Are there too many art fairs?

13. October 2017
Carina Krause in interview with art collector H.P.

We talked with art collector H.P. about the constantly growing number of art fairs.


The last few years have seen the launch of many new art fairs. The latest are the satellite fairs of Art Cologne in Berlin and Art Basel in Düsseldorf. As an art collector, what do you think of this proliferation?

HP: As a collector, it is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, competition is good for business, on the other, it is rather time-consuming to visit every fair in person.


Is there almost an art-fair fatigue beginning to set in?

HP: Yes, that is very nicely put. By now there are so many fairs that one has to choose carefully which one to visit. The fairs increasingly resemble one another, too. Focal points are missing and so it can easily become monotonous. Greater distinctiveness would be good, because going to an art fair is not just about business – it should also be fun.


How do you make your choice?

HP: First of all, I check if there are any galleries that represent artists I’m interested in. Distance also plays a role, and whether I can combine visiting the fair with any other activities. From time to time I also like going to smaller fairs, where mainly works of local or relatively unknown artists are shown. There is a lot to discover. Obviously, the galleries there are primarily interested in selling, but they are also keen to increase their artists’ visibility.


Do you think it is possible to populate the ever-increasing number of art fairs with high-quality works in the long term?

HP: For me, as a non-professional, that question is difficult to answer. I think primary galleries that present their own artists won’t have any problems offering new and good works, but that probably won’t be the case in the secondary market. Where would the works – ideally every one a masterpiece and fresh to the market – come from all at once? Of course, such works do appear, but not in such large numbers that they could cover several fairs. Without doubt, art fairs are still important for selling art, but I do wonder if there is still time for traditional gallery operations if the gallerists are rushing from one fair to the next. Is it still worthwhile to run a gallery as such? After all, at an art fair you have far better opportunities to make new contacts and get to know collectors and curators, who might not find their way into the gallery.


Are art fairs attractive for collectors to buy at or is it mainly window shopping?

HP: Personally, I tend to use art fairs to get an overview, unless there’s a work I want to own at all costs, in which case I’m happy to spend a little more before someone else snaps it up. However, I have a budget that I rarely exceed. By the way, my budget will not increase just because a new art fair opens its doors. I generally prefer solo exhibitions in galleries to art fairs. They are more important for the purpose of keeping me informed. At a fair you usually only get to see one or two of an artist’s pictures, which really isn’t an adequate sample of work. It’s different in a gallery. I also find the large number of people and the noise level at a fair rather annoying. In a gallery I have peace and quiet to take a closer look at the works of art.


In a press release about its participation in Art Düsseldorf, the MCH Group – of which Art Basel is a part – has stated that it would like to strengthen regional art markets. Does the Rhineland really need this assistance, or is this meant as a clear sign directed at Art Cologne? Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne, does not see this new fair right on his doorstep as a competitor (Art Düsseldorf takes place in autumn, Art Cologne in spring) but he criticises the continual expansion of Art Basel, calling it “a form of colonialism”. Marc Spiegler, director of Art Basel, disagrees, saying, “Each fair generates new markets and new collectors.” What do you think of that? 

HP: I cannot imagine that there are still markets, in the Rhineland in particular, that are waiting to be opened up. It is, however, quite possible that new fairs will generate new collectors. But from my own experience, I have to say that I often meet the same people at art fairs, be they gallerists or collectors. The Berlin Art Week begins in a few days. Many galleries will be exhibiting there, as well as being at other art fairs. The audience in Berlin will, of course, not be quite the same as that in Cologne or Basel or New York, but I’m sceptical about whether these potential buyers can actually create a new market.