How a Dealer Prepares for the ‘Most Important’ Art Fair of the Year

Who knew you could parse Benjamin Moore Classic Gray by percentages?

That’s what Dominique Lévy was doing with her team recently while readying their gallery’s booth for the Art Basel art fair in Switzerland, which starts next week — determining how deep the shade of a wall should be behind a Gerhard Richter landscape (50 percent? 75? 100?).

It’s hard to imagine paint color making much of an impression on the moneyed collectors who will be breezing through the exhibition hall near the Rhine.

But for Ms. Lévy, even the most minute detail matters. That is because she is one of the many leading figures in the art world who consider Art Basel the most important art fair — the one they work on the hardest because it attracts the most international, serious clients.

Art fairs, having proliferated around the world, are a potent force in the art market, a kind of one-stop shopping that allows collectors access to major galleries from numerous countries without having to visit the galleries themselves.

As a result, fairs account for about 40 percent of gallery sales by value, according to the Tefaf Art Market Report, making the limited number of spots at top fairs especially coveted: More than 800 galleries competed for about 300 booths in Basel this year.

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