be snapped up by big international galleries, so come see them here first (and buy their work while you can still afford it!). On the other hand, the fair also has the privilege of bringing home many diaspora artists who emigrated to pursue their education and careers.
In evaluating its gallery applications, Founder and Director Tokini Peterside said that Art X Lagos seriously weighs the potential success the gallery at the fair, even declining some applications deemed too abstract or conceptual for the local market. This approach might seem harsh or arbitrary, but it ultimately protects against the risk of financial loss that art markets often pose for galleries.
Images via Artnet, Condo Complex, @tbilisiartfair, @art.bali.id, @tarnanthi, @artxlagos