How Galleries Can Get the Most From Art Fairs

Elena Soboleva
Jan 28, 2016 11:15PM

With unstable markets and cautious collectors, art dealers everywhere are adopting leaner strategies that make the most of their gallery’s resources. 

Driving 40% of annual gallery revenue, according to TEFAF’s 2015 Art Market Report, art fairs remain a crucial part of the bottom line, providing global reach without the need for multiple locations. The opacity of the primary market, paired with journalism that focuses on anecdotal highlights, can make it challenging for galleries to understand the international landscape when deciding to apply to an art fair. 

Since 2013, Artsy has covered over 100 top art fairs and featured more than 100,000 fair artworks uploaded by exhibitors. Never before has such a comprehensive database of fair works existed in one place, presenting a unique opportunity to glean information about the art fair landscape. We hope our analysis of this data will provide insight into market trends and empower galleries to represent their gallery program.

This two-part Gallery Insights series shares our key findings and includes interactive graphs for you to review at leisure. In Part One, we look at the age of artworks and artists as a lens through which to explore the anatomy of an art fair.


Artwork Ages at Fairs

When looking at an art fair layout, you’ll likely notice that gallery booths are often organized by the age of their artworks. At Art Basel in Miami Beach, the Nova section is designed to showcase works created within the last three years, while the Survey section focuses on rediscovery and historical projects. These themes are common in exhibitor programs at art fairs around the world.

Age tells the story of whether gallerists are shipping works straight from artists’ studios, feeding the desire for fresh work, or digging into reserves to showcase mature pieces.

One way to use this interactive guide is to explore the artwork age differences between fairs in similar locations to target the best collecting audience for your artist roster.

Select an age category on the interactive graph below

Fresh from the Studio: ≤ 1 Year 

Fairs are often a go-to platform for exposing collectors to new output. Adjust the graph above to see the distribution of new works (≤ 1 year old) at fairs.

Since a growing subset of collectors flock to fairs in search of fresh work, we sought to capture which fairs brought the most new work to the market.

Due to outliers, the “average age of artworks” is not an entirely reliable indicator of a fair’s composition. A measure we prefer is “One Year or Younger,” which tells us the percentage of artworks at a fair that are less than a year old.

By that measure, the “youngest” fair on this list is NADA Miami Beach—a known destination for new gallerists and collectors eager to discover a new crop of talent. Interestingly, 84% of artworks were produced within one year of the fair. It was also not surprising to find that the curatorial-focused fair LISTE Art Fair Basel, along with SUNDAY Art Fair (London) and Pulse Miami Beach, also topped the list as known to support emerging artists.


More unexpected was the group of international fairs that aim to present a focused and curatorially driven selection of galleries. Take CHART in Copenhagen, where 81% of all artworks were created within a year or less of the fair. The intimate scale of the fair as well as its engaged collector base contribute to a favorable environment for the presentation of new art by both emerging and established artists.

Other international outposts for fresh art included Joburg Art Fair in South Africa (79%), Sydney Contemporary (70%), and Market Art Fair in Stockholm (69%)—all of which are relatively new additions to the annual fair calendar.

Photo of The Armory Show 2015 by Christophe Tedjasukmana for Artsy.

Balancing Both Worlds: Artwork Age Diversity

We found that that some of the most established art fairs shared a similar trait in artwork age: in equal measures, young art harmonized with historical pieces.

While a focus on new output can be invigorating, top fairs in each region have managed to achieve a balance between newer and older art by hosting a diverse selection of gallerists each year.

Stalwarts like Frieze New York, Art Basel (see our Case Study below for all Art Basel fairs), and The Armory Show had a fairly even split between works produced within a year of the fair, and older works. Additionally, the average age of artworks at these fairs in 2015 was between 12 and 14 years.

Art Cologne is the world’s oldest art fair and offered a similar balance with an average artwork age of 10 years, and 48% of works made in the last year. The fair also features a “Collaborations” section aimed at presenting fresh pairings of artists. 

Helly Nahmad Gallery’s booth at Frieze Masters, 2015. Photo by Benjamin Westoby for Artsy.

Historic Heavyweights

Which art fairs are most favorable for historic artworks? Do they all share the same collector base?

Digging into Artsy’s dataset, Frieze Masters 2015 represented the oldest work by a wide margin, with a median age of 78. Established in 2011, the fair occurs concurrently with Frieze London and focuses on masterpieces ranging from ancient to modern. Rather than create designated sections for more historic work as do Art Cologne and Art Basel in Europe, Frieze Masters was created to be its own entity, with a distinct fair experience. In North America, ADAA: The Art Show in New York is the bastion of established artists and the average age of the artworks was 37 years, with only 3% of artists represented at the fair under the age 40.

One should also consider the implications of medium on a fair’s average artwork age. In particular, fairs that focus on prints and multiples tended to also have a more historic focus, since prints and editions frequently emphasize established names and print galleries have extensive archives to draw from. For instance, the median age of work at London Original Print Fair and IFPDA in New York was around 35 years. 

Art Basel in Europe, 2015. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy. 


Art Basel


The venerable fair has led the way for the industry and continues to innovate and grow in its mission to bring together the international art world. Originating in Basel, Switzerland in 1970 and adding the Miami Beach (2002) and Hong Kong (2013) shows over the last two decades, Art Basel remains the premier art world event. Artsy independently covers Art Basel and invites fair exhibitors to upload works for our Art Basel fair previews. The majority of exhibitors consistently participate, and over 2,800 works were uploaded to Artsy’s coverage of the 2015 edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach.

As represented by uploads to Artsy microsites.

Unsurprisingly, in 2015 Artsy’s coverage of Art Basel in Europe had the oldest average artwork age of the three at 13 years. However, unlike its two sister fairs, it saw a rise in the percentage of works less than a year old between 2014 and 2015 (from 46.8% to 50.0%).

Artsy’s coverage of Art Basel in Miami Beach had a median artwork age of nine years but the highest rate of new works. In December 2015, 57% of works displayed were one year old or younger. While this number seems high, it represents a 4% drop from the 2014 high of 61%.

Artsy’s coverage of the youngest of the shows, Art Basel in Hong Kong, also had the youngest average artwork age. With seven years as the average, there was an even split between younger and older art. The geographic spread of Art Basel’s three iterations captures a range of collecting audiences under the same umbrella.

As represented by uploads to Artsy microsites.


Artist Ages at Fairs

While the age of artwork gives us a partial picture of a fair’s composition, we wanted to also look at the age of the artists exhibited.

Dive into the graph and consider your artist’s career stage and which fair may suit them best. Notice the differences between fairs in similar locations, but also consider this data a starting point, since many older artists are being rediscovered and exhibited alongside emerging talent at fairs such as miart and Art Brussels, among others.


Art fairs with the highest composition of emerging artists were GRANPALAZZOLISTE Art Fair BaselSUNDAY Art FairNADA Miami Beach and New York, and Art Los Angeles Contemporary, although they each have a unique identity.

The Frieze brand also shows a strong representation of younger artists. Establishing Frieze Masters has enabled Frieze London and Frieze New York to highlight contemporary art from around the globe being produced today. At Frieze’s New York and London editions last year, a quarter of the of artists were under the age of 40.

Although it is difficult to derive conclusions on datapoints that are so broad, we did notice certain geographic tendencies.

In Central Europe, viennacontemporary, ARCOmadrid, miart, and Artissima all had over 30% of work by artists under 40. South American fairs placed greater emphasis placed on established names, who are in the middle and later stages of their careers. 30% or less of the artists at ArtRioSP-Arte, and ARTBO were under 40 years, with arteBA the highest at 39%. In a few cases, fairs in the same regions showed significant differences. Take Istanbul, where 29% of artists at ARTINTERNATIONAL were under 40, while Contemporary Istanbul had 47%, highlighting the variation in focus of each fair.


In this first installment of the series we focused on age. Looking at the global art ecosystem, there were striking differences. For instance, fairs with the newest work tended to be more scattered internationally, while historically focused art fairs seemed to be more regionally concentrated in areas like Latin America. Established fairs like Art Basel and Frieze managed to have the best of both worlds by segmenting booths by artwork or artist age. (Think Frieze Masters vs. Frieze London and the spotlight sections at Art Basel.) We also found unexpected surprises, like a fresh crop of fairs focused on younger talent in markets as diverse as South Africa and Australia. 

Make sure you are signed up for Gallery Insights to receive Part Two of our data-driven feature on art fairs.

Frieze London, 2015. Photo by Benjamin Westoby for Artsy.

Elena Soboleva (@elenasoboleva) is a contemporary art Specialist at @Artsy. She works with collectors, manages art fair sales, and develops curatorial programming. She studied economics and art history and writes about the art market and online trends.

A Note on Methodology

These findings and graphs are based on an aggregation of artwork metadata (such as artist and date) that fair exhibitors have uploaded for inclusion in Artsy’s art fair coverage, as well as other information (such as an artist’s date of birth) that is publicly available. Artsy has covered 100+ fairs since we started covering fairs three years ago. On average, 80% of fair exhibitors elect to participate in Artsy’s fair coverage.

Of the 17,000+ artists that have been featured in fairs with a microsite on Artsy, 50% had publicly-available biographical data, such as date of birth, which we were able to use in our analysis. Of the 100,000+ artworks that have been uploaded by fairs with a microsite on Artsy, 93% had dates that we were able to use for our analysis.

Elena Soboleva