Thoughts on a Toronto Art Fair
Sarah Jones, visual artist
I recently participated in The Artist Project, a contemporary art fair held at the Better Living Centre, Toronto, February 19-22, 2015. This was my first foray into the art fair world, and into the Toronto art world as well. An unnerving undertaking of product creation, expensive marketing and complicated logistics for this emerging artist. The Artist Project, now in its eighth year, promised thousands of visitors, hundreds of fellow artist-exhibitors, a hectic four days of bustling interactions, and a swanky-looking VIP opening reception (‘do I have appropriate footwear for a Toronto-VIP-opening-reception-type event??’ is the inane thought that plagued me nights prior to the opening).
I applied to The Artist Project last fall with my non-representational work, a concept based on planimetric city maps and aerial views of urban spaces. This work, like my earlier nonrepresentational projects, depicts the city as series of layers and patterns, taking inspiration from graffiti and white-washed walls, razed building and new construction sites, urban planning maps and roadway patterns. Each piece is created through layering various media on the canvas, like copper, cardboard and paper, followed by many layers of oil paint and glazes. I brought approximately fifteen pieces with me to the fair, ranging in size from 12”x12” to 4’x8’.
My goals in attending were to network with other artists, gather some new clients in the Toronto area, connect with galleries, and, ideally, make some sales. In this, I have mixed conclusions about The Artist Project and its usefulness for emerging artists. To some extent, each of the goals were met. The artist networking was invaluable – I now have a list of new artist-friends to call on if I have questions about the Toronto art market. I have been in touch with some galleries, and some did indeed approach me during the show. I also received some good exposure though Novella, a high-end Toronto fashion and art magazine, whose editors saw my work at The Artist Project and offered me a spot in their Spring 2015 issue.
BUT. I doubt I would participate again. There are some flaws with The Artist Project. The booth fee is fairly prohibitive, given the fair’s short duration. They also have a problem with curation and jurying (i.e. they don’t appear do it). There were also far too many exhibitors – 250 booths of visual art is beyond the capacity of the audience to view and absorb. Eventually our work became a white wall of visual noise for the attendees. Overall the calibre of the show and its participating artists was low. It is my understanding that other artists have found this to be the case in previous years and have moved on to more professional fairs, like Love Art Toronto or the Toronto International Art Fair (for further discussion and franks reviews by artists on The Artist Project, take a look at Pinpoint).
That said, I would not discourage any other New Brunswick artists from applying. It was a career-building experience, one that I am pleased I undertook. For future applicants, here are some things I learned:
- Bring a minion. I brought my brother to Toronto in the role as art fair minion/assistant so that I have someone to send on tea-fetching, crate-unloading, or heavy-lifting missions. Unpaid family labour, heh. The fair days were long and exhausting. I highly recommend having someone to relieve you for a put-your-feet-up break.
- Less is more. Amidst the sea of visual noise, I found the most effective booths were the ones that were carefully curated, not crammed floor-to-ceiling with work.
- Bring your own food. Vendor food is absurdly expensive. My brother and I stayed at a nearby Airbnb and prepared most of our meals in advance. Also, don’t drink the vendor tea. It’s horrid.
- Vinyl lettering. Vinyl wall lettering is worth its weight professional-looking gold.
- Include your booth number on promotional materials. I didn’t do this. I wish I had. With over 250 booths, customers will never remember your number or what aisle you were on.
- Make friends.
Contact Sarah with any questions you may have, she would be happy to talk to you about it!