In London, a fair without dealers where artists pocket the whole profit

The Artists’ Fair, which holds its second edition at Somerset House this Saturday (1 June), is unlike most fairs. Artists, rather than dealers, will be manning the stands and pocketing the full sale proceeds.

Marie McPartlin, The Artists’ Fair’s organiser, is the director of Somerset House Studios, home to around 70 resident artists—many of whom will be showing at the fair. She is keen to emphasise that its purpose stretches beyond sales, describing it as an opportunity “to celebrate community and the support networks that exist between artists, peers and allies”.

The idea of an art fair without galleries might bring to mind unselective, saturated second-tier fairs, or Sunday painters participating in local art trails. This is not the case here, where many of the exhibiting artists have impressive CVs. Take Philomene Pirecki and Paul Purgas, who approached McPartlin together with the idea for the fair in 2022. Between them, they have performed and exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary, South London Gallery, Alison Jacques and Berlin’s famously exclusive nightclub Berghain, among other venues.

Though The Artists’ Fair is comparatively small in scale—and notwithstanding McPartlin’s opinion that sales are not its sole focus—a credible place for artists to sell their work independently is not a common proposition. The standard gallery commission is 50%, with many dealers leaving artists to shoulder their production costs, from paint to studio rent, in the lead up to an exhibition.

Purgas is all for circumventing this dynamic. “Obviously, nothing can compete with the idea of direct sales,” he says. Pirecki agrees, albeit in a more qualified manner: “If any situation isn’t fairly rewarding you for the risks and expenses that you have to shoulder for a particular project or body of work, there should be scope for an open conversation about it.”

Pirecki, who often works in tough-to-sell mediums like sound and performance, will debut her new editions label Gates of Vanitas at the fair. For the last two years she has been attending a silversmithing class, and will be selling sterling silver jewellery pieces on Saturday. Purgas says that his stand will contain “ephemera, editions, recorded music and items that co-exist with my exhibition, research and performance work”.

A future without art dealers is not on the cards any time soon; McPartlin notes that it “feels impossible to imagine a world where commercial galleries don’t exist.” But while the impact of The Artists’ Fair might still be small, the establishment of new and potentially more financially viable routes to market for artists are welcomed by its participants. Pirecki laments the many artists who she has seen abandon the vocation, “not because they lacked the desire, imagination and commitment but because the finances simply didn’t add up”.

The fair will also host a programme of talks about the realities of making a living as an artist, including ‘Side Hustling for a Sustainable Practice’.

• The Artists’ Fair, Somerset House, London, 1 June