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Art Fair Schmoozing

Ali Tahayori and Alexandra Standen, This is No Fantasy, Melbourne Art Fair 2024


Last week saw the Melbourne Art Fair return to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, showcasing a limited selection of artists from many of the country’s leading contemporary commercial art galleries.


Art Fairs are large scale industry events which bring together artists, galleries, collectors, and anyone else with an interest in contemporary art. They can be very OTT, pretentious and opulent and so they are not everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that we need to remember they are basically a trade fair that brings our industry together, so they play an important role and can be key networking events, with valuable opportunities to meet a wide range of people...


Navigating these complex and often challenging environments can be daunting, but there are a number of things to bear in mind to ensure that your art fair experience brings meaningful connections.


Ready, steady… go. Preparation is Key: Define your goals: Are you researching galleries you might like to represent you? Or do you seek to connect with collectors? Maybe you just want to meet (or collaborate) with other artists? Think about what you might like to achieve, who you would like to meet. This will direct your approach, help you to identify relevant contacts and may impact what days and events you attend.


Research the right art fair for you: There are all sorts of art fairs from the entry level Affordable Art Fair (clue is in the title), to larger events such as Melbourne Art Fair & Sydney Contemporary through to the mega fairs such as The Armory, NYC, Art Basel, Basel/Hong Kong/Miami and my old favourite Frieze in London. If you are an emerging artist looking for your first gallery you’d be best to start at an entry level fair, rather than hoping to get snapped up by White Cube. Research the exhibiting gallery list, identify artists and galleries of interest.


Have your ‘elevator pitch’ honed and ready to go: Conversations at these types of events are usually short and hopefully sweet. Be prepared with a waffle free, concise, engaging statement about yourself, your art, and your aspirations. Practice delivering it naturally and confidently before you go if needs be.


Conversation starters: Networking can look easy, but is uncomfortable for many people. Before you go to this kind of event think about questions you might ask to artists of galleries that are relevant and engaging. Avoid generic small talk and show your genuine interest in their art or gallery.


Dress appropriately: First impressions matter. It’s not the beach so leave your bikini at home. Choose clothing that reflects you, while remaining respectful of the professional environment.


Be polite. There are plenty of people at art fairs who just don’t get this and think that being haughty and aloof is de rigeuer, but that's just a lack of basic manners, usually founded in deep insecurity and makes them look ignorant. It’s not cool to be rude.


Be present and approachable: open body language, smile, and make eye contact. Participate actively in conversations and hard as it may be, try to avoid distractions like your phone.


Be proactive: Approach individuals or small groups who seem approachable and open to conversation. Engaging with a friendly artist or collector can build your confidence and lead to further conversations and connections.


Listen: Pay close attention to what others are saying, ask thoughtful questions, and demonstrate genuine interest in their work, perspectives and experiences. Listening is not waiting for your turn to speak.


Share your knowledge, share your thoughts, recommend artists, or connect people with shared interests. By being kind and helpful, you build goodwill and become a valuable resource.


Don’t forget your business cards


Follow up: After the fair, connect via email or connect on social media. Share your website, express your interest in staying connected, and offer any further information they might need. Also be sure to reply to anyone who emails you, remember its not cool to be rude and bad basic manners, ignoring someone, can be remembered for a long time.


Respect others' time and boundaries: Don't overstay your welcome or be pushy. .


Don't be discouraged - not every interaction will be positive and there’s always plenty of rude, aloof people to navigate. Rise above that.


Relax and enjoy. Art fairs offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the art world, look at great and some not so great art and connect with passionate individuals. Embrace the experience and have fun!


Don't relax too much! There's often a lot of alcohol available at these kind of events, don't be the drunk person, there's always one!


Finally stay authentic: Be yourself and be genuine. Forced interactions are easily detected and create a negative impression. Focus on establishing and building relationships. Networking is a long-term activity.


Keep these tips in mind and hopefully you can transform art fairs from overwhelming events into valuable platforms for building meaningful connections. Remember, networking is a skill that takes practice and refinement.


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