I have been asked quite a few times now about the experience of exhibiting at an overseas art fair, namely Art Expo New York. So I thought it might be a useful topic for a blog post.
I received an invite to submit an application to exhibit my work at the Art Expo New York in a SOLO section. This means you are not represented by a Gallery and you are an independent artist. I am sure that if your work is to a certain quality, getting into this kind of art fair isn’t too hard. The next time my work is at an Art Fair I want it to be as part of Gallery and say with Art Basel. But, I have always figured you have to just start somewhere, and take the opportunities that present themselves to you. It isn’t cheap and I had to totally scrimp the money and I still don’t know exactly how I paid for it all. I did have an amazing friend tell me if I would do the work and get myself there, she would buy my ticket. That was all the push I needed. Once that happened it was pretty much heads down, work hard for the 12 mths until the show.
In hindsight I think the timing for me to go wasn’t that great. When I did the fair my youngest of (then four children), was 20 mths old. It was harder than I expected to leave her and I didn’t make the most of the experience in the lead up and in the follow up, because of my family commitments. I still went and learnt a lot, but I would have probably gained more if I had waited a year or so. But, then exhibiting at the Fair led to opportunities being opened back here in Australia and so I don’t regret it in any way.
It requires a huge amount of energy to do the show itself. It is a big trip and a lot of logistics. You set up and are talking and smiling non stop for days. Not to mention jet lag and the distraction that is NEW YORK. I loved it, though it was the most exhausting thing I have ever done, (and I do exhaustion a lot in my game). Bring your A game energy along if you are going to make the most of the whole thing.
Choice of artwork
I took too many artworks, something like 14, they were all on linen and so they had to be stretched and then unstretched, all at a cost. They were not the best choice for the Fair. They got lost in transit (read here). I am much better now at travelling with artwork. Next time I would take less work and would probably do a series on light board small enough to take on the plane with me, and then maybe one large one to be stretched. I would also do work of paper to sell unframed, but you live and learn.
I stayed in a wonderful spot in Tribeca, the sweet Cosmopolitan Hotel. I thought it would be nice to be away from the Fair itself, which is all the way down on a pier in the Hudson. This wasn’t the best idea though, as it took a long time on public transport to go to and fro and in the end I caught cabs, quicker but much more expensive. I would recommend staying as close as you can to the Fair itself.
My friend who paid for my airfare, also decided to come help with the fair, (good friend hey?). Another good friend also jumped in to help, (any excuse to go to New York). It was actually essential to have another set of hands and I was grateful for their support and encouragement when we were there. It also meant we got to do other fun stuff in New York together and I got to switch off every now and then. So, I do recommend not going it alone if you can help it.
I think to make the most of an Art Fair you need to have a very clear idea of what it is you would like to get from the experience. I didn’t have that and it took me until awhile afterwards to realise this. So, if you want representation, collaborations, to be published, to find stockists, or whatever. I think if you know that from the beginning, you would be able to make the most of your trip. I was just along for the ride and to take in as much as I could. I did that, I learnt a lot, but I overlooked potential opportunities because I wasn’t aware of them.
If you book early you can generally pick your position at the Fair. I didn’t realise just how massive the Art Expo New York would be, until I arrived. I had been pretty casual about my spot as I figured it wouldn’t really matter. In fact I thought being down the end, near a cafe would be good. It wasn’t that great though. If I had my time again, I would be closest to the front as I could get. The fair is so big that I am sure people are totally visually overwhelmed by the time they reach the end and can only remember the things that impressed them most on the way in. I know, as I did the walk many times a day in and out and that is how I felt. Next time, I would pick the frontline
Dodgy Peeps (People)
There are people, “galleries” who will try and excite you about their “for rent” galleries and other second rate spaces. I heard lots of stories about different predicaments people had found themselves in as a result of various art related scams. How awful. Artists handing over paintings to never see them again, or being billed astronomically for spaces that didn’t exist, while the work is held ransom. Or getting huge bills for “opening night” costs. Us international folk are easy targets. So be wary, seasoned exhibitors were quick to point such shysters out to me, happy to protect this naive little Australian lady! So, do your google search, good and bad galleries are pretty easy to sort out these days, and if you are unsure about an “opportunity” ask the Art Fair management staff. They were always quick to help out in this area.
Managing ongoing opportunities
This all comes back to networking, making friends etc.. I am still in contact with some really great people I met while I was in New York. I could have made much more of these opportunities though if I had been better prepared and better educated. At the end of the day, know what you want and you are more likely to get it.
The Art Fair was like a really expensive girls trip, without the poolside cocktails! It was fabulous to be in New York and I crammed a lot of galleries etc.. in, before and after the Art Fair times.
I had applied for several grants to help with different aspects of my trip, i.e framing, booth costs, but, I was unsuccessful all round. I did sell one good sized piece which helped a little, but I certainly did not make money from the New York experience itself. I consider it to have been though, a very good long term investment in my arts education, (a formal one I do not have) and my career overall. It was also a loss for tax purposes and that isn’t something you can say about most “holidays”. As I said if I was doing the Art Fair again I would take a lot less work and that in itself would cut right down on costs. And the New York tax system.. Now there is a head ache. If anyone reading these needs specifics on that, get in touch and I will point you in the right direction!!
Anyhow… I hope some of this has been helpful? Useful.. what do you think? I am crazy? Yes… sometimes at least…
You can read the posts I wrote about New York, back when I was in New York. (Below). So much has happened since then, and my work has evolved so much (New York had it’s influence). I wouldn’t change a thing. Next up, I am dreaming of being fully represented at a very fancy Art Fair.. Amongst other big dreams…
Remember, anything worth doing is HARD WORK..