Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Can festival goers handle more creativity?

As an artist, my brain is always coming up with different ways to create my paintings. I enjoy going to museums, gallerys and of course art fairs whenever I can and of course the fairs I'm attending. I notice a huge difference in the art you will see in a NY gallery compared to an art festival. In a New York type gallery you will see off the wall and extremely creative art, but at the festivals it's the same ol process. Sure it may be a different image or even a technique, but nothing really creative like you will see at a gallery or a Biennial. Is this because the attendee's are programmed to see the same thing at festivals or will jurors not accept anything that's not the usual? I would love to see gallery quality work at art Festivals other than big ones such as Basel or New York Art Expo. Is it possible to break the mold and still make money?

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Comment by Robert Wallis on March 25, 2014 at 1:21am

An unfortunate story I heard several years back is worth retelling. The art fair involved has changed directors a couple times since then and when I mentioned this in another post, the current director claimed it wasn't true and certainly not a factor now. Yeah, sure. This is a top 25 art show and in the midwest. A close friend of mine, another photographer, was present during an open jury as the judges were being given directions. They were told to pick "typical art fair work", and to mark down work that looked like it belonged in a high end gallery. They were to consider salabilty as a major criteria. The jury included a couple of local gallery owners. The reasoning was that they were wanting to have artwork that someone would walk away with and build the buzz that "I bought this at XXX Art Fair" in a sort of branding process. This particular show has also hired actuarials to determine what the maximum gate fee and booth fees they could charge before reaching diminishing returns. I used to do some rather esoteric work when I first started. Didn't sell a whole lot, but always had lots of people in the booth talking about the work. I had done this particular show for about 12 years in a row. After these changes were instituted, I wasn't able to ever get back in. 

Comment by Larry Berman on March 25, 2014 at 6:28am

There are two hurdles. The first is the show director's vision for the show. Some shows want there to be something affordable to everyone who attends. Some shows want to be world class, or at least nationally rated, so they want what they consider the best art. I'm familiar with the show Robert mentioned and the old show director went on a higher end art show forum and basically told the better artists they were jurying by price. Artists were outraged and blasted the director who never participated again. I wonder how many other shows want a full price range but don't specify it in their prospective.

The second hurdle is the jurors. I suspect that jurors pick what they like, because in the short period of time they get to see and evaluate the images, it would be too difficult to think in terms of price. Example; I know of a show that specifically tells the jurors not to base the score on the booth picture and yet I've spoken to artists who had juried that show tell me they went back and changed their scores if the artist had a really bad booth picture.

Bottom line is cutting edge or different work needs to have excellent jury images and a booth picture to die for to have it's best chance of getting into a show.

Larry Berman

Comment by Christina L. Towell on March 25, 2014 at 9:06am

It does sound rather formulaic, I guess I never thought about it in those terms...this should create a good discussion, Brian, thanks for posing the question.

Comment by Brian Billings on March 25, 2014 at 12:19pm

Interesting Robert, Sometimes I believe they are more concerned what will look good for their poster, rather than what will get people excited.

Larry, who says high end can't be affordable? A while back Banksy sold original works on the streets of New York for $60. His work sells for Millions at auctions. Great advice, you always need great images to have a chance at getting in.

Comment by Dennis Shattuck on March 26, 2014 at 12:09pm

 The jurors will not accept anything that's not the usual, that has been my experience.

Comment by Brian Billings on March 26, 2014 at 3:56pm

Michael, I agree that most people are there for the entertainment, not the art. But don't you think it's because the average person is not educated in art? Art such as jewelry have a larger interest because we see those things everyday and they are advertised in the media.  People in cities like New York, Washington and some others are educated in the arts but many places, especially the West Coast are not. Maybe if more shows started exhibiting more interesting stuff, people would become more interested in fine art.

Comment by Mark V. Turner on March 26, 2014 at 6:00pm


Banksy did actually set up shop on the sidewalk in NYC (Central Park?)... But he sold a grand total of something like a grand total 3 prints, because no one would believe he was Banksy or that these were Banksy prints....

Even more funny was that some enterprising folks went back to the same location on a following weekend, and implied that they were selling genuine Banksy prints and were mobbed by customers.....

Michael, the vast majority of American taste and culture is in their mouths. We are willing victims of advertising and buy whatever celebrities tell us we need. Remember that we as a culture in the late 19th century rejected Impressionist movement paintings like they were something smelly we stepped in on the sidewalk. But, in the latter half of the 20th bought into Warhol and a lot of other stuff that was mass produced.. By the same token, we also bought into the Wyeth mystique... Andrew Wyeth was an exquisite technician, but his reputation was made by his father N.C. Wyeth...who got him exhibits in many influential galleries early in his career. IMO, most of Andrew Wyeth's work is very VERY subdued. In addition, if you took in his exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum, there was an impenetrable storyline which accompanied much of his output which made no sense at all (looking at the painting and then looking at the title for clues on the meaning) unless someone told you the backstory.

Kinkade should be in museums right next to Warhol... They were two of the best marketeers of their work and pumped it out as fast as their atelier's could excrete it. Kinkade took it up a notch by his use of selling franchises and requiring them to stock all cost levels of his products regardless of whether the franchisee wanted to stock it or not.... Welcome to contract law. Kept him in prescription drugs and booze till he died. While I admire his ability to make money and his innate ability to market the art equivalent of the Popiel Pocket Fisherman, it is sad how marketing programs the vast majority of American tastes in culture and art.... From Rolling Stone to Dwell, we are told what's hip, hot, and has to be owned in order to show your quality and style.... And we do it for nearly all levels of income and class...

Sadly, I also agree that the food concessions are the folks who make the most money at events outside the promoters.... followed by the women's wearable vendors...

Brian, it's my own personal opinion that modern gallery-type fine art has no place in outdoor art shows. First off, much of it is sofa-sized and has 4-6 digit price tags. Secondly, you can fit maybe 8-10 pieces in your booth and you are done... ;-)..Tough to transport, too...

Comment by Mark V. Turner on March 26, 2014 at 7:18pm

Thanks, Michael.  I think I would like at some point to say that art pays the bills and is profitable...just a little... But that's not currently how it works. Anyone doing anything very original which doesn't meet with juror approval isn't getting into a show. If you work in more than one style, you often wont pass the jury sniff test... But I keep selling all originals.(no prints). I have one series which in now into the 100+ series numbers, but some of the top rated shows aren't interested in my neighborhood...though interestingly enough, Howard Alan has juried me into every show I have applied to (of course, they have also cancelled each of those shows shortly after jurying me in..)

Comment by Brian Billings on March 26, 2014 at 7:31pm

Good points Mark. I bet all it would take is an artist like Banksy to go to an art festival and everybody will be going to local festivals to try to find a gem. Festivals will start accepting different types of work and people will be made aware that they can see culture at an art festival!

I make modern gallery-type fine art and I think it can and should have a place in outdoor shows. The challenge is getting others to understand you should be able to see this type of art without going to a gallery or museum and spending $10,000+. My booth fills up fast but at least it's a quick tear down.

Comment by Mark V. Turner on March 26, 2014 at 9:19pm
Brian, this is the challenge of trying to market your gallery type work in an art fair environment. I would encourage you to apply to the high end art shows in your neighborhood. If NYC there's the shows in the Hamptons and isn't there a cape cod show or three. In philly, it'd be the Rittenhouse Square spring (prestigious) and fall (not as prest.) shows. Then there's the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. In the DC area, I'd look at Bethesda Fine Arts Festival, the Howard Alan events in this same area, perhaps Bethesda Row... Maybe the Rockville A-RTS event. What about the Javits center. They have a large event which draws folks who patronize galleries... Wasn't there a Pier 89 event, also?

You might also consider some of the southwest shows in Palm Springs, Phoenix, etc.

My thoughts are that with big ticket pieces with the smell of the gallery in them, you need that super high-end crowd. So you pick the shows nobody can crack regularly and concentrate on them.

I had a gallery artist next to me at an event. She marked everything sky high with the intent to knock several thousand off each piece as a bargaining ploy. She played on the idea that if it's big in size, it must be expensive. So if it was priced 7000.00 she would sell it happily for 3500.00 everyone went home happy this way. Customer gets what they think is a deal and she makes money, even if from just one sale. Of course if you choose unwisely on shows, getting that one sale might be tough


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