For the Love of Art

Ursula Sullivan, owner of Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art, discusses her love of art fairs and how they are essential in developing audiences for galleries and artists alike.

Image courtesy of Melbourne Art Fair.

Art fairs are curious and intense events. I love them. They are a one-stop shop for anyone who is looking for a snapshot of contemporary art at that moment. I love visiting, working and giving artists the opportunity to exhibit at art fairs.

Not everyone shares this love. They are often seen as gauche and overly commercial exercises that serve only 'saleable' art. Ergo, by not offering the 'non-saleable' or other art, they negate the overall progression of contemporary art. And, sure, fairs have their issues.

But to me, art fairs bring about discussion about art and all that surrounds it. Art fairs talk about what it is to own art, be and live with art, consider art, curate art, talk about art, art in public/private spaces, the cultural impact of art, what is saleable, what is not, why art might change, why art matters – everything about an art fair is about art – and to me that is heaven.

What art fairs bring to a gallery/artist is an audience that is – before they even get to you – open to engagement with contemporary art and the ideas generated by it. When we take an artist's work to an art fair, we are taking their work to a new audience; we are actively looking for audience growth and participation. We seriously consider what each art fair can bring to both our gallery's and our artists' audience.

People often make the mistake of thinking that an art fair only lasts 3-4 days. And yes, if you just do a particular art fair once, it does. But if you find a fair that works, and you commit to it, you are committing to an audience, to repeat collectors, to developing industry contacts, to establishing a place with an audience that you normally would not have access to. Through our experiences in Hong Kong and Singapore, we know this to be true. After 4-5 years of doing these fairs, some of our artists are securing international representation, we have ongoing relationships with major collectors and there is some curatorial recognition as well.

The Melbourne Art Fair is a great fair. What I really love about it is that it is the dominant art fair in a very large area – primarily Australia and New Zealand – so all of the galleries who are interested in participating in the contemporary art conversation, and are at a certain quality level, are there. There are many exceptional artists and galleries that exist in these two countries (and a few more), many ambitious public institutions and wonderful private collectors and collections – the audience is there. The new Melbourne Art Fair management, Art Fairs Australia, is proving to be excellent and the experience that they have brought to both Sydney Contemporary in 2013 and now Melbourne Art Fair has been notable. They too have focussed on audience development and it is this drive that has enabled them to provide such a worthy VIP programme and much media coverage. They have an understanding of what is required to get people through the door. Undoubtedly, with this their first year managing the fair in Melbourne, they're on a steep learning curve, but they are invested, committed and open.

Audience development has been key to our survival as a gallery, when many others have perished. Good art fairs share a similar focus, and when that focus is combined with a focus on quality, art fairs make a huge difference to the lives of us all - artists, galleries, collectors, curators and everyone generally who wants art in their lives.

Ursula Sullivan is the owner of Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art.