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Why the Auckland Art Fair is more than just a trade show - and why you should go

May 23, 2016 Art

The Auckland Art Fair opens this week. Anthony Byrt explains what it is, and why you should bother to check it out.


It’s easy to assume art fairs are the dirty end of the art business: the events where all our ideals about beauty and aesthetics and the noble pursuit of social change via our creativity runs into the coldest and hardest of facts: that art and money have gone hand-in-hand since forever.

But they are also an essential piece in the art world jigsaw. Over the past twenty years, they’ve become one of the dominant modes of exhibition, not just for shifting merchandise but also for making new discoveries and pushing artistic boundaries. At a time when public institutions everywhere have had their budgets slashed, the private sector has been picking up the slack. Fairs like Frieze in London, Art Basel in Switzerland and the Armory in New York are some of the best spectacles the art world serves up.

New Zealand has a remarkably healthy art market given the size of the population. But that’s still the problem – a small country makes for a small number of collectors. As a result, there have always been questions about whether a substantial art fair is really sustainable here. They’re expensive to put on, and, for the galleries who buy booths, expensive to participate in.

The Auckland Art Fair last popped up in Auckland in 2013. 

That’s why up until now, the Auckland Art Fair has been a sputtering – albeit worthwhile – beast. Originally held as a biennial event, it’s been three years since the last one. The 2013 iteration at Viaduct Events Centre was okay, but a few dealers I spoke to afterwards privately questioned whether it was really worth the investment.

Since then, North Port Events has bought the Art Fair and appointed a management team that includes Stephanie Post and Hayley White, both of whom have extensive experience working on overseas fairs. Early signs for this year’s iteration are promising, with a noticeable increase in scale and ambition, as well as a recognition that Auckland’s relative smallness, internationally speaking, could be a regional virtue rather than a global weakness.

My advice is if you’re the sort of person who likes to go to the Writers or Film Festivals, give this a crack too.

The selection of participating galleries has been handed over to a panel of experts – Justin Paton, Michael Lett, Hamish Keith, Simon Rees and Dayle Mace. They’ve assembled a promising mix of local heavy-hitters and Australian dealers, which is quite an achievement given how many galleries had post-2013 doubts. There’s been a big push to get Aussie collectors over too. There’s also a ‘Projects’ section, put together by two of Australasia’s best curators – Rees from the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and Jarrod Rawlins from MONA in Tasmania. Several Auckland non-profit galleries – the likes of Artspace, Te Uru and Te Tuhi – will be offering affordable editions as a fundraising exercise. And there’s a busy programme of artist talks.

Which is all well and good and thoroughly energising for art worlders. The question is why should anyone else come along? Here are a few excellent reasons:

Food, booze and parties

The Art Fair has teamed up with Peter Gordon to create a pop-up restaurant for the event and several local bars are also going to be there. The opening night is sponsored by Laurent-Perrier. And there’s an ‘Artists’ Party’ on Friday that ‘…offers young professionals, art enthusiasts and collectors an opportunity to mingle with artists, gallery directors, curators and industry professionals in an informal, lively environment.’ Blimey. Epic people-watching potential.

Discovering you might actually like contemporary art

Figuring out your art preferences can be super-difficult if you don’t know where to go or who to speak to. There’ll be forty galleries at the Fair, all showing vastly different things. Don’t be afraid to talk to the dealers. All of them want to grow audiences for their artists’ work. That’s not just about selling to you, either. Most of them are genuinely enthusiastic about the work they show, and want you to be as excited by it as they are.

To start your art collection (without feeling intimidated)

You don’t need mega-bucks to start collecting art, especially not here in New Zealand. As well as blue-chip paintings and large-scale installations there’ll be prints, photographs, ceramics and other affordable works. The non-profits are starting their editions at a hundred bucks.

But don’t feel you should only come along if you’re prepared to buy something. Learning to love art, and live with it, is a long-term game. My advice is if you’re the sort of person who likes to go to the Writers or Film Festivals, give this a crack too. A day pass is thirty dollars – and there’s definitely enough stuff to fill a whole day. Or, come mingle in that ‘lively environment’ at the Artists’ Party on Friday night. I’ll be the guy wearing black, scoffing Peter Gordon’s canapés.


Auckland Art Fair, May 25-29, The Cloud.


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