Launching an art fair isn’t easy. New fairs face obstacles, including a lack of name recognition and competition with established fairs for prestigious galleries, corporate sponsors and important collectors passing through.
But the payoff can return in spades. Many Art Basel week satellites have established themselves as powerhouses, generating tens of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in sales. Organizers of the six new fairs this year are hoping to achieve that kind of success.
For its debut last year, Untitled attracted a number of prestigious galleries and praise from collectors; this year, it is hosting a VIP gala that members of the art world’s upper echelon are expected to attend, including artist Marina Abramovic, gallerist Barbara Gladstone and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach.
There’s no magic formula for a fair to succeed, but Nick Korniloff, director of Art Miami (Art Basel’s largest satellite fair, entering its 24th year), says there’s a number of ways new fairs can stand out.
“[New fairs] have to clearly define themselves with the audience they’re looking to attract by being consistent in the quality of the show. They also have to have an ambience and amenities that are reflective of that identity and what they’re putting out as the identity of the show. The overall experience needs to match the definition of the fair.”
This year’s new fairs have differentiated themselves in a number of ways. One way they have done this is by focusing on art from specific countries. Among them is Arts Kuala Lumpur, a new fair focusing on art from Malaysia. While returning fair Art Asia has featured works from the region, Arts Kuala Lumpur is highlighting 30 artists from Malysia alone.
One of the largest of the new fairs is Brazil ArtFair, dedicated to contemporary art and design. The fair is capitalizing on both the growing visibility of the country as an economic and cultural capital as well as the recent rise of Miami as a desirable destination for Brazilian vacationers and expatriates.
While the fair is for-profit, Brazil ArtFair founder Michel Serebrinsky says its programming — such as a design showcase with works for sale benefiting Design Architectural Senior High and a special exhibition of works not for sale — was designed to further educate the public about Brazilian art and culture.
“We want to perhaps change a little bit of the misconceptions people have about Brazil,” Serebrinsky said. “There’s much more to show people so they can understand a little bit more about our culture. I think it’s a mission for us as Brazilians to showcase the best that we can produce in terms of cultural and artistic works.”
Performia is hoping to differentiate itself by focusing on performance art. Founded by the team behind the Miami Performance Festival and taking place in conjunction with Zones Art Fair, the fair will have a daily series of performance art created and presented by a roster of local and international artists, with all of the works being for sale.
Performance art is a tough sell because of its ephemeral nature, and many artists working in the field struggle to break out (Marina Abramovic took decades to achieve fame). But the fair has grassroots support from the community, including DACRA, which lent the fair its space.
“We want to make sure that there’s a presence of these performance artists during the art fairs,” said Charo Oquet. Having their work exhibited during Art Basel is great if it sells. But even if their work doesn’t sell, having the presence there with the works available to be seen, to show to people is important.”
Spectrum Miami, a spinoff of last year’s ArtExpo (not returning this year), reflects a more curated vision than the former fair with slightly higher end but comparatively accessible price points. Director Eric Smith, formerly director of Art Miami, says he wants the quality of the works to speak for themselves.
“We’ve gone out and just tried to find some really interesting work ... by really good artists,” Smith said.
New Material is choosing to differentiate itself ideologically, eschewing traditional art fair models. The fair is free; there are no VIP programs, and the fair is artist- rather than gallerist-driven.
In addition, while most fairs allow exhibitors to hang works as they please, this fair curates all works on display to prevent the art overload that induces fatigue in Art Basel attendees.
New Material founders Christine Kirouac (an artist and educator) and Michael Workman (an art fair veteran) have uploaded conversations in which they discuss the lengthy and bumpy process of establishing the fair from concept to executions, which includes the obligatory complaints about permitting issues.
While the two recognize the difficulty of going up against art fair giants, they still remain hopeful that they can make a splash, however small, in the waters of the Miami art scene.
“It’s sort of a response fair and however small our voice may be, we feel like we want to make some sort of a statement,” Kirouac said.
The final new fair is Fusion MIA, which is presenting Fly Beyond, a first-time display of African and Latin artists in Wynwood, Tuesday through Saturday. The fair was created by former Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.