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Art Fair pricing patterns: South African Art Market

Do people pay more for art at art fairs? Gallerists don’t put up the price of art for fairs they make calculated selections. As such the answer depends on which art fair, the status of the artist and the gallery that sells their art. Generally, there is a wider selection of works of different sizes and prices on the exhibition circuit. These were some of the findings in The South African Art Market: Pricing & Patterns.

An analysis of art fair pricing was not the focus of this report, though we did capture and analyse price lists pertaining to 194 artists who were exhibiting art at fairs in South Africa. In conversation with gallerists, it became clear that they were using buyer interest and prices fetched at art fairs as markers that would then determine the pricing for a particular artist.

This reality, coupled with the fact that galleries are selling and trading frequently at fairs. meant we also needed to register prices for artists on these fleeting platforms. This meant collecting data from price lists from galleries based in other African countries, or Europe. could be used to compare prices in South Africa's primary art market and exhibition circuit.

Consulting art fair records and comparing them to those on the exhibition circuit, felt pertinent too with regards to those categories of artists that appeared less frequently in the limited timeframe of our exhibition study, such as 'young established' and 'young celebrated'. This is NOT a comprehensive study of art fair prices; this will be undertaken in more depth in our next report.

Selling art at fairs is a fundamental activity to the primary market. However, as we anticipated, the patterns are different due to their nature as temporary events with a short lifespan, where galleries trade cheek by jowl and behave in a more competitive manner. Our dataset consisted of prices pertaining to the works of 194 artists. We looked at prices from 21 galleries (12 South African and 9 from other countries in Africa and Europe).

Our findings were interesting and unexpected. A closer analysis of art prices at last year’s Cape Town art fair and this year which we are currently busy with will shed more light on how this particular trading setting operates.



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