The participation of global gallery brands Gagosian, Pace and David Zwirner at this weekend’s debut of the Seattle Art Fair has generated buzz throughout the Art World. With a selective repertoire of art fairs including Art Basel Miami and Frieze New York,the implementation of these East-coast fixtures into Pacific Northwest techie territory hint to the increasingly cozy relationship between the Art and Tech industries.

Organized by Art Market Productions and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., Seattle Art Fair is ready to legitimize its namesake city as “an influential player in the global art landscape.”  The particular efforts of Allen, who was recently named to Artnews’ Top 200 Collectors list, show that even the tech world needs face-to-face exposure to the Art Market.  During a time when the instrumentality of art fairs is challenged and questioned by e-commerce capabilities, can art fairs sustain their relevancy in the art market?


Fair Attendance

Recently published data from Skate’s Art Market Research via Artnews show that visitor attendance at the most recent art fairs this summer has had a “healthy increase” of 8.8% when compared to 2014’s visitor attendance at the same fairs.  Top summer fairs include Art Basel, “exceptionally strong” in its 6.5% growth, Arte BA in Buenos Aires up 3.9% in visitor attendance from last year, Art Cologne up 1.8%, Frieze New York up 8.1% and Masterpiece London up 14.3%.  These art fairs ranked in the top 5 of top overall participation, with numbers 10 and 11 Liste Basel and Volta Basel up 30.8% and 25% respectively. Curated to highlight emerging artists, the latter two fairs’ dramatic increase in attendance recapitulates art market favorability to contemporary art. In addition to overall increased attendance, there was a relatively significant increase of exhibitor participation at Basel (up 4.8% from 2014’s list) and Masterpiece London up 3.9%.  However, overall exhibitor participation remained consistent, with fairs like Art Cologne and Paris Photo/LA decreasing exhibitor participation by 5.4% and 3.7% respectively.


Art_fairs_attendance_q2_v2-01(source Artnews)

While these results favorably look upon art fairs of Q2, Skate’s previous reports diagnosis art fairs as in a comatose state.  The New York Times’s analysis of January 2015’s report referred to Skate’s classification that the “heyday” of art fairs is over, participation at the world’s top 20 arts fairs in 2014 decreasing 7.4% from 2013.  The same source cited the rising popularity of online art sales, allowing galleries to eliminate expenses by showcasing artworks of a certain price on a website. The article propositioned that current interests in contemporary art, sold at blockbuster prices, can influence the popularity of art fairs who cater to this collecting speciality and price caliber-whilst shutting down smaller fairs showcasing other types of art.



(source Artnews)
The above chart highlights the international art fairs with the highest attendance in 2014.

Interestingly, the same data, analyzed by Artnews above, produced a more admirable report despite the decrease in fair participation, citing the relative newness of these fairs as factors to consider in judging their success.

A more recent publication by Skate in April 2015 tracked art fair visitor and exhibitor attendance at the beginning of 2015. Skate characterized the 6.79% increase in visitor participation from the previous year’s first round of fairs as sluggish because those numbers failed to increase at a two-digit rate, the first time in Skate’s 10 years of reporting. Nonetheless, those numbers did increase, with gallery participation up 6.21% from the year prior.  Thus, in the ever-fluctuating market, galleries are also increasingly using online platforms to preview their fair collections: is a fair’s success based on a collaborative effort between increased traffic on internet platforms and the actual number of people attending the spectacle?

While sources debate the the implications of attendance numbers, as major galleries head to Seattle this weekend- at the intersection of art and technology-will art fairs still remain essential in attracting a new techie clientele?