Fair Trade: Six Fairs Art A-listers Don’t Miss

For gallerists, curators, and collectors, art fairs are a necessary evil. Haute Living briefs you on the six fairs that art A-listers cannot miss

By Marina Cashdan


Some critics might call the art fair phenomenon art world consumerism gone mad, but these fairs, despite the criticism, have become a resourceful tool for buyers, even if the outcome is a consumer-driven, instant gratification-mode spending spree. With hundreds of the world’s most prominent galleries concentrated under one roof, art fairs have become the most effective way for serious collectors to see, first-hand, the best of the best in the art world and to buy ahead of the game, not to mention strengthen their networking circle. On the flip side, it’s also an opportunity for gallerists, no matter their home base or level of importance, to showcase their artists to those who might not otherwise be familiar with them. For big galleries, fairs are important; for small galleries, they’re necessary. All in all, the fairs provide exposure that is important to both artists and the buyers. Haute Living takes you to six of the art world’s major fairs: Art Basel the original, its more-fun sister Art Basel Miami, Frieze in London, New York’s Armory Show, ARCO in Madrid, and Paris’ FIAC.

Art Basel/Basel, Switzerland/June

Just closing its 38th year, Art Basel Switzerland is undisputedly the oldest, largest, and most important art fair for modern and contemporary art, beckoning the crème de la crème of the international art scene. This year, 300 of the world’s leading galleries, selected from over 800 applicants by the Art Basel Committee, exhibited at Art 38 Basel, showing works by over 2,000 artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Outside of the fair, visitors can take part in a slew of informative discussions and events, such as “Professional Day,” “Art Premier,” “Art Basel Conversations,” “Art Unlimited,” and the fringe festival newcomers.

Art Basel Miami/Miami/December

Sister fair to its namesake in Switzerland, Art Basel Miami is the 4-day mega buying and selling, classy see-and-be-seen highlight of the U.S. art circuit. The mammoth Miami Beach Convention Center hosts more than 200 leading art galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, exhibiting 20th and 21st century art works by over 1,500 artists. Simultaneously, alternative fringe fairs with names like Aqua, Scope, and NADA highlight zesty young ingénues, addressing the whole art scope and making room for every type of buyer. Price tags start in the hundreds at fringe fairs to the millions for museum-quality work. The fair draws nearly double of its older sibling-everyone from art world A-listers to scenesters, celebrities and South Beach revelers-with its hybrid of events. Art Basel Miami is an international art fair combined with special exhibitions, discussions, cocktail parties, and crossover events, with the likes of a concert by the Peaches, a burlesque show by Dita von Teese, or a VIP party at the Delano included in the fanfare.

What sets Frieze apart from the former is that Frieze showcases only living artists, opening the fair up to young up-and-coming talent and a bright, young crowd with it.

Frieze Art Fair/London/October

Brainchild of Frieze magazine publishers Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the Frieze Art Fair is the youngest and most progressive of the six fairs, and the most important international contemporary art event in the UK. Taking place in conjunction with the influential art magazine with over 160 international galleries participating, not to mention located in a city that’s drawing a lot of attention from the contemporary art community as of late, the energy at Frieze might compare to Art Basel Miami’s: the who’s who of the art world taking in art and hobnobbing at a slew of fashionable social and cultural events. But what sets Frieze apart from the former is that Frieze showcases only living artists, opening the fair up to young up-and-coming talent and a bright, young crowd with it. Frieze is a major platform for performance projects and shows, and has become an art-world destination for its program of discussions and artist commissions.

The Armory Show/NYC/March

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the Armory Show, held on the piers on Manhattan’s Westside Highway, includes some of the world’s most prominent galleries from all over the world. Unlike in Switzerland, you shouldn’t expect to put out thousands, or millions, of dollars for an Andy Warhol, Lucian Freud, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Picasso or de Kooning. In fact, you won’t see them, because, like Frieze, the Armory Show only showcases art by living artists. Armory Show director Katelijne De Backer adds, “You will find straight from the studio works that may only be on public display during the fair before disappearing into a private collection. We have the good fortune to be based in New York City. There are more galleries, world-class museums, collectors, and artists here than anywhere else. We can offer a rich and diverse experience with all of these resources.”


Entering its fifth year, the fair is Spain’s most important annual art event. With more than 200 galleries represented from over 35 countries, ARCO extends its influence into research, integration of the arts, educational and training projects, and programs aimed at bringing together an exclusive group of major art world players. Unique events associated with the fair, organized by the fair’s 20-plus curators, are “The ARCO Collectors’ Programme” and the “International Contemporary Art Experts Forum,” among other social, cultural, and theoretical programs. All of these wide-ranging projects are made possible only by the collaboration Amigos de ARCO, made up of both private and corporate members.


The Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC), held in the Grand Palais in the Louvre, hosts more than 160 of the world’s leading art galleries, drawing an impressive crowd. Though the fair draws a greater number of non-buying visitors, it is still a major destination for the A-list art community – the draw being the fair’s unique program, including the Video Cube, a 4,000-square-foot juried exhibition of video art; The Café des Arts, a series of 20 on-site panels and debates that addresses current art world issues; The Parcours Privé, a program of specially conceived events for international collectors and art professionals; and, perhaps most notably, the One-Person Shows, providing a platform of exposure for young and emerging artists, and giving collectors a glimpse of future talent to keep their eyes (and pockets) on.