What exactly is a contemporary art fair?
Artstyle 08 Nov 2022

What exactly is a contemporary art fair?

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newcomer to the art world, a contemporary art fair is a great opportunity to delve into the art market, brush up on your knowledge of the scene, discover new and exciting artists, and maybe even buy some artwork. However, these events can often seem inaccessible, and hard to apprehend. Which ones should you see? What should you look at? But most importantly, what exactly is a contemporary art fair? Our specialists have put together a guide on contemporary art fairs for both experts and first time fair goers alike, so that you can navigate your next fair with ease.

ZONA MACO, Mexico City’s leading contemporary art fair
ZONA MACO, Mexico City’s leading contemporary art fair © ZONA MACO

A contemporary art fair: what is it?

Simply put, an art fair is an opportunity for galleries, artists and dealers to come together. Vendors showcase a selection of their best works by various talents. They also give a public of art-enthusiasts the possibility to appreciate and buy works of art.

The contemporary art fair as we know it today rose to prominence in the latter half of the 20th century. Art Cologne in 1967 was considered the first true fair of its kind. It was then followed by the likes of Art Brussels in 1968, and Art Basel in 1970. These fairs remain stalwarts of the scene to this day. These initial events were considered more as ‘trade fairs’, with their principal aim being to sell art pieces.

A snapshot of the first rendition of contemporary art fair Art Basel in 1970
A snapshot of the first rendition of Art Basel in 1970 © Art Basel

However, as the contemporary art fair has evolved, so too have its principles and ethos. Today, fairs aim not only to sell work, but also to give a platform to emerging galleries and artists. They also contribute to the cultural scene of their host city. Take the recent Paris+ par Art Basel, for example. Its Sites section focussed on expanding the fair to cultural events in locations around the city.

An installation by artist Alicja Kwade in Place Vendôme, Paris, as part of Paris+ Par Art Basel's Sites initiative
An installation by artist Alicja Kwade in Place Vendôme, Paris, as part of Paris+ Par Art Basel’s Sites initiative © Paris+

What does an art fair look like?

Despite happening all over the world, the contemporary art fair of today seems to follow a similar pattern. Normally, fairs will play host to a large selection of established galleries;  Galerie Lelong, Perrotin, Galerie Xippas, to name a few. Then, a curated selection of emerging galleries will be exhibited. This allows fairs to shine a light on the new stars of the art market. Galleries will exhibit their work in individual booths, sometimes highlighting the work of one specific artist, which fair-goers can peruse at leisure. To further their outreach into the cultural scene, art fairs also focus on external events, installations or performance pieces in significant cultural locations of their host city.

An installation featured at Art Basel Hong Kong 2022
An installation featured at Art Basel Hong Kong 2022 © Art Basel Hong Kong

How are contemporary art fairs important for the art market?

Contemporary art fairs are incredibly important events for the art market. They give industry insiders an opportunity to come together, share ideas, present future clients, and showcase what’s new in the art world. They also facilitate an international conversation within the market, uniting artists, galleries, dealers and clients from all over the world.

Advice for newcomers

The art world may seem intimidating from a far, but for those new to the market who want to start collecting or expand their artistic knowledge, contemporary art fairs are a great place to start. Fairs will advertise their tickets well in advance of the events, giving everyone the chance to experience what’s new in the art market. Come with an open mind and a comfortable pair of shoes, and discover the world of contemporary art! What’s more, many fairs are also digitizing their exhibitions, such as The Armory Show, giving you the opportunity to explore the art world wherever you are.

The Armory Show, 2022, New York’s contemporary art fair of the fall
The Armory Show, 2022, New York’s contemporary art fair of the fall © Arttable

Upcoming contemporary art fairs to look out for:

Paris Photo 2022

The 25th edition of Paris Photo will be held from November 10 – 13, at the Grand Palais Éphémère. The fair is the leading contemporary art fair focussing solely on photography, and this year’s event is not to be missed!

Art Basel Miami 2022

This iconic contemporary art fair will take place in Miami Beach from December 1 – 3. It aims to unite leading galleries from five continents, highlighting both master artists and emerging stars.

Artgenève 2023

For the past 10 years, Artgenève has promoted high-end and internationally renowned contemporary artists and galleries. This year, from January 26 – 29, the fair will welcome a large breadth of galleries, aiming to promote a dialogue between artists, galleries, and collectors.

Get inspired…

Wherever you are, and whatever your expertise, why not visit a contemporary art fair near you? Discover our selection of articles on the best of current contemporary art fairs, to find inspiration for your next visit. And if you’d rather start exploring from home, why not check out our selection of thematics, showcasing work inspired by the galleries and artists at leading fairs, available to buy on Artsper?

About Artsper

About Artsper

Founded in 2013, Artsper is an online marketplace for contemporary art. Partnering with 1,800 professional art galleries around the world, it makes discovering and acquiring art accessible to all.

Learn more