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How to Navigate an Art Fair

Art fairs are changing the way we collect. Leisurely Sunday afternoon gallery visits have been replaced by multiple-day sprints through the aisles of mega-events. To help you navigate, here are some tips to make sense of what can be seen at an exhibition.

Photo by Deborah Iskandar

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Jakarta now boasts two major art fairs: Art Stage and Bazaar Art. The latter is
the older, set for its 9th consecutive iteration in August and slated to present predominantly local and regional galleries and merchandise. Of interest to collectors is that its price points tend to be lower

than at Art Stage, the more recent edition to the city’s calendar, which is slated for its second bow in August, as well. Art Stage attracts more international galleries, and presents more “branded” artists. Both fairs are equally good, and as a collector, you should visit both. So how to tackle the events?

Prepare, prepare and prepare.

Registering online is paramount to
avoid lines. A fair’s website will list all
the galleries exhibited and the artists shown. Contact galleries and ask for an e-catalogue of the artwork that they will bring to the fair. This is effectively a sneak preview. Many collectors reserve coveted pieces before a fair even opens.

Get a VIP pass

Most fairs offer a vernissage, a preview period for VVIP guests that takes its name from “varnishing day”, when an artist would varnish their works before a show. This is a quiet time to view, contemplate and compare different artworks. More senior and established collectors are there when the door opens. The vernissage is an opportunity to walk slowly, before crowds arrive, with clear views and the personal space to look at each booth carefully while making notes and taking photos.

If you don’t have a VIP pass, its best to attend in the morning, as fairs reach peak attendance from lunch until dinner. Avoid weekends, as they will generally be too crowded.

ArtBasel

Stay on the grid

You should always walk a grid pattern during a fair, to ensure you don’t miss works. One must be disciplined, as it’s easy to get distracted by artworks and conversations. By marking off which booths you’ve visited, you can make sure you have completed the fair. Please note, however, that there is always something you will miss.

Bring a friend

Invite someone who is enthusiastic as you are about art. Not only can they help you decide on a purchase, you can also discuss the artworks. You can get to know a person by their taste in art and what motivates them to collect. I have taken many groups through art fairs and encourage them to explore
on their own. You will always find something more when you share notes. Everyone sees something different and there are many artworks you will miss on the first round.

Be social

Art fairs are social events; known for parties, champagne and crowds. This is what makes the art world exciting:
You meet people of different ages from different walks of life. It’s generally
an eclectic crowd of artists, curators, enthusiasts and collectors. Join the parties. Join the fun. Make sure you catch up on the art world gossip. You can receive a lot of free advice on what the market considers quality works.

Wait to buy

It’s better not to buy on the first day, unless you’re an experienced collector. Art fairs can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. With so many choices, you can get swept up in the excitement and end up buying something you
might regret. It’s better to think, do your research to see if a piece is considered a good work by an artist and is offered at a fair price. Then, go to the fair a second or third time to see if it still resonates with you. Many galleries will let you reserve artworks, so don’t feel the rush to “buy now”. Only after a few days, will you will know if it’s the right piece for you.

Keep an open mind

If you see an artwork that you initially wouldn’t buy but struck a chord in your heart, don’t hesitate to pursue it. It’s always good to venture out of your comfort zone.

There are only a few times in life I regret not buying something. The art world–and your tastes– are always changing, so there is always something to buy.

Visitors-at-ISA-Art-Advisory's-booth

The Art of Travel

Once you’ve experienced the local fairs, the next step is Art Basel,
which is presented in Hong Kong, Switzerland and Miami. Art Basel, the oldest and most prestigious fair, is considered the crème de la creme of the art world. With a strict vetting and invitation policy, you can confident of the quality of the artists presented, although there are less opportunity to find “hidden gems” that you may identify at a regional fair.

Traveling for art is the perfect way to accumulate frequent flyer miles. Cathay Pacific offers a Jakarta- to-Hong-Kong red-eye flight that is perfect for Art Basel, with first and business0class flat back seats that allow one to arrive the morning of
the fair feeling refreshed. As Hong Kong is the hub for Asia, there are many fairs, galleries and events to see during Art Basel Hong Kong. Since you are halfway to Europe, the next stop should be London to visit the museum shows, and Cathay Pacific’s long-haul flight to London is the ultimate luxury. While waiting in the lounge, you can be treated to a complimentary foot massage, much needed after the 5-day Art Basel marathon.

Attending museum shows is mandatory for all collectors as that
is where you can see the best art selected by curators for art’s sake, and not from a financial perspective. The David Hockney retrospective at the Tate Britain was one of the hottest shows this season. For a break from art, the Pink Floyd exhibition opening this summer at the V & A celebrates its 50-year’s anniversary. There is
a convergence of art and design, so your museum foray doesn’t have to be limited to art.

For the trip, back from London
to Jakarta, Hong Kong is the perfect spot for a layover. Cathay’s lounges boast an iconic noodle bar”. It’s a welcome break back into Asia after a long haul.

A quick shower, another complimentary foot massage and the last toast of champagne you’re on your way back to Jakarta after an art- filled week.

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