The Future of the Art Fair – Tim Tate

As we get set to move into the third decade of the 21st century, we are all struggling with a world-wide epidemic. This has had a profound impact on all our lives, and also the art world. The primary driving economies in 2019 were galleries and art fairs with live attendance being taken for granted. As covid hit like a meteor, all that ended almost overnight.

Now the art world, along with everyone else, finds itself in a world-wide transition. What will this new world look like? How can we adapt to our new reality? Perhaps we have seen the beginnings of what that will ultimately look like over the coming years. I am speaking of Intercept/Chicago ( SOFAExpo.com ) and GlassArtFair.com.

The first knee jerk reaction when covid hit was for galleries to migrate to Artsy.net, a huge online gallery platform already in existence. And migrate they did….by the thousands. The issue became quickly apparent. The volume was too high. The beauty of the art fairs was the limited concentration of curated art, making it immensely efficient for collectors to find amazing works in a limited period of time. 3 hours of walking through the art fairs was a passion. 3 hours of browsing online was painful. At least you can search individual galleries and artists, but tough to discover new works. The search engine is very blunt.

We also all saw several art fairs evolve to online only. Some had 3-D video walk through in a virtual attempt to duplicate the experience we all loved before the pandemic. They were very awkward and a bit clumsy to use but will one day will hopefully be perfected. That day has not come yet. Many galleries virtually showed at these fairs and posted work as they waited for collectors and attendees to arrive and sales to develop. Most of those fairs had few sales, and were a disappointment to the galleries showing there.

This brings me to Intercept and GlassArtFair.com. Why are these different?

Intercept took over a show in its last moments…..a show that would not have survived this year. Finally, the owners of the fairs were knowledgeable about the art world and programmed it beautifully. An intense schedule of well curated talks, discussions and webinars had us all signing in. They changed the old SOFA model and adapted the types of galleries and breadth of artwork into a more 21st century model. Some cutting-edge new galleries dealing in a variety of work, and also honoring the integrity of material specific work. The show will end with over 200,000 pageviews. This equated to sales.

GlassArtFair.com is another smart idea. It concentrates a glass sculptural concept and then uses technology to electronically become a virtual “pop-up” Gallery online. The more mentions in the text found on the site, the more search engines drive people to the site. Eventually, they will ask other glass galleries to join with the, thereby increasing participation. This also resulted in sales.

The key to what differentiated these shows from others before them seems to be in their interactive partnerships they formed with galleries and artists. Intercept partnered with not only galleries, but museums, active on-line forums and large collector groups. This meant that these groups and institutions shared this site with their extensive list serves and followers.

GlassArtFair.com also used the partnering strategy, but slightly differently. They asked artists and collectors to pick a few favorites, share them on-line, and tell people that there was far more to see if they would go to the site. This strategy also amounted in sales.

While both those shows have proved successful, neither have equaled the high sales amounts as when fairs and shows were in person. That will hopefully return when an in-person component is finally added back in. We will from now on have a bigger virtual component as well. A video walk-through of a fair, a curated video tour, gallery discussions live online.

The key to current and future success will be the engagement of social media. As limited numbers of people return to the in-person fairs, social media will be crucial. While having still photos and videos posted on a website will help, I believe that timed events will be crucial. The preview zoom with collector groups, the curated video walk throughs of the fair shared with gallery lists of clients, the webinar of a museum curator walking through the show, etc. We are a social people….collecting is a social event. By allowing this social interaction we can increase sales, perhaps saving an art form and artists we love so well. The more the shows are shared….the more work they sell.

The future of glass art seems to be a mix of all of these, the in-person show, the live zooms, the partnerships with artists, the involvement of social media. If all these things occur, the future of the glass art world will be a hopeful one.

I’d appreciate any comments you might like to share.

www.GlassArtFair.com

www.SOFAChicago.com

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