Art Cologne, for example, the world's longest-established fair for modern and contemporary art, was so fed up with its spring art fair playing second fiddle to Maastricht's that, a couple of years ago, it audaciously pushed it forward a month from April to March, so that it would take place just before Maastricht. Gerard Goodrow, the vice president of the Cologne fairs company said, in the art magazine Apollo: 'I am not in competition with Maastricht, but I want to make it nervous.' And this after Maastricht originally threw down the gauntlet by moving its own fair from May, to March, leapfrogging over Cologne back in the 1970s when it was a mere tadpole of an event.
Maastricht, Cologne, Basel, London, Miami, and now even Dubai — where the first Gulf Art Fair kicks off on 10 March — are all eager to gain from the glamour and sheer commerce offered by the art world in sell mode. If you are lucky enough to house your art fair within a city that is also glamorous and commercial, the graph of your success could be exponential.
Craig Robins, a Miami-based property developer, collector and one of the big names behind the revitalisation of the city, has said that the arrival of Art Basel on Miami Beach five years ago has been a fortuitous twinning. "What you have got here is one of the best and most serious art fairs in the world occurring in one of the places that is also the most fun. It's the combination of a deep cultural substance with a really vibrant city."
Art Basel Miami Beach, as it is officially known, is now well established as arguably the most exuberant event on the art calendar. But even those whose art fairs have yet to happen are hopping up and down with anticipation. John Martin, director of the Gulf Art Fair, says: 'In bringing together some of the most exciting new art in one of the world's most dynamic countries, we hope the Gulf Art Fair will make a significant contribution to the cultural life of the UAE.'
The Dubai fair will be a showcase for the region as much as it will for the art itself; pieces will be exhibited in the desert close to Bab Al Shams, or on the beach close to the Palm Jumeirah. Significantly, Dubai's department of tourism has helped fund it, although frankly, if Dubai can do indoor ski-runs and build archipelagos shaped like the world, then putting on a decent art fair is probably child's play.
But which one is the best? You can take your pick. London has the very upmarket Frieze, which takes place in a purpose-built, wooden-floored tent in Regent's Park every autumn. With £100 million worth of art on show, this fair has a large fan base — more that 63,000 people turned up last year — perhaps they thought it might be a laugh to have their portrait painted by the outrageous Chapman Brothers, who set up an on-the-spot stall there (at a price of £3,500 per 30-minute sitting, not that many punters took them up on the offer).
Visitors should also remember that, while visiting Frieze, they can have an opportunity to mop up all the other art history on offer in the capital, which contains some of the world's greatest collections; when Frieze is on, all the public galleries raise their game rather a lot. Oh, and dine on Mark Hix's cooking — you could walk into his temporary tented restaurant here, whereas a table at his hot-ticket London restaurant Le Caprice can be harder to secure.