Art Fairs
Art Sales

Why Galleries Should Get Down with Art Fairs [A Useful Guide]

As we’re winding down from celebrating Art Basel Miami Beach, we’re thinking about all the different ways galleries and artists can benefit from participating in these international events.

Consider the exposure: when over 80,000 visitors are congregating in any one city for a week’s worth of art-focused events, it’s much easier to establish your presence and prestige as a gallery or artist. In fact, many say that not being there can have a negative impact on your brand – even if participating seems like a major financial investment, skipping out on the fair can have bigger implications. “Not coming is simply not an option,” says Mary Nguyen, the director of Emmanuel Fremin gallery. Emmanuel Fremin gallery has been attending Art Basel Miami Beach for years, where they’ve often held a booth at Scope Art Fair. This year, Nguyen says the fair wasn’t as well attended as last year, but their presence at the event was invaluable. “Miami took a hit this year with Zika and the election was making everyone nervous,” says Nguyen, “but we met with plenty of our local collectors while we were here, and made great contacts with new potential clients.”

David CastilloOthers also had some promising sales. At Art Basel Miami Beach, David Castillo gallery reportedly sold a $100,000 piece from emerging artist Xaviera Simmons. Participating in the fair’s Nova section, reserved for fairly emerging but significantly prestigious galleries, Miami-based Castillo – and a slew of other young gallerists – were able to reach a new international audience.

Aside from reaching a moneyed international crowd, attending art fairs is also a great way to reach a general public that spends their time surfing for new artists to follow on Instagram. “Having a good social media presence is a game-changer,” says Renee Cosette Pedersen, who attended the fair with Houston-based UP Art Studio. UP Art street artist Flore, who presented a set of works at the fair, was able to turn his 25,000 following into sales this past weekend.

Of course, deciding to participate in an art fair may seem like a daunting task, and we’ve rounded out a few tips and tricks for those who want to get in on the action.

Take Care of Your Art Fair Contracts

As we discussed, international art fairs are an excellent way to position your gallery in front of an international audience and capture a new clientele. They are also an incredibly costly endeavor, considering exhibition costs, shipping costs, airfare, and accommodations can amount to a daunting figure.  All too often things don’t go as planned – and in that event, you’ll want to be prepared for the worst.

So how do you prepare for the unforeseeable? You make sure your art fair contract is completely buttoned up and capable of addressing any issues that might arise throughout the course of the art fair and beyond.

Art fair contracts lay out the rules for relationships between two parties.  If there is a dispute, the court looks to the contract to decide who is correct, not what is fair. So a poorly written contract could be costly.

One of the most important art fair contract clauses to iron out, especially when you’re attending an international art fair, is the forum selection clause. Sometimes known as choice of law, only a seasoned professional will appreciate how important it is to feel comfortable with this clause before you sign an agreement. The forum selection clause determines which country is the ‘forum’ for the lawsuit, i.e. the location of the courts which will deal with any fallout.

For example, if a U.S. Gallery were to have a dispute with an Art Fair in Paris, they might find that any lawsuit will be held in Paris. The U.S. gallery will have to hire international law attorneys that understand the laws of France, who in turn will have to hire local counsel in Paris. In some cases, the gallery owners may have to fly to Paris for depositions or other legal matters.  For a smaller gallery, those costs may be too high to warrant a lawsuit – which basically means you’re out of luck if you want to have a dispute resolved in a manner that’s most favorable to you. On the other hand, if the forum was in the U.S. it would be less costly and easier.

So how do you properly negotiate a forum selection clause? Be careful to accurately define the scope, use clear language that renders your clause mandatory instead of optional, and establish significant ties to your chosen forum. For example, choose a forum located in a state or country in which you already do business.

Look the Other Way Regarding Images and Copyright Law

If you’ve ever been to an art fair, a gallery, or a museum, you’ve probably noticed people snapping photos of artworks with their iPhones and uploading them to Instagram or Facebook. While most museums have a ‘no photos’ policy, most galleries and art fairs allow the practice because it seems to be good for business. After all, social media is basically free marketing, right?

Emmanuel Fremin Gallery
Emmanuel Fremin Gallery booth at Scope

It’s true that for many artists and gallerists, this practice does not seem fair. Often times, art fair goers and gallery visitors aren’t necessarily serious about buying – they’re more interested in perusing and enjoying the fair, curious about what’s going on in the often-exclusive art world. In many cases, students and burgeoning artists are attending to get ideas, and taking photos is a critical aspect of getting inspired and understanding how a particular artistic flourish was achieved. Whether a photo of an artwork circulating around the internet affects the work’s value remains to be seen, but it’s understandable that gallery owners and artists intent on selling these works would be miffed.

And while it’s true that allowing visitors to take photos of someone else’s work borders on copyright infringement, it’s also true that preventing someone from doing that at the fair would undoubtedly land you in bad favor with patrons. After all, you don’t want to be the one jerk at the fair that limits people from taking pictures, right? Since there’s probably very little chance that allowing photography at your fair booth will negatively impact your sales, we definitely suggest you allow the practice to go on, no matter how annoying it may seem to be.

Remember, it’s All About Sales

Art fairs synthesize the collecting process for art buyers by putting thousands of artworks all under one roof. The point of your time there is to sell and market yourself to a clientele you may not otherwise have any access to. Do your best to engage new patrons – even those you don’t think will wind up being collectors. You never know which viewer today could become a collector tomorrow, and keeping that attitude in mind as you operate throughout the fair will be critical to your success. Take the opportunity to market yourself on social media while there, and attend as many after-hours events as possible. You may be surprised to find that someone you met at a cocktail party would show up to collect the very next day.

About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.

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