Should artists represent themselves at fairs?


 They say you should take some risks in life, or so the platitude goes.

Actually life is one long list of risks, whether you like it or not,  so it is more a matter of choosing. Instead of risking getting hit by a bus, or bitten by a spider I prefer to show at the Kölner-Liste art fair (in Cologne). This is my little experiment. (Not that the bus or spider are now suddenly excluded from the possible agenda.)

I have never before represented myself at a fair and always had galleries showing my work at these events.

Actually, almost all fine art fairs deliberately exclude artists. (That could be a whole discussion!) Kölner-Liste is an exception, where galleries and artists show side by side. The idea is to provide an alternative to the blue-chip 'Art Cologne'. 

Collectors are craving surprise and longing to discover new work, something that happens less at top-end fairs where costs are high and galleries play safe, relying on big name artists to cover the rent. Satellite fairs are trying to fill this gap.

When my artist friend invites me to share a stand with her in Cologne, I decide to take a risk and try something different. I have never before exhibited in Germany, so it is a chance to share my work with a new audience. The major risk for me is that not enough of the right collectors will attend.

Setting up still... A bit messy but you get the idea. 

Setting up still... A bit messy but you get the idea. 


So how does it work out?

Luckily, it works out very well, but more due to serendipity than anything else. Fine art collectors are somewhat thin on the ground. The fair is a mix of decorator, urban and fine art. Happily, the right people come my way and I am delighted with the results. The largest painting is snapped up by a collector group in Aachen.


 As an added bonus my work gets some nice media coverage. Fair exhibitors have been given the option of paying extra for a 'media package', meaning their stand will be included on the media tour and given priority for PR exposure. I don't pay, but in any case am included on the press tour, get interviewed, and included in two articles (in German, of course, but I haven't yet translated them.)



Will I show at the same fair next year?

Hmmmmm, I'm still thinking.... Probably not.

The most common remark I receive from other artists and galleries is that I am at the wrong fair and should be exhibiting at Art Cologne. (I wish! So this is my goal for next year - ie to connect with one of the participating galleries.) Doing Kölner-Liste has been a valuable stepping stone; a learning curve, getting to see the art world from a gallery's point of view, and seeing people's unfiltered reactions to the work. I am happy to see smiles as people look at my paintings.

Normally I am slightly shy and a bit nervous about speaking with strangers, but funnily enough I meet so many lovely people from all corners of Europe I forget my fearful inhibitions.

The female artists on my alley - we formed a sort of club. 

The female artists on my alley - we formed a sort of club. 

 It is now over a week after the fair and I am still a bit weary, mostly mentally as I continue to process it all.

I don't have any clear conclusions, apart from the fact that variety is a good thing. It is good to have many different ways for art lovers to experience art, and for artists and galleries to present it. It is not one size fits all. As someone who has worked almost exclusively with galleries, I think that every artist could benefit from showing their work at a fair, even just once.  I know that not all collectors want to meet the artist, but many do.

It is a nice option to be able to close the loop. 


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