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Ling Tang / © Culture Trip
Ling Tang / © Culture Trip
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How to Navigate an Art Fair as A Beginner

Picture of India Irving
Social Media Editor
Updated: 2 May 2018
The words ‘Frieze New York’ evoke luxury, affluence and exclusivity. Arguably the premiere contemporary art fair in the world, this event is annually inked on the diaries of the glitterati, but it is also open to the public.

Frieze itself is a veritable maze, with paintings, sculptures and installations around every corner. Taking place this year from May 2-6 (preview days 2-3, public days 4-6) at Randall’s Island Park, New York City, it will host 190 galleries from 30 countries. Tackling the artistic madness is a daunting task for anyone, but if you’ve never attended an art fair before, diving head first into Frieze may end up feeling more like a belly flop.

As cold and closed-off as the art world can seem, the truth is that it’s open to everyone and, Frieze is no exception. If you love art, Frieze New York is the perfect place to explore that passion, as long as you go about it the right way.

‘Whether you’re a novice or seasoned art professional, art fairs are the best place to get a sense for what is happening in the art world at every level,’ Eleanor Edelman, an analyst at London’s Beaumont Nathan Art Advisory and a yearly Frieze attendee, tells Culture Trip.

‘Not only do they give insight into what is happening in the market, they [help you find out] what artists are currently producing. All you have to do to discover this is snag a ticket, which is far easier to get than an invitation to an artist’s studio.’

Edelman explains that the prestige and accessibility of Frieze New York makes it an excellent choice for a beginner.

‘Frieze puts on four art fairs annually: Frieze London, Frieze Masters, Frieze NY, and Frieze LA,’ the analyst says. ‘The New York edition kicked off in 2012 and has been gaining in strength ever since. It is now one of the most significant contemporary art fairs in the world and counts almost every major contemporary gallery as an exhibitor.’

She continues: ‘While Art Basel is more famous, getting to Switzerland, Miami, or Hong Kong is not always possible. Frieze brings the same amazing breadth and quality of product to New York’s doorstep.’

Sold yet? Great. Now you need to book a ticket. And luckily, we’re here to guide you through it.

The fair is on for three public days, plus a preview day. Tickets are sold for all of them, and anyone can buy one – including for ‘private views’.

If you want to be one of the first through the doors, the preview day is a good option. Keep in mind that hardcore collectors and press will have seen the whole fair before the preview, however, so paying the extra money may not be worth it.

According to Edelman, ‘even a quick look will take you about two hours,’ at Frieze. Invest in a day pass so you can really make the most of the fair. There are cafés on site to refuel, and it’s also worth noting that comfortable shoes will be your saving grace as you traverse the 23,226 square metres (250,000 square feet) of exhibition space.

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Giosetta Fioroni, Tribute to Il Teatro Delle Mostre (1968/2017), Frieze Projects New York 2017 | Photograph by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

Now you’ve made it to the fair, you have to decide where to begin. With so much to see in a limited amount of time, getting started can be overwhelming.

Edelman explains that art fairs ‘have a kind of secret hierarchy in their geography.’ The large central booths near the main entrance cost more and so do most of the ‘mega-galleries,’ (think Gagosian, Hauser and Wirth and Victoria Miro), whereas smaller, younger galleries tend to be on the ‘outskirts’.

Edelman’s advice is to check out the central booths first and then spend time really interacting with the ‘gallerists on the fringe’ who ‘might introduce you to an artist you don’t know about yet – or take more risks in who they exhibit.’ These are the booths where you are likely to discover fresh art instead of viewing work you might already know.

A crucial tip is that Frieze NY provides maps of the exhibition spaces on their website. Edelman’s advice? ‘Use them!’ The analyst advising downloading the map on your phone and using that to plan your day.

‘Having a plan of action is helpful,’ she says, ‘especially when the fourth or fifth hour fatigue kicks in and you can’t find the booth you had your heart set on visiting.’

If you do fall in love with any artworks and feel you are interested in investing, don’t be intimated! Clients and artists are there to sell their work, so don’t be afraid to engage and be direct with them.

As for snapping pics of your favourite finds, Frieze NY operates a photo-friendly policy. Photos are a great way to keep track of all the artists you love so you can check out more of their work later (and, of course, capture your day of culture for Instagram).

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David Kordansky, Frieze New York 2017 | Photograph by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

With a confident attitude, the right research and comfortable shoes, anyone can approach their first Frieze like a pro, and Edelman reminds us of the most important thing to keep in mind: ‘Have fun!’

She continues: ‘When you visit an art fair of this magnitude you get the opportunity to view and interact with incredible and iconic works of art in a completely different way than you might in a museum.

‘Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the commercial side of the art world. Watch how business is done and engage with the people who do it. Art fairs are a significant and integral part of the fabric of the larger art world, and anyone interested in art in any capacity should do their best to experience them in the flesh.’