Art Fairs All Around

Courtesy of Galerie Sho Contemporary Art Image credit ©The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Four international events not to miss.

Though Art Basel may be the most famous art fair, the jet-setting aesthete’s answer to the G-20 summit, the June event is far from the only art-world tentpole. Indeed, there’s a growing circuit of international bashes attended by the arterati throughout the year, from FIAC in Paris to America’s PULSE and TEFAF Maastricht in the Netherlands. Four events, though, are the must-see stops on that global merry-go-round. For neophytes, a quick cheat sheet on that standout quartet.

Venice Biennale

June–November, labiennale.org

Year Founded: 1895

In a Nutshell: Eighty-eight countries each fields a contemporary artist to stage a career-defining solo show in a dedicated pavilion. Power collectors are able to bypass the rules against buying at this artfest.

Conversation Starter: Discuss the Mexico Pavilion of 2009, where artist Teresa Margolles’s installation centered on blood collected from drug-cartel murder sites. She also gave out “Cards for Cutting Cocaine” with a gory image of a charred drug-trade victim on the front.

Don’t Say: “I loved the paintings here last year.” The Biennale alternates with an architecture event on odd-even years.

Unofficial Clubhouse: Head for the bar at the Bauer Hotel after dinner. Rooms, from $400; S. Marco 1459; 39-041/520-7022; bauervenezia.com.

Downton Abbey Character: Part Lady Mary, part Martha Levinson, all superannuated glamour.

Frieze London

October, friezelondon.com

Year Founded: 2003

In a Nutshell: An offshoot of the namesake art magazine, this is undeniably the fair with the greatest momentum right now. Last year it spun off a New York satellite on Randall’s Island, which returns May 10 to 13.

Conversation Starter: Reminisce over Simon Fujiwara’s Frozen, from 2010. This stunt was typical of the fair’s prankish swagger: It depicted ancient ruins “found” under the tent in the park and excavated by the artist. As social commentary, the dig included hoax sites such as the tomb of the dead artist.

Don’t Say: “Isn’t it great how they keep the hoi polloi at bay?” Frieze is the most populist fair, hosting a free outdoor sculpture park nearby.

Unofficial Clubhouse: One of the many on-site restaurants. Undeniably, this is the art shindig with the best food. In 2012, it featured restaurants by Mark Hix and Locanda Locatelli.

Downton Abbey Character: Matthew Crawley, the dashing arriviste.

Art Basel Miami Beach

December, artbasel.com

Year Founded: 2002

In a Nutshell: Basel Miami is the art world’s answer to Us Weekly. Gawp-worthy A-list celebrities prowl the fair, with recent attendees including Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Will Ferrell.

Conversation Starter: Carp about the 2011 party for Art.sy, hosted by Wendi Murdoch and Dasha Zhukova. It’s become legendary for its equal parts cachet and crushing crowds.

Don’t Say: “Aren’t all the parties a bit distracting from the real reason we’re here?” Connoisseurs know they are the reason to come here.

Unofficial Clubhouse: After cocktails and dinner, festivities continue at the Raleigh Hotel pool bar. Rooms, from $340; 1775 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 305-534-6300; raleighhotel.com.

Downton Abbey Character: Cousin Rose, the posh party girl.

Armory Show New York

March, thearmoryshow.com

Year Founded: Taking its name from a legendary 1913 show, the current iteration dates back to 1994, when it started in a few hotel rooms.

In a Nutshell: Held on the piers along Manhattan’s West Side, the Armory Show is unusual in that its focus ranges beyond contemporary art: One entire pier is dedicated to a secondary market of modern art.

Conversation Starter: Bring up the free-for-all in 2013, when Charles Lutz created a vast stack of Warhol-referencing, oversized Brillo boxes that visitors could take gratis. Hundreds then trudged through the fair hauling the unwieldy souvenirs.

Don’t Say: “So when do the soldiers arrive?” The sobriquet is a nod to its namesake fair’s first location, inside the 69th Regiment Armory.

Unofficial Clubhouse: As it’s the least social of the fairs, the best place to bump into long-lost pals is the on-site VIP room.

Downton Abbey Character: Lady Edith, smart and a little earnest.