Experience Design for Art Fairs

The beginning of March signals many things to different people: the welcome arrival of spring, NCAA March Madness, and the beginning of the MLB season. But for those who are participants and spectactors of the art world, March announces the beginning of international art fair season. According to Art Forum’s calendar listing for art fairs, there are 16 art fairs happening worldwide just in the month of March. Nine of those art fairs are occuring right here in Manhattan, which is an exciting prospect to any resident of the city with any interest in art.

For those unfamiliar with of what exactly is an art fair, they can be imagined as a glorified “shopping experience, but one elevated…to the level of fine art”. I would compare them to a trade show, where galleries rent out booth space to show off their best work for sale. Collectors use these events to get a distilled and filtered few of what the newest and hottest artworks are available to buy. The fairs are also open to the general public as an opportunity to see a lot of art condensed in one large area. To get a better understanding of the art fair phenomenon, I would recommend reading Hyperallergic’s aptly named article WTF is…an Art Fair?

The Armory Show 2014 (via Forbes)

To get an idea of exactly how large and popular these fairs can be, all you need to do is look at the numbers of the 2014 Armory Show. Last year, The Armory had 65,000 visitors in 5 days, over 200 selected galleries from 29 countries(via The Armory Show) Those numbers represent an interesting problem with the EXPERIENCE of attending one of these events. It is crowded. The space is a labyrinth. The only guide is a list of participating galleries and maybe a map of booths. This is a recipe for information overload and a frustrating experience of not knowing where to begin or even what’s worth seeing based on your personal interests.

I am currently the research intern at Artsy’s The Art Genome Project, and was recently able to listen to the Head of Design at Artsy, Robert Lenne, speak about Artsy’s innovative approach at changing the traditional art fair experience.  As an initial foray into the world of art fairs, Artsy developed a platform for fairs to have all participating galleries upload their works for sale before the fair opens, allowing any person with an internet connection the ability to preview the entire show. This was a particularly useful tool for a potential visitor to develop a game plan to make the best use of their time when they check out the fair. For those curious of these previews, you can check them out at Artsy Fairs.

However, to really change the experience once a visitor is at the fair, Artsy developed a product that anyone with a smartphone can easily utilize to make the physical experience easier to digest, interactive, and fun. The product comes in two parts: a smartphone app and what Artsy calls “columns”. The smartphone app includes a map and a portable version of the preview tool, allowing a user to see all the artworks, artists, and galleries in the palm of their hands. The “columns” are large totemic objects consisting of two 65 inch tv screens mounted vertically and placed at strategic locations throughout the fair. The columns display a map of the fair to let users with or without the smartphone app more easily navigate the space. The exciting part is what happens when both of these tools are combined. Users of the app are able to favorite galleries, artists, and artworks that are at the fair, and this data is displayed live on the columns. Trending artists, artworks, and galleries appear on the columns as a unique, never before seen piece of information for visitors of the fair to interact with and digest. Check out a video produced by Artsy showing off the columns at last year’s The Armory Show: Artsy Columns at The Armory Show 2014