The ins and outs of the art world event.

Every year, art fairs with prestigious-sounding names like Art Basel, The Armory Show and Frieze garner widespread media coverage. But what (exactly) is an art fair?

I've heard of art fairs and they seem really important. But what's the actual purpose of an art fair?

Basically, art fairs are conventions where galleries gather to highlight the work of their artists (think of them as a trade show for the art world, like Comic-Con is for certain publishing houses and film studios). With so many galleries represented in one location, art fairs also make it convenient for collectors looking to see many different works, often from around the world, in one place.

Do all art fairs include the same kind of artwork?

Not necessarily. Some art fairs specialize in artwork from a specific time period or artworks made from a particular medium. For example, there are art fairs that only show works made on paper.

How does a fair decide which galleries or artists will be a part of its event?

Galleries typically submit an application to partake in an art fair with the artists they hope to showcase. Whoever organizes that particular art fair usually works with a curator or panel of art world professionals to decide which galleries are eventually approved.

Other than the convenience of seeing the work from many galleries in one place, are there any particular advantages of seeing art at art fairs?

It's a great opportunity to see which artists galleries choose to highlight. There's usually a large investment from a gallery to show at an art fair, so galleries aim to show the very best, most relevant work they have to attract collectors.

Can people actually buy art at art fairs? Or are they mostly for promoting and viewing art?

Both. Attendees can definitely buy art presented at the fair though works are sometimes sold out before the fair even begins. Ultimately, the process of buying art from an art fair is just an extension of purchasing art from galleries, only in a different setting, and comes with the same procedures and potential hurdles.

Are art fairs only for people who work in art? Can anyone go?

It might not be common knowledge, but art fairs are generally open to the public, provided attendees have a ticket. In recent years, it seems even more people have started to attend who aren't buying simply to see the latest and greatest in contemporary art.