There's no more formidable force than when rivals unite for a common cause. Auckland's art-gallery scene can be notoriously disparate, a polite way of saying "can-be-bitchy", but some unity was established when the Contemporary Fine Arts Dealers Association was set up in 2003.

CFADA's main aims were to raise the standard of professionalism in galleries, and to introduce a code of practice to protect artists and art buyers alike. The other big goal was to initiate an art fair to promote New Zealand art at home and internationally.

Those elements finally come together this week with the first biennial Auckland Art Fair, actually New Zealand's first art fair, where the Artists' Alliance will also launch its Code of Practice for Dealers and Artists in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The merits of a fair, says CFADA president Deborah White, of Auckland's Whitespace Gallery, have been debated in the industry for some years. A dealer fair is commonplace in many cities worldwide, and Melbourne's art fair has grown over the past 15 years, attracting an international audience.

Art Sydney 05 ran last weekend - and now it's New Zealand's turn.

"Internationally, I've seen the interest in New Zealand art is huge," says White, "but we have never had an event to showcase it."

"It has to be led by the industry that supports it," adds Jennifer Buckley, who runs Oedipus Rex Gallery and is the fair's co-organiser, along with White.

"But the secondary aim is to counter the plague of peripheral events that purport to market New Zealand art but without the supporting structure of galleries and artists and the relationships between them. Without that, you are farming stuff off into the air with no support behind it."

Both say they have become increasingly concerned by the ruthlessness - or in some cases naivety - which sees so-called dealers retail inferior or copycat art to unwitting punters at prices plucked out of the air. The code of practice should provide better protection and some comeback.

"People can spend $3000 on an artist whose work isn't worth the material it's painted on, and there's no CV, no certificate of authenticity, no guarantees the work is original," says White.

"We find in a number of provincial centres where people are setting up galleries, they can have no idea what to charge for commission or the business of running a gallery, let alone documentation for the artist. So this booklet is a guideline for what you should provide for the artist."

The fair will be opened on Thursday night in a swish ticket-only Vernissage gala MC'd by Carol Hirschfeld, with speakers Associate Arts and Culture Minister Judith Tizard, and former All Black and art enthusiast Anton Oliver. Proceeds from the evening will go to Cure Kids.

And the code of practice will be launched at a corporate function on Friday night by Artists Alliance executive director Maggie Gresson, supported by the Herald's art critic T.J. McNamara.

Seventeen galleries are participating in the 6000 sq m fair. Most are from Auckland with three from Wellington, Hobart and Sydney (the prestigious Martin Browne Fine Art).

About 200 works by top-notch artists will be on display on $50,000 worth of specially created white walls - as opposed to the ugly carpet-wall stands used at some public art displays. All of the works are for sale.

As interesting as it is to note the calibre of the participating galleries, it's almost as intriguing to calculate the omissions.

"It would be fair to say we are a little disappointed that some of our peers haven't participated," says White.

"Some led us to believe they would, then said they'd wait and see ...

"But some that have not come on board - they are not people who band together over anything," adds Buckley.

"Deborah and I did not know each other very well at all before this - we were in competition with each other in terms of our galleries. But it's getting a handle on the big picture that counts."

* Auckland Art Fair Seminar Series at Auckland Museum:

Thu - Maori Art, with Gina Matchitt, Robert Jahnke, Natalie Robertson, convened by Paul Tapsell;
Fri - Pacific Art, with Graham Fletcher, Niki Hastings-McFall, Shigeyuki Kihara, convened by Jim Vivieaere;
Sat - contemporary jewellery, with Areta Wilkinson, Jason Hall, Alan Preston, Pauline Bern, convened by Philip Clarke.

Art events

*What: Auckland Art Fair
*Where and when: Britomart Events Pavilion, cnr Gore/Tyler Sts, one block behind Britomart Station; Sep 2-4 10am-6pm (to 4pm Sunday)
*What: Auckland Art Fair Seminar Series
*Where and when: Apec Room, Auckland Museum, Thu-Sat 3pm-5pm