Jori Finkel tries to answer the age-old question in ArtInfo.com: why won’t art fairs go away?
[D]espite all the recent griping, something surprising has happened: The dominant art-fair model has survived more or less intact. I’m not saying that 2009 sales matched those of 2007. I’m not saying that I ever again want to try to visit 20 Miami fairs in one week. I’m not saying that Armory Modern or Art Chicago will survive into the next decade.
What I am saying is that even in a bleak economy, when travel is down and sales are spotty, the dealer-vetted international art fair is an indispensable part of galleries’ business model. Sales at the latest editions of London’s Frieze (“steady,” according to the Wall Street Journal) and Art Basel Miami Beach (up 15 percent from 2008, according to the Miami Herald), for example, inspired a collective sigh of relief from dealers. The “collective” part is important. Art fairs are necessary because they are the only platforms where galleries, essentially cottage industries, can achieve critical mass and economies of scale. […]
In terms of marketing, the art fair has become the place where dealers cultivate their mailing lists. Chicago gallerist Kavi Gupta, for one, told me before he opened a second space in Berlin that he’d found “a ton of European collectors” through fairs, not through walk-in traffic at his primary space.
Fair Value (ArtInfo.com)