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Art market

Will gallery weekends replace art fairs?

Here are the advantages to staying local in a world of Covid

Check out The Art Newspaper's guide to London Gallery Weekend for recommendations on the best exhibitions to see during the three-day event, top trends and commentary

Berlin Gallery Weekend was among the first events of its kind

There was a time when art lovers complained of “fairtigue”, with so many events to attend, spread around the world. No more. Many fairs have been bumped into 2022, and some, such as Tefaf New York Fall, have been purely and simply cancelled. And when—or if—fairs do return, they seem likely to be pale imitations of the pre-pandemic blockbuster events, smaller, more local and lower key.

At the same time, gallery weekends have been mushrooming. London is set to unveil the inaugural London Gallery Weekend, boasting, at the time of writing, a whopping 137 galleries, big and small—from White Cube or Hauser & Wirth to Emalin and Sid Motion. Paris, Berlin, Beijing and many other cities also have comparable weekends.

So are these events going to take the place of art fairs? In a world still in turmoil because of the pandemic, with travel difficult and entry to many countries simply impossible, it makes sense for galleries to focus on their domestic audiences. And even when restrictions are lifted, collectors are unlikely to want to brave the long queues, obligatory testing and sheer discomfort of travel any time soon.

So there are many reasons why these weekends make sense. Most importantly, they bring collectors into the galleries, something gallerists always want. Having discovered the gallery and its location, the chances are much higher that collectors will find their way back. And the gallerist can show an artist’s work in more depth in their own space, unlike in a cramped fair booth. The artists themselves have a better chance of meeting collectors and organising studio visits if they too are locally based.

By concentrating on just a few days, gallery weekends can recreate the excitement and buzz of an art fair. The increased footfall gives the feeling of a popular event, better than the experience of visiting an exhibition alone, in an echoing white space. Meeting up with like-minded people and discussing what is on also reinforces the event’s interest and relevance.

Then there is the cost. Exhibiting at an art fair can be unbelievably pricey, when you add up travel, accommodation, entertaining clients as well as the booth fees, which can easily top $100,000. Compare the costs of doing LGW—from just £300 to £3,000, depending on the size of the gallery.

So what’s not to like? Well, there are some downsides. Art fairs gave galleries an international reach, introducing potential collectors from new geographical areas as well as giving galleries the chance to find new artists. The largest among them bring together everyone in the art world, so a one-stop-shop in more ways than one. Domestically focused gallery weekends will never be able to do that.

Then, finding sponsors is easier for art fairs; they are supported by major banks, for instance, who bring in their deep-pocketed clients. This is more difficult for gallery weekends, since sponsors will have fewer incentives to offer their clients. This translates to the bottom line: gallery weekends will never have the financial clout of, say Art Basel, with its dedicated teams looking after VIPs, a rich programme of talks and visits and a strong social media presence.

But in the coming post-Covid world, this probably matters far less. As it is, almost all galleries have vowed to trim the number of fairs they attend. So there are likely to be fewer fairs anyway—a small number of major ones, and then more niche regional events. Many collectors and gallerists will not return to the fair treadmill for a several years at least, because of fear of travelling and, sometimes, concern for the environment.

So gallery weekends seem set to grow and flourish. They may not replace fairs entirely, but certainly tick a lot of boxes for gallerists, collectors and artists alike, as a good solution for our troubled times.

Check out The Art Newspaper's guide to London Gallery Weekend for recommendations on the best exhibitions to see during the three-day event, top trends and commentary

Click here for the full list of galleries taking part in London Gallery Weekend

The Art Newspaper is an official media partner of London Gallery Weekend