The Economist went to Marc Spiegler and Noah Horowitz to discuss some recent complaints that art fair growth was leveling off. Complaints of slowing growth and attendance substantially miss the point. Art fair attendance is a poor measure of buying activity since the vast majority of attendees are not buyers. Here, the directors of ArtBasel and The Armory Show both offer some better and more interesting numbers on the art fair experience:
Last year almost €10 billion of art changed hands at fairs, representing two-fifths of dealers’ total sales. The art calendar is so packed with them that there is increasing talk of “fair fatigue”—visitor and exhibitor saturation. […]
Mr Horowitz says there is a rough rule of thumb that about a third of dealers make a profit by exhibiting at a fair, and another third break even. The remainder still attend, even if their sales do not cover their costs, to build relationships with collectors. As for the internet, Mr Horowitz argues that it is not cannibalising the business of art fairs, since many people like to look before buying, but is rather a vehicle for additional sales.
Art Basel’s director Marc Spiegler says Art Basel Hong Kong had fewer visitors this year because there was one less day of public ticketing: the fair was moved from May to March, and the venue only had a shorter slot available in that month. Besides, he says, visitor numbers only represent 10% of revenue; the biggest contributors are booth hire and services (60%) and sponsorship (30%). He concedes that “at some point” there will be enough fairs, and that some will fail. But that point is a way off. “You’re talking about a market which is still in a state of very rapid growth,” he maintains.
Brush hour (The Economist)