How the Auckland Art Fair grew to put over $5m a year into the art economy

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Stephanie Post and Hayley White, co-directors of the Auckland Art Fair.

In the Cloud on Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf around May the pre-eminent contemporary art event in New Zealand, the Auckland Art Fair takes place. It brings together many of the top galleries and artists in New Zealand and around the Pacific, and welcomes 10,000-odd art lovers to see and buy more than $5 million of contemporary art. It’s not just about sales, of course – reputations are made and there is a focus on fostering new talent through the sensitively and intelligently curated Projects exhibitions, which are not necessarily as commercial as the gallery stands.

Many great cities have art fairs, and Auckland’s version is a standout on the local calendar that under the leadership of today’s guests has grown year on year to go year on year from its biennial beginnings. To talk working at the intersection of art and commerce, and what it takes to bring together so many artists and galleries in one place, co-directors Stephanie Post and Hayley White joined the pod.

Either download this episode (right click and save), have a listen below or via Spotify, subscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

What are some of the nuances in running an art fair here? This one came from a much more local audience compared to international fairs that were more about the international collectors market.

Stephanie Post: I think in the piece of consultancy research that I did, what I saw was a very similar situation to what had been happening in London 10-15 years prior. This is the reason: New Zealand artists are extraordinarily good. If you look at what young New Zealand artists are doing on the world stage – people like Simon Denny, Luke Willis Thompson, Zac Landgon-Pole, Kate Newby – they are all ace-ing it around the world.

Then you then start to look at the younger generation in their mid 20s, they’re about to take off and do the exact same thing all over again. So you’ve got this base where you’ve got fantastic artists, very good galleries and engaged New Zealand collectors, and you’re sitting a long way from London, New York or Berlin. It’s a really big opportunity here.

Tell me about the way the Auckland Art Fair can help make people’s names.

Hayley White: A lot of the booths sold out last year which was good, but exposure to new audiences and curators who come to visit the fair is very important to build an artist’s career.

SP: It’s easy for us to see the project, but the same will happen in a gallery situation – that move from being collected by individuals to being bought by a public gallery or museum is very important. If you just look at the projects, there are so many good stories. Nobody had heard of Christina Pataialii, except the curators, and she did that massive big wall painting at the front of the fair in three days. She has subsequently had an incredible show at Te Tuhi. The stories like that are just great.

Working here at the intersection between art and commerce, how is it on the financial side of the art world? Is it challenging?

HW: It’s made possible thanks to our enlightened partners – ANZ Private, Lexus, Samsung – all these people.

SP: There’s not a lot of money to be made in the art world, it’s true. The other thing Hayley and I are grateful for is that the Auckland Art Fair is something that has to be amazing. To make a really good product isn’t always cheap. It’s not about short term profits: we are tasked to do the best art fair we possibly can. In the long term, that will put us on the map. It’s not something that will happen overnight we are certainly moving in the right direction.

As Hayley said, our partners are incredibly important within that, it’s important that the galleries sell work – they need to believe the money they invested in the art fair is returned to them, hopefully with more. There’s lots of different sides to it.

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HW: It is a commercial event, but it’s also a good one.

SP: It’s about culture and commerce together, you know cultural tourism is the fastest growing tourism in the world at the moment. There’s opportunities for those to go together.

So as a final thought: the Art Fair happens May 1 to May 4 down on the Auckland waterfront, and if you are listening somewhere far away you could maybe be part of that cultural tourism.

SP: Absolutely, please do.


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