New Zealand’s only major art fair, the Auckland Art Fair, came into being about a dozen years ago as a biennial event organised by a charitable trust. The fair received a major reorientation in 2016 with new sponsorship, a fresh management team of Co-directors Stephanie Post and Hayley White, and a new specific focus on the art of the Pacific Rim. In 2018 it became annual, attracting around 10,000 visitors and with a turnover of about NZ$7 million in sales.
The 2019 reiteration, held in the first week of May, drew 41 commercial galleries – almost 30 from various parts of New Zealand, with the rest from Hobart, Jakarta, Melbourne, Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Santiago, Shanghai and Sydney. Its location in the scenic Cloud building, at Queens Wharf on the Auckland waterfront near the city centre, made it both a very accessible venue, but also one that imposed its own space constraints. The management team is happy to retain the venue into the future, so the Auckland Art Fair will remain a relatively ‘boutique’ event compared even with Sydney Contemporary (which this September will boast some 90 participating galleries), not to mention Art Basel, Expo Chicago, FIAC in Paris or the various Frieze fairs, all of which require a motorised scooter to travel their full length.
With art fairs size does matter, and a small and tightly focused format permits the organisers to be discerning in the galleries they accept. The mounting prestige of the Auckland fair has enabled the curatorial selection committee, consisting of two curators from public galleries plus two from commercial spaces, to vet the competing entries for admission. In 2019 there was also a modest budget for a series of ten non-commercial projects introducing cameo displays largely by emerging artists frequently lacking gallery representation. The fair also subsidised related art events. In 2019 the highlight was ‘China Import Direct’, a curated cross-section of digital and video art from across China, helping make this iteration a gem of a fair.
Sasha Grishin, Auckland