Fighting "Fairtigue": How Art Professionals Are Coping With the Ever-Intensifying Global Art Calendar

Fighting "Fairtigue": How Art Professionals Are Coping With the Ever-Intensifying Global Art Calendar
(Photo © Kyle Chayka and stock.xchng / Illustration by ARTINFO)

You couldn’t walk down an art fair aisle during Frieze Week without overhearing an art dealer grumbling about his or her busy schedule. Many had just participated in New York’s Armory Week a little over a month ago; some were coming from Mexico City or Germany, where two local fairs ended on April 22; still others were preparing to ship out to Hong Kong, where Art HK begins on May 17. It is clear that the rapid pace of art fairs has put unprecedented strain on dealers and other art professionals.

The stress has become known around the ARTINFO offices as “fairtigue”: that special brand of exhaustion that comes from wandering from booth to booth for days on end. Fairtigue is a topic dealers “need to focus on if they don't all want to drop dead of heart attacks, given the ever-expanding art fair list,” said dealer and art world commentator Ed Winkleman, who co-organizes a number of alternative art fairs in New York, London, and Miami. Throughout the week, we polled various arts professionals to find out how they deal with their own fairtigue. The answers range from the wholesome to the extreme, and, in true art world fashion, are all suitably eccentric.

“I drink a quart of whole milk every day during an art fair,” said Eric Gleason, director of Meulensteen Gallery, which showed this year at Pulse. “I think of it as a symbolic fortifying action.” Bettina Korek, director of the Los Angeles arts guide ForYourArt, boasts a distinctly west coast method fortifying herself for an art fair marathon. “One habit I bring from L.A., to combat the hectic pace of the fair weekend, is juice: kale, spinach, apple, lemon, and ginger is the perfect way to start the day,” she said.

Pulse director Cornell DeWitt starts off with a similarly healthful art fair regimen, but it devolves quickly. “I start a multivitamin regimen a few days before the fair,” he told ARTINFO. Then he picks up a case of Red Bull for consumption throughout the week, as well as a few five-hour energy drinks for emergencies. (“They only last for three hours,” he said sadly.) Asked whether he finds it difficult to sleep with all that caffeine running through his system, DeWitt said, “I just make sure to take a sleeping pill every night as soon as I get home.”

It is probably difficult to overestimate just how much of a dealer’s schedule is now gobbled up by air fairs — it’s not just four days spent at the booth, but weeks spent preparing and following up with clients. The dates of Frieze Art Fair are themselves a testament to the mind-boggling number of events crowding the global art calendar. Frieze co-director Amanda Sharp said she set the dates when she did — May 4-7, starting on a Thursday instead of the customary Wednesday — so that German dealers could have just one day of rest after Berlin Gallery Week before shipping out to New York.

Even those who consider themselves reticent to join the fair circuit must participate in more than a handful to stay competitive. “We’re really selective about what fairs we do,” 303 Gallery founder Lisa Spellman told ARTINFO at Frieze last week. “We only do six fairs a year.” As Augusto Arbizo of Eleven Rivington put it, fairs are necessary because it is the only way dealers can count on seeing collectors who might not otherwise come to their storefront. “Face time is invaluable,” he said.

In addition to sleep deprivation and stress, though, fairtigue can have a very real effect on a gallery’s program. “There's no doubt a dealer cannot devote the same amount of attention to a show in the gallery when they're preparing for and then participating in an art fair,” Winkleman said. The emphasis placed on art fairs may therefore end up a self fulfilling prophecy: “I wonder if we're not making it even more difficult to sell out of the gallery by not being there enough,” he mused, “thereby making the fairs all that more important.”

Some dealers have as rigid a ritual to decompress after a fair as they do to gear up for it. “Normally I have a media blackout day right after the fair. No Internet, no email, no phone,” said Benjamin Tischer of Invisible-Exports. But because he is gearing up for an opening at the gallery this Friday, his blackout will have to wait until next Monday. “If only cocaine were in vogue again,” he said. No rest for the art-world weary.

With additional reporting by Benjamin Sutton and Chloe Wyma