The global art market is slowly reopening since vaccines became available. Art fairs shifted to technology during the pandemic, but in-person events cannot be fully replicated. Fairs had to adapt to government regulations, capacity limits, contact tracing, and minimize queuing. As the year progressed, fairs adapted to new models, and larger art fairs re-opened with timed entry and covid waivers.
Ever since vaccines began to get into the arms of the public the art world has been cautiously opening up again. The speed of this re-opening has varied from country to country but for the global art market the reopening of its fairs provided an indicator that the worst of storm had been weathered.
Art fairs rely on income from participating exhibitors and galleries who in turn are reliant on reaching even larger audiences than ever. Fairs like many other industries shifted their focus to harnessing the power of technology to stay front of mind throughout 2020 and into 2021. Online events suddenly took place on Zoom, and with the help of the somewhat tiring online viewing rooms virtual communities developed.
Although embracing technology like this provided many of the worlds leading art brands with a way to connect to their audiences during a year sat behind the screen, it was difficult to replicate the buzz and relationship building only IRL events can provide.
The good news was that long before restrictions lifted, fairs around the world had been working out how they could reopen whilst navigating government regulations, travel bans and a potential change in appetite from the public.
It was clear that large art events needed to to do everything they could to mitigate any avoidable increase in transmission of covid whilst still appealing to a more cautious crowd.
Fairs would need to screen visitors, manage capacity and adhere to contact tracing requests. Queuing on the other hand would need to be kept to a minimum. This presented a number of challenges to fairs more than most. Communication more than anything would play an imperative roll in the success or failure of an event.
Guests are greeted and check in at Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair 2021
Thankfully as the year progressed we saw these plans start to pay off as one by one fairs began to open their doors in one way or another.
At first fairs were smaller, some even opting to run a new distributed model with fairs spread across multiple venues collectively pulling their marketing resources. Two such examples that took place early in 2021 were the Outsider Art Fair in New York (Feb) and the London Original Print Fair (May). These fairs were a great example of the art world showing it had the ability to adapt and share improvements.
As the year progressed the larger art fairs finally re-opened, most notably with Frieze New York in their new home at Hudson Yards. Timed entry is what vitally helped thin the crowds and covid waivers form helped to build trust with the smaller and more local crowds.
About as crowded as it gets. Frieze London 2021
Finally the summer came and thankfully with it coronavirus cases dropped helping in part to the increased vaccine rollout. However this was no time to drop ones guard and it was important for fairs like other industries to not revert to the old models. What had worked well? What could be done better?
Well one thing that everyone, from fair organisers to visitors seemed keen to maintain was the lack of queuing up in the cold or getting washed away in the crowds. Long may it stay this way.