Adapting to the New Art Market: How to Prosper in 2017


With the third edition of Superfine! now in the rear view, we've been taking time to reflect on the perspective that we've gained over the past two years. Superfine! has always stood for a new and sustainable art market that opens up art collecting for newly minted aficionados while preserving a sophisticated, high-quality fair environment - one that appeals to even the most dyed-in-the-wool collector. There's a barely-tapped market of would-be collectors who generally hold professional jobs, own their own homes, and range from roughly 25 to 45 in age, and it's our primary job to build the bridge between appreciating art and collecting it for all of these new collectors. Our recent NYC fair was a perfect realization of that mission, where everyone from veteran collectors to members of our logistics and sound production team fell in love with artwork, and became Superfine! collectors.

As we've grown Superfine! we've always made sure that on the exhibitor end, we're a fair that's friendly to the goals of both professional, independent artists and passionate dealers/brick-and-mortar galleries looking to tap into an engaged and growing new collector base. With that in mind, we've assembled a few core observations and pointers geared towards even more successful presentations, both within and outside of Superfine! fairs. Feel free to adapt, adopt, and use any of these - we hope they're helpful and lead to strong sales and success at Superfine! and throughout the year!

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It's no secret that transparency is at the top of our list. Those newer to collecting may have the means and desire to purchase works of art, but are far from used to the conventional opacity of pricing instruments at more traditional galleries and fairs. Think about it: people are buying things left and right - from $15 craft cocktails to $40,000 cars - but seldom are they unaware of the pricing upfront. Opaque art world pricing is something that, put simply, does not translate to how most people purchase anything. Being forthright about your pricing both physically (at Superfine! we provide and mandate that artwork labels including price are used for every work in the fair) and in your conversations with prospective buyers can make a world of difference towards making them feel comfortable in taking a work home. Transparency in pricing leads to less discounts and a collector base that trusts you, versus a quick buck from a disloyal base.


When we were pondering different ways of organizing Superfine! as a fair, a very wise friend of ours once said to us (over a glass of red wine): "To the attendees, it's all art."

This stuck with us. Those newer to buying art aren't used to older conventions of the art world, like why a piece is a good investment (we always believe in buying work you love, not that you hope to sell at a profit) or the pedigree of the gallerist standing before them. An artist's qualifications or which museum shows they were in may not resonate with these younger would-be collectors. However, narrative selling goes a very long way. Individual artists, whether representing themselves or being represented by a gallery, being present in a fair booth or in a gallery setting holds weight with newer collectors who want to meet the mind behind the work. If the artist can't be there, letting your sales pitch touch more on the artist themselves and what the work means to them (versus the investment potential) can really hit home with a generation that's interested in stories and relating others' experiences to their own. Connection to the work is huge and these newer collectors want to to talk to you and learn about the art, so be forward and open with them. That personal touch goes a very long way!

SHARE, SHARE, SHARE (third time's the charm!)

Being active on social media and forward with information and imagery is not just a suggestion in 2017, it's a requirement.

The vast majority of people these days get their news through social media, and you want your work or the work you represent to be part of that web-based zeitgeist. The earlier in advance of a fair or exhibition you can get the organizers (hint: in this scenario, that's us!) information and visuals for the artists and work you plan to show, the better the chances that the work will be featured in social media and e-mail based lead-ups, included in press releases, and subsequently included in physical and online press itself. The effect is that the public (and ultimately, collectors) will be exposed to the work early and often. As any collector knows, it sometimes takes seeing a work a few times in different places to really get it into your mind to the point where you couldn't get it out if you tried, and HAVE to have that one particular piece. It all starts with being on top of gathering those images and information about artists and their work, and making sure that it gets out there into the world.


Superfine! unabashedly focuses on promoting an accessible and transparent art market, with price points friendly to newer collectors and a top end of $10,000 per work.  This is sometimes misconstrued as focusing on the very lowest end of the pricing + art world spectrum. This is absolutely untrue - what we're actually doing is using our guidelines to promote a sort of equalization and correction of the art market, focused on what's actually selling, and creating sustainability based around that. Most major outlets and experts now agree that the vast majority of the art market's growth is happening in the under $10,000 range, while the middle end of the market dwindles, and we think that it's very important to adapt to that. That doesn't mean cheapening the art collecting experience, but being conscious of the shifts in the market is very important. We've created more compact and affordable booths at Superfine! so that galleries can focus on building collectors at all levels, versus holding out for a few "big fish" that justify an astronomical booth fee. Experience has shown us that exhibitors do best when they showcase an array of works at different price points, with a couple at the top end of our range ($6,000-10,000) the bulk between $1,000 and $6,000, and a good assortment of high-quality, original work under $1,000 to help encourage younger collectors. Remember - each sale represents a new collector, not just a line on your balance sheet. 


Payment plans and installments are a reality of the new art market, so be ready for them. You can buy almost anything these days in installments, and art is no different. Rather than simply being open to the idea, be ready and proactive with how you encourage and handle collectors who may be more comfortable making a large purchase over time.

Do you allow them to take the work home, or do you hold it until they've paid in full? Be open and transparent about that so that everyone understands. Is a contract required? If so, have them available and mention the option. Remember, a sale is a sale and constant cash flow is a good thing. While it may feel good to walk away from a sale with a fat check or a wad of cash, working with collectors over time is actually a great way to develop a relationship and encourage future sales. They'll appreciate and respect that you've been helpful and understanding, and in the process you can use each point of contact as an opportunity to open their eyes to more of your or your artists' work. Artists and dealers may shy away from payments/installments because of the fear of having to become a debt collector, but as with anything proper planning and anticipation of the hurdles involved will help alleviate any concerns. If you REALLY don't want to get involved in collecting the money over time but still want to offer the option to collectors, check out companies like Art Money, based in Australia, that do it all for you.


Despite any beliefs that all anyone under fifty is looking for are fads (I'm looking at you, fidget spinners!) and trends, the younger and increasingly well-to-do market is actually looking to attach to consistent brands, places, and, in our case, artists and galleries. This is a generation who's been consistently exposed to art and culture as major cities increasingly bring their arts programs to the forefront of their marketing to residents and tourists alike, and mainstream pop culture becomes more and more indistinguishable from artists and their work (think Kanye West and Takashi Murakami.) As more and more 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings settle into houses and condos they've bought, they become what marketers call "nesters" and want to translate being surrounded by art in their lives to being surrounded by art in their homes. By doing so, they're less of "art tourists" looking to score a piece from a fair in a city they don't live in, and more of a potential long term relationship as they fill their homes and any subsequent second and third homes with art. If you treat every client as a long-term relationship, you'll find that a bigger percentage actually stay with you and start treating you as their primary art resource.


The new art market is an exciting and dynamic place, where simply changing up a few small things about how we conduct business can mean all the difference in fostering robust sales and at the same time connecting people of every ilk with art they'll love and treasure for years to come. Seeing the positives of aligning with fairs and organizations that support a sustainable art market is a big piece of the puzzle, and adapting to what works best completes it. We hope this was a helpful read, and feel free to comment with any suggestions on topics you'd like us to cover!


Alex Mitow
Director of Superfine! The Fairest Fair