Last Tuesday, after I arrived home from an art fair in Houston, I received an email from Christopher Russell linking me to Paul Kopeikin's analysis of regional art fairs. You can read, like and comment on the original Facebook post here, but I trust Paul Kopeikin won't mind my reproducing it below.
While I was reading this I felt as if Paul must have been in my head, reading my thoughts, while I way flying home from Houston...only his analysis is more articulate. He writes:
"Regional fairs have become, or perhaps always were, nothing more than a crap shoot for the dealers who do them. I won't include Los Angeles because it has it's own unique problems. So New York and Miami are the ONLY places that count in the States, and both are arguably over saturated. Sorry Chicago, I know you are trying hard but I must include you here. San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Dallas and wherever else organizers do fairs always hold the promise of making both money and new clients. But too often that promise never materializes. If we are to strip away the hype, I think we would find a very small percentage of dealers at any regional fair making even what's needed to cover their costs. That said, there are often crowds of people who want to go to these fairs, especially if they do not have to pay. So why do they persist? Because dealers are eager for the business that is no longer walking through their doors and do not do even the most basic research before agreeing to do a given fair; hoping as we all do that we'll be the lucky ones. And as long as the organizers make money doing them, they will continue. The bottom line is that 1% collectors don't care about regional fairs and there are not enough new collectors coming up, or middle class buyers who we hope will become collectors, for these fairs to make sense. I know, I've done enough of them. These fairs which once held so much promise become shadows of their first and second years, and yet few of them die. I wish all of my friends who organize and do fairs the best of luck with each endeavor. But I think the next few years will see the decline in regional fairs that we have all been talking about for years. I have two words for you: The Internet."
I disagree on only two points. First, though I'm sure that lack of research and hope/belief that "we will be the lucky ones" drives many galleries' choice of fairs, it is also true that doing basic research is next to impossible. Fair organizers disclose no meaningful data about performance (except when the news is consistently good), and dealers are discrete or misleading about their performance. The fair organizer's position I understand, even if I don't like it; the dealers, I don't understand since we have no collective influence if we don't share info. Second, I am less bullish about the internet. Art is the last discretionary income-based market to believe in the internet as its savior, trailing luxury goods by a decade. Like everyone else, we will learn that the internet can be effective but is difficult to use well, part of a complex network of solutions, not in and of itself the solution.