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Art Fair Tips

March 23, 2014

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the larger art fairs that my city hosts.  Not having been to one of these in a while, I went in a bit unprepared.  The square footage of this particular fair covers about two long city blocks by two long city blocks, arranged into an organized chaos of rows of stalls.  Unable to find any sort of map, I plunged right in.  As soon as the elevator was out of sight, I started to feel like a researcher’s mouse caught in a maze – looking for bits of Truffe du Perigord (I believe this is a schmancy French cheese) amongst an array of cheese-in-a-can and individually wrapped slices of “processed cheese product.”

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Photo Source

I was somewhat intimidated by the thought of talking to the dealers from the more serious galleries, and let’s be honest – their attention was on the Louboutin-shod, Vuitton-toting types who looked like they had just finished cleaning out the David Yurman display cases, whereas I wasn’t exactly emanating a serious-customer Platinum Card vibe.

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Christian Louboutin Heels in his trademark height..

So I just wandered and stopped at stalls where I saw pieces that caught my interest.  My tastes tend to run toward the somewhat traditional when it comes to artwork; at the local art museum, I have a path mapped out that goes through the Impressionists to European Paintings, and when I do pop in to peek at the Modern section, I make a beeline for a select few favorite pieces/artists.

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A photo from TEFAF, the world’s largest art fair of Old Masters. 

So I was surprised when the pieces that really grabbed me were those made of toys from the 80s, or candy wrappers.  Rubik’s Cubes and Cadbury Crème Egg wrappers as art?  A dream come true for a sweet-toothed nerd like myself.

One thing that I love about art fairs is that visiting them feeds the part of my soul that craves beauty, culture, and having my eyes opened to a level of creativity that isn’t part of my day-to-day life.  One thing I don’t love so much is feeling overwhelmed by so much STUFF, and not all of it worth a second glance, in my opinion at least.

After exploring a small fraction of the fair, exhaustion and sensory overload got the better of me, and I made my way to the nearest exit.  But I think I learned a couple things about best practices for the next fair I check out.

One, dress like you’re going to a museum, not a cocktail party.

Ladies who plan to try to take in the whole show should not wear heels (especially if they’re 7 months pregnant and have just hoofed it over from brunch half a mile away – just sayin’).  Two, try to do some research on the galleries that will be there that you think you want to see.  If it’s not one of the elite shows, you might not be able to get a comprehensive list of vendors, but you can probably find out what more well-known dealers are there by perusing press releases.  When you arrive, if there isn’t a map or guide of some sort, ask someone working at the event to point you in the direction of the vendors you don’t want to miss.

Take a chance and chat with the dealers or artists there. 

It can be intimidating, but chances are most of the rest of the patrons aren’t as knowledgeable about the art world as you might think they are.  This is easier said than done, but remember what your second grade teacher taught you – there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

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Keep an open mind.

Look around you to see what draws you in, but don’t feel like you have to stop at every piece, or every stall.

If you’re going with someone, talk to them about your strategy.

I once went to a museum with a friend, and we spent 3 hours looking at every piece, until the museum closed.  Because we were so pokey, we didn’t make it to some of the areas we really wanted to see.  It wasn’t until after we left that we discovered that both of us prefer to cruise at a faster pace and pick galleries more selectively/strategically.  If you and your companion don’t have the same method of viewing, you might want to split up and pick a time to meet at the entrance or some other landmark.

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I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to attend an art fair, and while I’m sure I’ll still feel overwhelmed, I’m hopeful that I will remember to put my insecurities aside, wear comfortable shoes, and hone in on seeking out the diamonds in the rough that make it worth the price of admission.

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