Art Fairs – Solutions for High Costs

The Art Fairs Dilemma for Small Art Galleries

The Art Fairs Dilemma for Small
Art Galleries

An important conversation has been started recently regarding small art gallery participation in global art fairs.  What can be done to help subsidize the costs for smaller art galleries?  With art fairs ridiculous rising costs across the world, participation for small galleries have become more of a dilemma.  In order to bring attention to promising artists and bring in art sales from potential art buyers, small gallery participation is vital.  There is now a lot of pressure on smaller galleries to “go broke” just to participate.

The harsh reality for a small contemporary art gallery is that it is just not realistic to spend thousands of dollars on a tiny booth at Art Basel. There is not enough ROI to hope and pray an art collector will want to take a chance on your artists.

Revel Art House is plagued with the same issues. We are a contemporary art house that works with galleries to get new contemporary artists into the gallery scene.  The costs of attending art fairs, let alone participating in one is extremely strenuous and expensive.  Revel has to be strategic in which art fairs are worthwhile to attend and which art galleries and artists are worth the investment.

Proposed Solutions

Kate Brown of Artnews referenced this recently in an article that in April of this year, mega-gallerist David Zwirner proposed an art-fair “tax” on top galleries.  The tax would mean “top galleries like his should pay higher prices to subsidize smaller galleries’ booths at art fairs” (Zwirner, 2018).  A few larger art galleries took a liking to Zwirner’s proposal.  Marc Payot, a partner and vice president of Hauser & Writh stated “The continued health and vibrancy of our art world relies upon visibility and opportunity for as many as possible.”

Naturally, there were skeptics who argued that a tax on larger art galleries would “paint smaller galleries as ‘charity cases’” as posed by Jose Freire, New York gallerist.  Because of the problematic art fair model, Freire now chooses to invest his money in traveling to scout promising artists.  Freire refuses to attend any more art fairs.

Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, proposes other ideas: top galleries co-signing loans for smaller galleries.  Spiegler’s other solutions include reaching out to the cities and art auction houses that are benefitting from the efforts of smaller galleries. His final recommendation is to begin arranging a support fund for small galleries.

Non-Profit Approach

Nate Freeman of Artsy countered with an article stating Peter Bläuer, director of Liste, an Art Basel satellite fair, laughingly commented that Liste has been “taxing” larger galleries for 20 years.  Bläuer suggests to promote art fairs such as Liste, a nonprofit art fair, whose aim is to shine light on younger galleries.  Galleries who attend Liste end up paying as little as $7,140 to appear at the fair in their first year.  This is an amazing opportunity for younger art galleries. Participants are granted access to a vast amount of art collectors who show up to see lower priced art pieces. In addition, collectors get a glimpse of artists in the early stages of their careers.

Bläuer believes a nonprofit fair like Liste tremendously helps younger galleries seize the opportunity of low costs. The big bonus is putting small galleries in front of the most meaningful crowds and art collectors.  Things like lighting, sectionals and WiFi are all included in the price, whereas they’d be add-ons at Art Basel.  Liste even helps gallerists find places to stay for cheap.  Bläuer also provides help to younger galleries with budgeting.  He also helps with areas of the art business that may be unbeknownst to them.

Bläuer argues that most of the world’s most promising up-and-coming artists have first come through Liste.  Many have gone on to have very successful art careers.


What are your thoughts on helping younger galleries? Are you on the side of Zwirner, who believes that a tax is in order for larger art galleries?  Or allowing top galleries to co-sign loans for smaller galleries? Is reaching out to the cities and art auction houses and arranging support funds appropriate as suggested by Spiegler?  Or is Bläuer’s encouragement of nonprofit art gallery fairs the way to go?

Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments below.