Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker article this week contains some nice historical points about the birth of art fairs and why they serve dealer’s purposes. He also presents some data that suggests galleries do 30% of their sales at art fairs and another 10% online, leaving the physical gallery to account for the rest:
Fairs entail a “conscious relinquishment of the aura in order to sell for a few days.” So said Rudolf Zwirner, David’s father, the now retired dealer who co-founded the first galleries-generated art fair, Kunstmarkt Köln ’67, in Cologne in 1967. He and seventeen other West German dealers of new art, much of it American, decided to pool their collectors to break the still prevailing hold of poky School of Paris tastes on the affluent Rhineland. The fair occupied the medieval Gürzenich festival hall for five days. (It sparked the birth of a tradition of rival events, when the dealer Heiner Friedrich, who had been excluded from Kunstmarkt on account of his partner’s abrasive personality, mounted a sale fo works by Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Blinky Palermo and other rising German stars.) At the time, the idea of coöperation among competitors was a startling novelty. Art Cologne is now in its forty-fifth year.
All is Fairs (New Yorker)