Arts and Culture

Brush up - 10 of the best international art fairs

Garreth van Niekerk

The Joburg Art Fair has whet many an appetite for art-as-destination. Here are a few more fairs to add to the travelling afficionado’s itinerary.

A visitor walks within an installation titled 'Chairs', made of wooden chairs by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata, during Abu Dhabi Art in 2012. (Reuters)

As Johannesburg basks in the afterglow of its first art week and the seventh successful instalment of the FNB Joburg Art Fair, organisers throughout the rest of the art world are preparing for their own art fairs. These fairs offer an excellent way to experience some of a city’s greatest architecture, explore its artistic neighbourhoods, experience local communities through specifically tailored art week tours and learn first-hand about its cultural traditions by attending artist-run workshops and lectures.

If you find yourself planning a trip abroad, including a few of the upcoming art fairs in your itinerary is not a bad way to get started.

Here are 10 of the best fairs you can still make before the end of 2014:

1. Shanghai Contemporary
September 12 to 14, Shanghai Exhibition Centre

In September, nearly 50 galleries representing the best of Asia will gather together under the towering spier of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre to present Asian art to what has become the world’s second largest art market (the United States is the biggest).

A couple visit the art exhibition A Dream I Dreamed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the, Museum of Contemporary Art in 2014. (All  photos by Reuters)

The highlights of the fair include Discovering Ink, curated by Guido Mologni and displaying a contemporary take on Asia’s historical link to ink, and Promising, curated by Biljana Ciric, looking at Asian artists under the age of 35.

While you’re there, try to catch Shanghai’s first colour run – a 5km race through the city, where every kilometre you’ll be showered with colourful powdered dyes.

2. Beirut Art Fair
(September 18 to 21, Lebanon, Beirut)

The Beirut Art Fair pools together the best contemporary artists of the Menasa region (Middle East, Northern Africa and South-East Asia) in Lebanon, the cultural capital of western Asia. Visitors can expect some eye-opening exhibitions such as Small Art is Beautiful – Dharma, in the Indian Pavilion, a close look at miniature works produced across India. In addition, the Lebanon Water Festival will be taking place along the coast, jam-packed with music, surfing, food and waves.

3. Art Moscow
(September 19 to 21, Central house of Artists)

As one of the oldest contemporary art fairs in the world, Art Moscow celebrates its 17th year of pushing the boundaries of commercial art.

This year the controversial fair has declined to host most of its regular galleries in favour of newer galleries that have been in existence for less than three years. It is held in the exquisite Soviet masterpiece that is the Central House of Artists, along the banks of River Moskva in Moscow.

4. Frieze London
(October 15 to 18, Regents Park, London)

Of the European art fairs, it is Frieze that really gets everyone talking. As a by-product of one of the world’s leading art publications by the same name, its natural editing of curatorially challenging work sets the bar high for the fairs that follow.

This year, don’t miss the free Sculpture Park in the beautiful gardens of Regent’s Park, curated in partnership with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – arguably the world’s leading sculpture park.

Gallery workers sit next to Teoria by Eduardo Basualdo at the Frame Gallery’s stand at the Frieze Art Fair in 2013. 

5. 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair
(October 16 to 19, Somerset House, London)

Last year might be remembered as the year that African artists took over the world, and in 2014 it seems that the global interest in the continent isn’t going anywhere.

For its second year, this highly anticipated event is taking place at the historic Somerset House. It includes artists from every corner of the continent.

South African artists whose works you can look forward to seeing are Moshekwa Langa, Dan Halter and Cape Town-based performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga.

6. Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain 
(October 23 to 26, Grand Palais, Paris)

Held beneath the soaring glass roof of the Grand Palais in Paris, this fair’s particular focus on art video and sculpture in the famed Tuileries Gardens has set it apart from other fairs around the world.

This year the fair coincides with the opening of Louis Vuitton’s highly anticipated Foundation for Creation, the €100-million Frank Gehry designed structure that will be open to the public for free during its opening week. It features a retrospective exhibition of Gehry’s designs and the unveiling of billionaire Bernaud Arnault’s extensive art collection.

7. Art Abu Dhabi
(November 5 to 8, Saadiyat Cultural District)

The United Arab Emirates is quickly emerging as one of the world’s most exciting art arenas. Art Abu Dhabi takes place at the Saadiyat Cultural District, the UAE’s new cultural district, home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi designed by Jean Nouvel, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi by Frank Gehry and the Zayed Performing Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid.

Already boasting some of the world’s newest iconic architecture, the town will come alive with an art event unmatched in the West. Highlights include monumental pavilions and crazy art buses appearing all over the space-age city of Abu Dhabi.

8. Artissima
(November 6 to 9, Turin, Italy)

The most experimental of the art fairs comes alive in the beautiful town of Turin in Northern Italy. The enormous space of the Oval, the main pavilion during the Turin Olympic games of 2006, will host the fair’s trademark performance art festival that draws some 50?000 visitors from around the globe. The fair will leave you begging for more and terribly sad to leave the wonder that is Turin.

9. Venice biennale
(June 7 to November 23, Venice)

Born in 1895, the biennale that began all biennales celebrates its 120th anniversary next year.

The romantic city of Venice is completely transformed every second year when countries from around the world descend to erect their own architecturally ambitious pavilions amongst the crumbling architecture of the city.

This year, don’t miss the South African Pavilion (one of two African countries participating) that features work by Mary Sibande, Lyndi Sales and an interesting model of Johannesburg’s inner city regeneration by Enrico Daffonchio.

10. Art Basel
(December 4 to 7, Miami Beach)

The event that really started the explosive art fair phenomenon is set to take Miami by storm again this year. While the art gets bigger and shinier every year, no one really goes for the art anymore. It has become the perfect event for Hollywood’s celebs to do some glitzy Christmas shopping.

A visitor walks past prints by Josephine Meckseper during the Art Basel fair in Basel in 2014

Last year’s fair saw appearances by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, Sean Combs (who reportedly bought a work by young South African artist Haroon Gunn-Salie), Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and models Gisele Bündchen and Elle Macpherson.

Sipping cocktails along the Miami beachfront, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole art thing going on behind you. Should your interests return, head to Scope Art Fair further down the drag for a more low-key event – with much cheaper champagne.

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