Whether you are accustomed to building your social calendar around must-see art fairs or are still confused why an event named after the Swiss city of Basel sets Miami alight each year, the past year saw a seismic shift for the art world’s aficionados and casual observers alike. With the rise of the online art fair, suddenly everyone had an opportunity to see some of the world’s most exciting art without leaving the couch.
Although the jury may still be out on these digital undertakings’ return on investment, these virtual art fairs are still a revolutionary way of allowing collectors to browse global galleries at will. They also give art novices a chance to sharpen their eyes without having to shell out for airfare.
While a recent report revealed that 2020 witnessed a global downturn in art sales overall, online sales surged, making up a quarter of the market’s value. Although a number of fairs are holding onto tentative summer and fall dates in the hopes that in-person events will be feasible, there are some who are continuing to forge ahead with digital programming in lieu of or in addition to their usual offerings.
Here are five upcoming online (and in-person) global art fairs.
Art Basel’s ‘OVR: Pioneers’ (Wednesday-Saturday)
After canceling its Hong Kong, Basel and Miami shows last year, Art Basel’s 2021 calendar remains in flux. In the meantime, the globally renowned fair has been honing its ability to adapt to digital programming while digging deep on themes, eras and locations. In a fitting tribute to the brave new world that gallerists, collectors and artists are adapting to, Art Basel’s sixth edition of the online-viewing room, “OVR: Pioneers,” will focus on “artists who have broken new ground in terms of their aesthetics, conceptual approach, sociopolitical themes and use of mediums” and feature 100 galleries for enthusiasts to virtually wander. artbasel.com/ovr
Expo Chicago Online (April 8-12)
Chicago’s International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art rose from the ashes of Art Chicago, a 1980s challenger to Art Basel’s global dominance that fell on hard times in subsequent decades. While the storied fair considers a potential summer reopening, for now it has directed its pioneering spirit online. In addition to the robust lineup of viewing rooms, the expo is building a roster of additional programming — screenings, performances and more. For residents or those who can travel to the Windy City for the fair, there are dining and lodging deals available for those visiting local galleries. expochicago.com
Affordable Art Fair (April 9-May 3)
A fair for the rest of us, the appeal of the Affordable Art Fair is baked into its name. Driven by a mission to “make contemporary art accessible to everyone,” the fair’s online iteration cracks open its access even further. Will Ramsay, founder and CEO of the fair, realized in November that the time was right to bring it into a virtual space for the first time, thanks to a renewed collective enthusiasm for refreshing our interiors. And with pieces starting at about $70, it’ll be more than possible to make your dream gallery wall come to life. affordableartfair.com/online-fair-spring
Art Brussels (April 14-28)
Since 1968, Art Brussels has focused on the new and the now, as well as on the overlooked. Visitors have come to expect freshness from the fair: Recent years have seen work from emerging artists mingle with 20th-century pieces from artists who aren’t as well known as, say, O’Keeffe or Basquiat, but perhaps should be. This year, Art Brussels will welcome visitors online and in person — local galleries, museums and ateliers will open to the public. artbrussels.com/en/art-brussels-week
Frieze Viewing Room (May 5-14)
Frieze New York is planning to soldier on with the 2021 edition of the fair, although its venue — The Shed at Hudson Yards — is a marked departure from past years, which took place on Randall’s Island and featured hundreds of galleries. This year’s list of exhibitors has been narrowed to a few dozen, but the emphasis remains on must-see programming and emerging talent. The work can be seen through the virtual viewing room, which will host the entirety of Frieze New York for anyone who can’t make it out to Manhattan. frieze.com/fairs/frieze-viewing-room