3 Rules on How to Survive an Art Fair: Expo Chicago

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Expo Chicago

I, like many of you, often find myself feeling nervous before going to a major art fair. The vast space, the glamour, the art-filled walls, and so many people – it can all be quite overwhelming. And for the people who are just beginning their introduction to this often-contradictory and counter-intuitive world of art, there are the questions of etiquette: what to wear, what’s ok to ask, what’s not, who to ask, can you touch artwork, can you drink that glass of wine in the booth, after all, museums don’t let you bring food and drink…and a million other “what’s” and “how’s”? And since we have Expo Chicago 2016 starting this very minute (get on the plane now!!!), I thought I’d share some of the golden rules for attending an art fair.

Take out your iPencils and start taking notes! Also, copy and paste this hashtag #artfairninja and share your own pictures, tweets and tips for #survivinganartfair.

What to wear to an Art Fair?

What to wear to Expo Chicago galleryIntell

What to wear to Expo Chicago. Image © Kristina Nazarevskaia for galleryIntell

Be well dressed, but don’t forget that you’ll be doing a lot of walking, not just getting to the fair itself, but also at the venue. This year Expo Chicago features some 145 galleries, so you’ll need comfortable walking shoes to cover all that ground. No, Christian Laboutin is not an option. Put those away, and get out your fancy New Balance kicks. You’ll thank me later.

Trust me, if you’re anything like me, your first round will be a blur as soon as its over and you’ll need to go back a few times to figure out where you saw that fantastic photograph that you fell in love with. #Lifehack tip: take a photo of the artwork you liked and right after that take a photo of the gallery’s booth sign and it will be easier to locate it later. Yes, most people will be dressed to the nines, but don’t stress over looking like a Parisian hipster, or a Milanese fashion mogul. You’re there to look at and learn about art, and to connect with artists and dealers, so shower, shave, dress smart and off you go to, little bird!

What’s ok to ask at an Art Fair?

Image © Kristina Nazarevskaia for galleryIntell

Image © Kristina Nazarevskaia for galleryIntell

Rules for Artists

Let me start with what’s NOT ok to ask. If you’re an artist you’re probably thinking, this is really cool, that elusive gallery director I’ve been trying to track down for the last 8 months, is finally back from that 8-month-long meeting. Now she/he is ready to be blessed with seeing my work. Wrong!

Put away that portfolio, leave your iPad behind and shoo away any and all thoughts of ever (EVER) approaching an art dealer and pitching your work during an art fair. I’m serious. You’ll be saving yourself and the dealer a whole sequence of awkward moments and everyone will be happier for it. Remember, this is a trade show – art dealers paid a lot of money to be there and to sell. So be respectful of that and instead try to better understand what they show and why, and how they put together their exhibition programming.

It’s ok to ask for a business card and maybe a couple of questions about the work of art that caught your eye. Find a polite way to get pricing information on the piece and see if its in the general vicinity of what you sell your work for.

Rules for Collectors

If you’re just getting your toes wet as a collector, here is your first “no”! It’s NOT ok to expect the dealer to dedicate his/her entire afternoon on bringing you up to speed on their entire artist roster. You CAN, however, ask for information about the artwork. Good questions to consider would be if it’s an emerging or an established artist? Is this work representative of the artist’s overall style, what museums own work by this artist, and is there more information on him or her on the gallery’s website?

Remember, it’s ok to ask questions and it’s totally fine not to know something. Just mention to the dealer that you are starting to collect and are learning the basics. They will appreciate your interest and effort and are much more likely to engage further. That said, I would advise keeping your interaction to no more than 5 minutes. More if there are no other people in the booth and the dealer is available to talk, but be ready to pause the conversation if a major collector comes in and the dealer has to speak to her. It’s not personal – it’s business. If that happens and the dealer doesn’t return to you after 2-3 minutes, continue with your exploration!

Related Video: Steven Kasher talks about collecting Photography

I want to touch everything!! Can I?

How to survive an art fair

Image © Kristina Nazarevskaia for galleryIntell

The answer is no! Unless the dealer explicitly tells you that it’s ok to touch the artwork, assume that same rules apply in the museum as at the art fair. That said, if you just paid for that work, then do whatever you want, but until then, keep your fingers and phones away from it. Oh, and speaking of phones… it’s always a good idea to politely ask for permission before taking photographs of the works on display. Most dealers will say, absolutely yes, but some may have works on loan from private collections and loan terms may prohibit photography (you know, the owner doesn’t want his Cezanne all over Instagram playing second violin to a pouty 18-year-old).

So, remember to enjoy the fair, and to copy and paste this hashtag #artfairninja and share your own pictures, tweets and tips on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Expo Chicago is at the Navy Pier in Chicago, from September 22nd – 25th, 2016.

This article © galleryIntell