ICYMI: art fairs are the driving force of the contemporary art world – from London’s Frieze and New York’s Armory Show to Switzerland’s pioneering Art Basel.
Simply put: they’re like massive expos where commercial galleries buy a booth and spruik their wares: artworks. And with physical gallery spaces on the decline, it seems art fairs are where art makes mad bank.
Australia is pretty new to it: in 2014, we had just one – the Melbourne Art Fair. But we catch on quick: in 2015, Sydney alone had three art fairs: Sydney Contemporary, the boutique Spring 1883 – and The Other Art Fair, making its local debut having staged successful annual events in London and Bristol from 2011.
British events and exhibitions producer Ryan Stanier founded TOAF as an alternative to the commercial behemoth Frieze; no artists represented by galleries are eligible to participate in The Other Art Fair.
Does the world need another art fair? Probably as much as Sydney needs another ramen joint – but here are five ways The Other Art Fair is very different from the rest of the pack.
1. It’s for emerging artists
You can only be part of The Other Art Fair if you are not represented by a gallery already. This makes it very different from most art fairs, where commercial galleries buy a space to exhibit and sell works.
2. It’s a meritocracy.
Sydney the Other Art Fair director Laura Richardson, who works with the UK based founding company, explains the philosophy of the fair thusly: “The artists are chosen purely on the merit of their work – as opposed to who they are: their socio-economic status, their social media following, their training, their connections, their location.
“There are so many talented creative [people] out there who aren’t living in the major cities; who didn’t have the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ behind them; who couldn’t afford to go to the best schools, or do the free internships at galleries.”
So who controls the quality? The Sydney edition of The Other Art Fair has a selection committee with serious credentials: Roslyn Oxley (of top Sydney gallery Roslyn Oxley9), curator Amanda Love, Archibald Prize-winning painter Ben Quilty, and artist/graphic designer Leif Podhajsky (responsible for album cover art for Tame Impala, The Horrors and more).
This committee does a blind judging, operates independently from the fair organisers, and are instructed to “select the strongest artists who they believe will bring something amazing to the fair, and to look for a diverse range of mediums,” says Richardson.
This also means it is a much smaller, more personal experience than a typical, sprawling fair. Think 'warehouse show' not 'aircraft hangar'.
3. It’s more affordable to buy art
Size does matter – when you’re not a cashed up collector. Works at The Other Art Fair start around the $100 mark, and 5-figure price tags are an exception, not a expectation.
Obviously this has a lot to do with the fact that the artists are emerging rather than pedigreed. But it also has to do with the fact that the sale price isn’t being clipped heavily, and therefore artists aren’t forced to jack up their prices. Whereas commercial galleries will take up to 50% of an artwork’s price tag, The Other Art Fair takes just 15% of the sale price as their commission.
Speaking of artists – you'll meet them at the fair. Rather than gallerists, it'll be the people who made the work talking you through it.
4. It’s affordable to attend, too
You'll only have to pay $15 to get into the fair – there is also a ticketed ‘private view’ on the Thursday night before the Fair opens.
5. It’s about skills – not just sales
Rather than a ‘take the money and run’ affair, The Other Art Fair works with the selected artists in the lead up to the fair to get them industry ready through briefing and workshops. “We’re looking at things like how best to present themselves and their work,” says Richardson.