MIAMI — Collecting art in the United States has traditionally been reserved for the well to do, involving art galleries, auctions and upscale buyers. However, the notion that art is for the rich is gradually changing.
Art fairs have become one avenue where average Americans are exposed to original works of art. One of the nation’s biggest and most vibrant art events takes place in Florida.
Engaging with Art
Every year, during the first week in December, Miami hosts an art fair that takes over the city. Art is on display everywhere and even the most energetic visitor can’t possibly visit every venue. The fair draws an international crowd that comes to buy quality, juried artwork, but many also come because the fairs have turned Miami into a culturally exciting city.
Art is just one aspect of the fair; the glamor also draws crowds who come for opening gallery parties, concerts, celebrity appearances, and special guest DJ events that go late into the evening.
New fairs are added every year, but in its 25th year, Art Miami is the original and longest-running contemporary art fair. This year, the fair was housed in a series of enormous white tents featuring cafes and stages for visiting artist discussions.
Art fairs offer opportunities to learn about art and engage with the artists in a relaxed atmosphere, says Jennifer Jacobs, director of “Aqua”, one of the “must see” art fairs during Art Week Miami.
The exhibition is held at the Aqua Hotel, an Art Deco hotel in the South Beach area. A week before the show, all the hotel furniture is removed and the individual hotel rooms are turned into a series of galleries.
All of the rooms face the courtyard, lending a town-square feeling to the event, and along with the warm climate and palm trees, make the fair a very Miami experience, according to Jacobs. The set-up also makes the experience more intimate, since visitors don’t just walk past a booth.
“Here at Aqua, you have to walk into a room which changes the level of engagement for both the collector and the gallerist,” Jacobs said. “You have a conversation; you look at the art in a different way.”
The fun, informal setting is key to “nurturing new and returning collectors by focusing on emerging and mid-career artists, and by providing a variety of aesthetic viewpoints and a level of financial accessibility,” Jacobs said.
Art of the online deal
Traditional art outlets are also being challenged by the Internet. Buyers are increasingly finding opportunities online, especially younger collectors who have been making web-based purchases for most of their lives.
Some of the well-funded galleries invested heavily in e-commerce websites several years ago, but failed to market them effectively. However, they are now witnessing a sea change in art acquisition, finally finding the online buyers that eluded them for years.
An active social media presence can also boost the bottom line. A large following on Twitter or Facebook helps build credibility, which can translate into sales, even when buyers don’t see the actual piece of artwork until it’s delivered to their home.
Some media-savvy gallery owners use social media to promote artists and their work ahead of a gallery show, or photograph well-attended launch parties to build anticipation and excitement in hopes of luring prospective buyers.
Some auction houses have been selling very successfully through the e-commerce site, eBay, which is better known for its sales of cars, electronics and clothing, rather than for the sale of art objects.
Sales of art and antiques rose 25 percent to an estimated $25 billion in the United States in 2013, according to a report from the European Fine Art Foundation.
Making objects of art more accessible to a wider audience, while moving away from the traditional channels of procurement, could make collecting art much more commonplace for the general population in the coming years.
More images from Art Miami 2014