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Art fairs around the world: from Art Basel to Art021 Shanghai

Sanghee Kim

Oct 19, 2021

Art fairs have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic with concerns around health and safety. As more of the population is vaccinated and travel restrictions are easing off, international art fairs are back. The Armory Show in New York and Art Basel in Basel opened their doors to the public in September, and Frieze London and KIAF Seoul welcomed back art lovers last week with FIAC Paris due to open this week. Following the comprehensive overview of the function of art fairs in the ecology of the art market in We live in the era of art fairs, this article will introduce five art fairs around the world in more detail. With each art fair, there are suggestions of other programs and non-commercial art spaces in the city where the fair takes place. 


Art Basel, Basel 


Karma Internarional at Art Basel, Basel, 2021
© Art Basel



Art Basel was started in 1970 by three gallerists based in Basel: Ernst Beyeler, Trudl Bruckner and Balz Hilt. Over 16,000 visitors attended the inaugural fair, of which 90 galleries and 30 publishers participated from 10 countries. It is annually held in September at the Swiss exhibition site Messe Basel, featuring a hall designed by Herzog & de Meuron. In 2002, Art Basel Miami Beach was first introduced, with 160 galleries from 23 countries and it attracted over 30,000 visitors. Six years later in 2008, over 60,000 visitors attended the first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. Art Basel also curates sections such as Unlimited and Parcours, offering an alternative dimension to the classical art fair setting. Art Basel in Basel is held in September, the Miami Beach edition in December, and Art Basel Hong Kong in March. 


During Basel week, Volta Art Fair also takes place presenting ambitious solo and group exhibitions by emerging and established artists. The fair was initiated with the aim to secure a platform for galleries who felt Art Basel was on the heavy side.  Kunsthalle Basel is a must, especially for a first-time Basel visitor. Since it was founded in 1872, the institution has been exhibiting international contemporary art with a commitment to emerging artists. Frank Gehry’s first building in Europe, Vitra Design Museum, is in Birsfelden near Basel. The museum's exhibitions often question sustainability, mobility, and social awareness. It also hosts annual summer parties during Art Basel week. 



Frieze, London 


Rose Wylie, Pineapple (2020) for Frieze Sculpture 2021
Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze, London. 



Frieze as a media and events company was founded in 1991 by Amanda Sharp, Matthew Slotover, and Tom Gidley with the launch of frieze magazine. Later in 2003, Sharp and Slotover established Frieze London. Polly Staple (now Director of Collection of British Art at Tate London, previously a director at Chisenhale Gallery, London) was invited as curator for Frieze Projects; the non-profit program that was launched as the fair was inaugurated. In Regent’s Park, where the Frieze Art Fair is held, The Frieze Sculpture Park was also introduced in 2012, which in the same year Frieze New York was launched. In 2019, Frieze Los Angeles opened at Paramount Pictures Studios. Frieze London is held in October, the New York edition in May, and Frieze Los Angeles in February. The first Frieze Art Fair in Seoul will take place in September 2022.  


Cross the park from Frieze London is Frieze Masters, which shows work made before 2000. 1-54 London also takes place during the Frieze London week in Somerset House; it is an international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. As well as the famous Tate, there are plenty of art spaces to visit in London. Originally founded by artists, Chisenhale Gallery commissions and produces contemporary art with a long proven history of identifying new artistic talents. Serpentine Galleries, where Hans Ulrich Obrist is the Artistic Director, is located in Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park. Since its opening in 1970, the gallery has been free access to the public presenting exhibitions from emerging to internationally established artists. 


FIAC, Paris


Oliver Beer, Stray Voices (2019) for the performace festival Parades for FIAC, 2019 



FIAC, also known as the International Contemporary Art Fair, was founded in Paris in 1974.  The fair started to accept galleries from America in 1976, and in 1982, FIAC first showed photography at its fair. It now shows all media including installations, performances, and digital arts, bringing together around 200 exhibitors in the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais every October*. Both venues were built for the 1900 World Fair and listed as historic monuments. The Grand Palais is especially beautiful with the largest glass ceiling in Europe. Other than the main fair, FIAC installs art in public space through FIAC Hors les Murs (a parcours). The fair also organizes performance programs, and film screenings that are available for free. On Thursday of each fair, galleries in Paris participate in Gallery Night with exhibition openings and book signings. 


Paris Internationale takes place during the fair week, offering an alternative to the mainstream art fair like FIAC. The fair was established in 2015 to attract a new generation of art collectors and to provide a more inclusive atmosphere. Unlike the traditional art fair model, Paris Internationale is a non-for-profit organization and the venue changes each year. Besides the famous Louvre Museum and the Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo should not be missed while in Paris. After a major renovation in 2012, Palais de Tokyo is the largest center devoted to contemporary art in Europe with a total surface area of 22,000 square meters. The center is dedicated to showing both emerging and established artists across disciplines. If a little tranquility during the fair week is what you need, visit the Musée de L’Orangerie and dive into the 360-degree view of Claude Monet’s eight compositions of the Water Lilies. 


*As the Grand Palais is undergoing renovation work, the fair is taking place in a tent near the Eiffel Tower until 2024. 


The Armory Show, New York


The Armory Show, New York, 2021
Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of the Armory Show. 



In 1994, four New York art dealers - Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks, and Paul Morris - opened an art fair at Gramercy Park Hotel. The fair was initially called The Gramercy International Art Fair. It was born out of the ambitious goal of creating a new art fair to support their artists and global attention; showing exclusively new works by living artists. The now titled “The Armory Show” was given in 1999 with the move of the fair location to the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. The fair moved again to Manhattan’s West Side at Piers 88 & 90 in 2001 and further expanded to Piers 92 & 94 with the introduction of The Armory Show - Modern to present work of the 20th century. In 2016, the Modern edition of the fair was merged with the original fair and it began to focus more on the curatorial programs supporting emerging galleries and commissioning artists. In September 2021, after 19 years at the Piers, the Armory show moved permanently to Javits Center, offering easy access to the many galleries in Chelsea. 


During the Armory week, Independent Art Fair takes place presenting both commercial and non-profit galleries. The fair also operates Independent Projects, a platform for solo exhibitions during New York’s November auction season. Besides the big museums like the Guggenheim Museum and the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), New York offers many alternative spaces such as the SculptureCenter; the space was founded by artists in 1928 and since then it has been connecting artists and the public through exhibitions and commissioning new work. SculptureCenter’s programs also reflect the contemporary questions around sculpture through creating dialogues in lectures and panel discussions. Swiss Institute is also worth a visit as it supports and fosters overlooked areas in contemporary art-making their program diverse and unprejudiced.   



Art021, Shanghai


Outside of the Shanghai Exhibition Center durinf Art021, 2019
© Art201



Art021 was established in 2013, by the trio: Bao Yifeng, a luxury brand marketer, Kylie Ying, former gallery director, and David Chau, a collector. The art fair takes place annually in November at Shanghai Exhibition Center, and it has grown in its size together with the Chinese art market. The name of the art fair, Art021, is taken from Shanghai's area code and the fair is now one of the leading international art fairs. The fair is in five sections. ‘Main Galleries’ shows the contemporary art; ‘Approach’ has a different fee structure, designed to support emerging galleries; ‘Beyond’ is a platform for large scale artworks presented in the public space of the fair, with ‘Beyond-Extended’ integrating art into the public space outside of the fair; and the curated ‘Detour’ section is by invitation only by the curator carefully selected to fit with the theme each year. 


West Bund Art & Design is on during Art021 farther from the city center by the Huangpu River near West Bund Museum. West Bund was originally a manufacturing area in the 20th century and it underwent renovations since Expo 2010. Since then, many private museums and galleries have opened in West Bund. One of them is the Long Museum, which has a large collection of artworks from around the world and across generations. The museum also presents exhibitions of both Chinese and international artists with continuous research on the connections between traditional and contemporary on a global scale.