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The Future of Contemporary Art Fairs in Times of a Pandemic

While the health crisis has forced many contemporary art fairs to postpone or cancel their spring editions, those scheduled for the autumn season are still set to go ahead. This time is a frustrating time for everyone involved, and we too had many art fairs to look forward to in the spring/summer. In order to be able to make the right decisions, reassure our artists, and look to the future, we sat down with four directors of international art fairs to talk about the uncertainty surrounding the imposed measures on physical distancing and their effects.

Contemporary art fairs are a place where people go to see and acquire works, but this isn’t their only function. You can also go there to enjoy a glass of champagne, to discover new talents, to understand current trends, to meet and discuss with artists, gallery owners, curators, and other personalities from the contemporary art world.

A place of discovery and excitement, contemporary art fairs have become international crossroads. Collectors and galleries travel thousands of miles several times a year in order to attend “Contemporary Art Weeks” in London, Paris, Miami, and New York. They travel to see each other in person and exchange opinions on the art world. So how do you adopt the new sanitary measures while also recapturing the very essence of a fair?

Art Paris and 1-54: The Choice of Digital

With the cancellation of Art Paris and 1-54 New York this spring, both chose to transfer their fairs entirely online.

Guillaume Piens, General Curator of Art Paris, tells us about the heartbreak caused by the cancellation of the fair:

“It was with a heavy heart that we took the decision to cancel the fair on April 14 despite the many scenarios that were being considered. It was supposed to be our last edition at the Grand Palais before moving to the Champ de Mars in 2021. You can also imagine the deep disappointment of our teams, along with our partners and suppliers involved in the staging of such a large-scale event, not to mention the dramatic consequences this holds for our galleries. We first considered postponing the event until 27 – 31 May and then once that became unlikely, looked at the possibility of holding the fair from 2 – 5 July. The extension of the ban until mid-July dashed these hopes and, what’s worse, we realized that the virus and its consequences would also affect the autumn calendar.”

Margaux Huille, Communications Director of 1-54, tells us how they are maintaining a relationship with collectors:

“Organizing a fully virtual fair is of course a first for 1-54. We have tried to recreate this human and personal link through content that we have been producing since the beginning of the confinement. For example, we have been meeting artists who were meant to exhibit at the fair, by video of course, to see their studios and tell us about their practice. It’s a way of experiencing some of the encounters that could have taken place at the fair.”

Art Paris and 1-54 will be held over a one month period in order to “maximize potential encounters between the public and the artists we present, rather than encouraging a frenzy of clicks for a few days,” as Margaux Huile points out.

Affordable Art Fairs Stay on Track

Julie Constant, Regional Director of the Ramsay Art Fairs group, tells us about the new layout of the post Covid-19 fairs:

“Our primary objective is to be able to reassure collectors. Certainly fewer will visit the fairs in the fall, but we hope that those who do come will be more focused and more inclined to acquire works.”

How will you welcome visitors?

“We have to welcome visitors by giving them lots of space so that they can move around easily without coming into close contact with each other. At a fair, there are peak hours expected by all, such as the evening of the opening which is open for a limited time. The strategy with the health crisis is in fact the opposite strategy to the one we usually adopt: avoid peaks and have a continuous and organized flow of visitors. For this we plan to extend opening hours; create personalized openings with time slots for each type of collector; launch online ticket sales for a specific time zone; create larger, more widely spaced stands; and strictly limit human contact to that between the collector and the gallery owner.”

We have full confidence in the future. Take Hong Kong, for example, which has experienced epidemics, quarantines, and the wearing of masks. This has not prevented the market and contemporary art fairs from taking place and Hong Kong has remained a dominant figure in the contemporary art market. These events are larger and less crowded than ours – this is the model I see for the future.

Julie Constant – Affordable Art Fairs

Scope Miami Lightens Its Exhibitors’ Budget

Annie Taylor, Exhibitor Relations Manager for Scope NYC and Miami, talks about the gallery support plan:

“We are aware that the Covid-19 crisis has imposed financial constraints on many of our regular participants. To facilitate with their financial commitment, we are proud to announce the expansion of our grant initiative to younger and less financially stable galleries. While in the past we limited the number of applicants by invitation, from now on any gallery will have the opportunity to apply. Our travel grants are awarded to galleries that travel long distances to exhibit, and our program grants are intended for galleries that will apply for a targeted solo or thematic exhibition.

“Also, we understand that the cost of a stand at a trade fair is only part of the expenditure involved in participating, so we are committed to entering into beneficial partnerships for our galleries with airlines, hotels, and logistics companies.”

Is This the Start of More Intimate and Regional Fairs?

“We were clearly in a period of overheating. The number of fairs will shrink as the economy contracts and the local and regional dynamic will become even more important. While the large fairs will resist, the public reception will have to be rethought, as large gatherings are now frightening. In the same way, it is obvious that digital tools will become a privileged window to access distant worlds and horizons”.

Guillaume Piens, Art Paris

We think it would be wise to regionalize the different editions of 1-54 by selecting more American galleries at 1-54 NYC; or European galleries at 1-54 London; or galleries from the Africa at 1-54 Marrakech. This type of decision seems more and more necessary, and could be a way for 1-54 to become even more anchored in the new art market, while also increasing its online presence.

Margaux HuilLe, 1-54

These major players in the world of fairs are confident in the future and are now learning to reinvent and digitalize themselves. The virtualization of the art world seems to be expanding more than ever. Small and large players, galleries, fairs, and museums recognize its benefits and especially its usefulness in today’s world. If fairs reveal here their importance as as a platform for interaction, Singulart particularly appreciates this acceleration of digitalization and confirms its role as an actor within the contemporary art market.


Browse through the artists that Singulart was planning to present at both the Discovery Art Fair Cologne and Affordable Art Fair Brussels in spring 2020.