Archive for Art Fairs


In DC: Artomatic is coming again!

If you are an artist or art lover reading this post, then chances are that you already know what Artomatic (or AOM) is and all about this amazing spectacle.

But just in case, a little review.

About once a year or so, under the guiding hand of a board of hardworking artists and volunteers, a large, unoccupied building in the Greater Washington, DC area is identified, and eventually filled with hundreds of artists’ works, loads of theatre and dance performances, panels, and everything associated with breathing a powerful breath of energy into the Greater DC art scene.

Let’s review: The idea behind AOM is simple: find a large, empty building somewhere in the city; work with the building owners, and then allow any artist who wants to show their work help with staging the show, pay a small fee and work a few hours assisting with the show itself.

Any artist.

Artists love AOM, but most DC area art critics hate it.


I think that in order to write a proper, ethical review of AOM, a writer must spend hours walking several floors of art, jam-packed into hundreds of rooms, bathrooms, closets and stairs. And I think that this is one of the main reasons that most art critics love to hate this show. It overwhelms them with visual offerings and forces them to develop a “glance and judge” attitude towards the artwork. It’s a lot easier to carpet bomb a huge show like this than to do a surgical strike to try to find the great art buried by the overwhelming majority that constitutes the great democratic pile of so so artwork and really bad artwork.

Add on top of that, an outdated, but “alive and kicking” elitist attitude towards an open show, where anyone and everyone who calls him or herself an artist can exhibit, sans the sanitizing and all-knowing eye of the latest trendy curator, and you have a perfect formula for elitist dismissing of this show, without really looking at it.

This harsh and elitist attitude towards art is not new or even modern. It was the same attitude that caused the emergence of the salons of the 19th century, where only artists that the academic intelligentsia deemed good enough were exhibited. As every art student who almost flunked art history knows, towards the latter half of that century, the artists who had been rejected from the salons (because they didn’t fit the formula of good art) organized their own Salon Des Refuses, sort of a 19th century Parisian Art-O-Matique.

And a lot, in fact, most of the work in the Salon Des Refuses was quite so so, but amongst the dreck were also pearls like Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur ‘Herbe (Luncheon in the Grass), Monet’s Impression: Sunrise, (and we all know what art “ism” that title gave birth to) and an odd and memorable looking portrait of a young lady in white (The White Girl, Symphony in White, No. 1) by an American upstart by the name of James McNeill Whistler.

Everyone who was anyone in the art world hated and dismissed this anti-salon exhibition; except for the only one that really counts: Art History.

But how does a writer cover an arts extravaganza of the size of AOM once the eyes and mind become numb after the 200th artist, or the 400th or the 1,000th?

As an art critic, I once started a review of a past AOM by complaining how much my feet hurt after my 5th or 6th visit to the show, in a futile attempt to gather as much visual information as possible in order to write a fair review of the artwork. Over the years I have discovered that it is impossible to see everything and to be fair about anyone; the sheer size and evolving nature of the show itself makes sure of the impossibility of this task. But AOM is not just about the artwork.

As a gallerist, I also have visited AOM looking for new talent amongst the vast numbers of artists who come together under one roof. Over the years, together with my fellow DC area gallerists, we have plucked many artists from the ranks and files of AOM. Artists who since their first appearance at past AOMs have now joined the collections of museums and Biennials and have been picked up by galleries nationwide. Names like Tim Tate, the Dumbacher Brothers, Kelly Towles, Michael Janis, Kathryn Cornelius, Richard Chartier and that amazing worldwide phenomenon and best-selling author Frank Warren of PostSecret fame. But AOM is not just about the emerging superstar artist.

As an artist, one year I decided to participate in AOM, just to see what the guts of the machine looked like. “I know the monster well,” wrote the poet Jose Marti, “for I have lived in its entrails.”

My volunteer hours patrolling the halls on a Wednesday night at midnight, and still seeing people come in and out, and explore art on the wee hours of the morning, also left a footprint on the public impact of the exhibition. Dealing with prima donna artists, recharging my own artistic batteries from hundreds of fellow artists, many of them in their first public exposure, also left an impression. But AOM is not just about the public.

AOM is two things to me:

It is perhaps the nation’s most powerful incarnation of what it means to be a creative community of hundreds of working creative hands all aligned to not only create artwork, but also put together a spectacular extravaganza that re-charges the regional art scene as no museum or gallery show can. AOM is a community of artists employing the most liberal of approaches to art that there exists: the artists are in charge, and the artists make it work, and the artists charge the city with energy and zeal. And these descendants of those brave souls who challenged the academic salons of the 19th century face the same negative eye from the traditional art critics and curators of our museums, who challenge not just the art, but the concept of an open, non-juried, most democratic of art shows: a community of artists in charge of energizing the community at large. All good group shows must be curated! shout these chained critical voices.

And AOM is certainly the easiest and most comprehensive way to discover contemporary art at its battlefront lines, right at the birth of many artists, paradoxically showcasing the area’s artworld’s deepest and also its newest roots. This is where both the savvy collector, and the beginning collector, and the aspiring curator, and the sharp-eyed gallerist can come to one place with a sense of discovery in mind. And the ones that I missed in the past, and who were discovered by others, are ample evidence of the subjectivity of a 1,000+ group art show.

Viva AOM!

This year’s AOM runs from May 29 through July 5, 2009, and it is located at the new building at 55 M Street, S.E. - essentially on top the Navy Yard Metro - celebrating its tenth anniversary in a newly built 275,000 square foot “LEED Silver Class A building”, whatever that means. It is all free and open to the public and all the details and dates and parties and performances and panels, as well as all the participating artists can be found at

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The Dynamics of Buying a Work of Art

After setting up hundreds of art shows in galleries over the years, and dealing with both novice and experienced collectors, I am sometimes still amused by the dynamics that go into the decision to buy (or more often than not pass) a piece of art.

And I have detected a pattern most easily seen at an art fair.

Put together a few thousand people, paying an entry fee to enter the fair, an assortment of dealers, and a huge diverse variety of offerings and it’s an education in people watching.

The married couple:
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah, I like it- it’s just what we’ve been looking for.”
“Where would we put it?”
“We have a couple of spots that it’d fit.”
“Do you really like it.”
“Yeah, how about you?”
“Yeah, I kinda of like it.”
“Should we get it?”
“If you want it.”

(five minutes later)
“Let’s think about it.”
[To me] “Do you have a business card?”

The couple (not married):
Her: “Do you like it?”
Him: “Sssoright”
Her: “Where would we put it?”
Him: “Dunno.”
Her: “Do you really like it.”
Him: “So’OK.. Yeah, how about you?”
Her: “Yeah, I kinda, sorta, really like it.”
Him: “Dunno though”
Her: “What? You don’t like it?”
Him: “If you want it.”
(five minutes later)
Him: “Let’s think about it.”
Her or Him: “OK” [To me] “Do you have a business card?”

The Single Woman (SW) with a Woman Friend:
SW: “WOW! Now, I really like this!”
Friend: “Yeah… it’s nice”
SW: “It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!”
Friend: “I have a friend who does work just like this…”
SW: “I am really drawn to it!”
Friend: “Are you really sure you like it?”
SW: “Uh - yeah!… why? Don’t you like it?”
Friend: “Yeah… it’s OK”
SW: “I think it’s really good… I think it’s the first piece in this whole show that I really like.”
Friend: “There’s a few more booths we haven’t seen.”
SW: “I think I’m going to buy this.”
Friend: “Are you sure?”
SW: “Uh - yeah!… It’s a good price too…. why? Don’t you like it?”
(five minutes later)
SW: “Do you have a business card?”

The Single Woman (SW) with a Man Friend:
SW: “WOW! Now, I really like this!”
Friend: “Yeah… Cool”
SW: “It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!”
Friend: “I think it’s a lithograph” [it's actually a charcoal]
SW: “I am really drawn to it!”
Friend: “Are you really sure you like it?”
SW: “Uh - yeah!… why? Don’t you like it?”
Friend: “I have something like it… I got it cheaper though…”
SW: “I think it’s really good… I think it’s the first piece in this whole show that I really like.”
Friend: “You like lithographs?”
SW: “I think I’m going to buy this.”
Friend: “Are you sure?”
SW: “Uh - yeah!… It’s a good price too…. why? Don’t you like it?”
(five minutes later)
SW: “Do you have a business card?”

The Single Focus Dream Buyer:
[Walks straight up to one piece, never looks at the rest of the work in your booth]
“I’ll take this”
[Me] “Thank you… it’s a very striking charcoal drawing - will be that be a check or charge?”
[Me] “I can send you more information on this artist…”
“That will be great - I love this work - it’s exactly what I’m interested in!”
[Me] “I have a few more pieces here, would you like to see them?”
“No, thanks…”

The “I’m glad you’re here guy (IGYHG)”:
IGYHG: “Hey! I’ve been looking for you!”
[Me]: “Hi, how are you?”
IGYHG: “… been walking this whole fair looking for you!”
[Me]: “Yeah… lots of dealers this year… glad you found us!”
IGYHG: “Howsa been goin’?”
[Me]: “Yes… quite good actually…”
IGYHG: “Well, let me look at what you’ve got!”
[three minutes later]
IGYHG: “Well… I’m glad you’re here… see ya next year!”

The “I Shudda Bought It Last Year Guy (Shudda)”:
Shudda: “Hey! You’re here again!”
[Me]: “Hi, how are you? Yeah… It’s our 7th year here…”
Shudda: “… been walking this whole fair looking for you!”
[Me]: “Yeah… lots of dealers this year… glad you found us!”
Shudda: “Howsa been goin’?”
[Me]: “Yes… quite good actually…”
Shudda: “Well, let me look at what you’ve got!”
[three minutes later]
Shudda: “Where’s that really good watercolor of the fill-in-the-blank?”
[Me]: “Uh… I sold it last year - but I have a few more pieces by that artist.”
Shudda: “Ah! - I really wanted that one! Do you have another one?”
[Me]: “Well, no… it was an original watercolor, and I sold it; but I have —”
Shudda: “I really wanted that piece; and it was a good price too…”
[Me]: “Maybe you’d like some of his new work…”
Shudda: “I shudda bought it last year”
[Walks away]
Shudda: “You gonna be here next year?”

The “Where’s That Piece Guy (WTP)”:
WTP: “Hey! You’re here again!”
[Me]: “Hi, how are you? Yeah… It’s our 7th year here…”
WTP: “… been walking this whole fair specifically looking for you!”
[Me]: “Yeah… lots of dealers this year… glad you found us!”
WTP: “Howsa been goin’?”
[Me]: “Yes… quite good actually…”
WTP: “OK… last year I saw this piece… it was a fill-in-the-bank and I should have bought it then! “
[Me]: “Yeah… that is a nice piece.”
WTP: “I’ve been thinking about it for a whole year”
[Looks around the booth and doesn't see it]
WTP: “Do you still have it?”
[From here there are two paths...]
Path One -
[Me]: “Uh… I sold it last year - but I have a few more pieces by that artist.”
WTP: “Ah! - I really wanted that one! Do you have another one?”
[Me]: “Well, no… it was an original watercolor, and I sold it; but I have —”
WTP: “I really wanted that piece; and it was a good price too…”
[Me]: “Maybe you’d like some of his new work…”
WTP: “I shudda bought it last year”
[Walks away]
WTP: “You gonna be here next year?”
Path Two
[Me]: “Let me get it for you… I have it in the back!”
WTP: “Great”
[I bring it out and give to WTP]
WTP: “Yeah this is it! It’s great!”
[Me]: “This artist has done really well this last year and —”
WTP: [Handing it back] “Excellent! I’m glad you still have it… until what time are you going to be here?”

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Plein Air Easton, Part III

Scroll down for part I and II or click here and here.

Day Three, Saturday, July 26

Started the day with another spectacular gourmet breakfast at our “Buckingham Palace of Inns,” and then headed out to the streets to observe the “Quick Draw” event.

Note to self: Next year bring art supplies and sign up for the “Quick Draw.” It looked to be a load of fun!

To recap: The Quick Draw is quite a novel event to bring the art of plein air painting directly to the art lover. In Easton more than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs, etc. had pre-registered and participated. These artists were then given two hours to complete their works within a three block area of the town.

During this short time, all registered Quick Draw participants set up their supplies and paint, draw, or sculpt “en plein air” in downtown Easton, while hundreds of people stroll around and look in and ask questions.

There were artists everywhere in this small Maryland jewel of a town! And they were not just painting the streets and beautiful houses and spaces around them! Painter Scott Powers, a young Chicago artist, was mesmerizing the crowd by delivering a portrait of a gentleman reading a paper in the shade of an Easton cafe. The crowd was hypnotized as Powers delivered a remarkable piece that not only captured the subject’s likeness, but also that key ingredient of great portraiture: the subject’s unique sense of individuality and self. How he managed to do that in two hours was a spectacular feat.

We walked around for the two hours (I got a mean sunburn) and admired both the multitude of artists of all kinds of artistic skill, and also the multitudes of people admiring them.

When the “finish” horn sounded at high noon, artists began filing down to Harrison Street, where they began to set up their easels to display (and sell) their just finished work. The paintings were then judged by Plein Air-Easton! Competition Judge Gay Faulkenberry and awards were presented at 1:30pm. By 2:00pm the exhibit and all of its paintings were gone from the streets of Easton.

Once again I witnessed a near feeding frenzy as paintings were bought almost as soon as they were up on their easels. I would say that within the first five minutes about 50% of all the works had been sold, with works ranging in price from $250 to $2,000. By 2pm nearly all pieces were gone and heading to the home of a new collector.
Quick Draw at Plein Air Easton

Larry Moore from Florida won the top prize at the competition and it was a well-deserved award - he was also my pick for the best piece in the show. I also quite liked Joe Meyer’s light-filled house (it also won an award), and Ken DeWaard’s piece.

My wife and I then went biking around Easton (biking with my wife, who used to be a world-class triathlete before she retired from competition a few years ago, is like playing chess with Bobby Fisher) and then back to the Inn to get ready for my talk at the museum at 7PM.

My talk had been advertised as a “new signature event that will embody Plein Air-Easton’s slogan ‘Art for Everyone.’ Campello, a respected artist and art critic with a flair for engaging his audiences with humor, will give a short history of art and discuss the knack of art collecting. This event will not be boring. Cocktails will be served and attendees can mingle and view the competition galleries. Seating is limited but Campello’s wit and wisdom can be heard throughout the Academy” and sort of like Richard Pryor once said, I thought to myself as I walked to the museum: “I better be funny.”

The room was packed, with maybe 150-200 people, and I had expected to talk for about an hour as I gave them a little background on art history and then discussed collecting art and other associated issues.

The audience was really good and I didn’t notice anyone falling asleep or leaving, and so when I glanced at my watch, and noticed that I had been talking for nearly two hours I was dumbfounded by both my ability to just talk and talk about art and by the audience’s resistance!

So I ended it (I could have talked another hour, but I took pity on them), and surprisingly quite a few people came over and started asking questions and I spent another 20 minutes or so answering them… so I think that it went OK.

My apologies for those who were late for other things because of my Castro-like performance.

Next: the last day at Easton, with Winners Paint-Out and Brunch at Rich Neck Manor.

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Plein Air Easton Part II

Scroll down for part I or click here.

Day Two, Friday, July 25

After an amazing breakfast at our even more amazing Inn, we walked around town and dropped in at the Pam Foss Gallery, where we admired some of her paper casts before walking over next door to check out the installation effort, started last year by artists Carol Minarick and Mary Ann Schindler — with the help of gallerist Vivian Knapp — to provide a contemporary “shadow” exhibition to the plein air festival.

This year they’re presenting an installation about the disappearances at sea of two men who have become mythical art figures.

Mounted at Viviann Napp’s small gallery cottage at the corner of South Street and Talbot Lane in Easton, the installation is a seascape from another perspective. Combining contemporary paintings and actual nautical elements, including a naval architect-designed 1939 lapstrake dinghy from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the work recalls the voyages of cult Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader and English inventor and would-be circumnavigator Donald Crowhurst.

See a 1970s video by Bas Jan Ader here.

It is an elegant and intelligent installation which is the first in what I hope are many new steps to expand the town’s intelligent approach to endorse the fine arts in general; Easton has a good thing going with the arts, kick-started by the hard working folks who put together the Plein Air Art Festival, and I hope that the city council continues to work hard to make this art event the seed for more and more fine arts in Easton.

We also visited and chatted with the owner artists of the Sharp-Mayer Gallery, where we admired the works of owner Joe Meyer. Across the street we walked to the South Street Art Gallery where we ran into the familiar works of the talented NancyTankersley and sort of our first exposure to figurative art in her current series on chefs and restaurant workers. We also quite liked the work of old favorites Sara Linda Poly and Bethanne Kinsella Cople, two extraordinary landscape painters.
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople

At 7 PM that night we attended the Collectors Preview Party at the Academy Art Museum, where each of the plein air artists had two pieces for sale, and where the 2008 juror, artist Lynn Gertenbach Gay Faulkenberry (who graciously stepped in at the last minute because Gertenbach could not attend) would later select the 2008 award winners.

Considering how I have been reporting the blues that seems to have hot the art market in 2008, let me tell you that this evening was almost like a feeding frenzy of art buying. Artists were able to replace work on the wall as it was sold, and I would estimate that around $100,000 worth of artwork was sold on this opening night, where collectors paid $150 in order to be there and have first choice at the available works.

This was quite a refreshing change of pace from what I have been seeing in various art fairs so far this year, and while it is clear that the plein air painting niche is very specific on its genre, it is nonetheless a good shock to see artwork fly off the walls.

It was also surprising for me to agree with about 75% of the award selections given out by the judge, although I did have a couple of major disagreements with a couple of her top choices. Nonetheless it is also unusual for me to agree to this extent with any juror, so in that particular vein we seemed to walk a parallel line.

My choice for the top prize?

Had I been the juror I would have given the top award to Bethanne Kinsella Cople’s beautiful landscape painting; her handling of light, application of paint, and experienced brushwork was the best that I saw that night. I also liked the works that I saw that night by Edward Cooper, Stuart White and Frankie Johnson.

Part III will have the “Quick Draw” - More than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs and the simply adventurous compete to paint, draw, sculpt and have fun in the sun. These artists have only two hours to complete their works within a three block area, then they are exhibited on easels, prizes are awarded and they’re up for sale!

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Plein Air Easton - Part I

Day One, July 24, 2008
Sometimes writers are challenged on how best to begin to describe an event, in this case Plein Air Easton, which at first seems just focused on the re-emerging art of painting outside of the studio, but when examined in depth has grown to become not only very good at that, but also - on a wider scale - very good for art, for artists, for collectors, and for a picturesque little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

I had never been to Easton, Maryland before our arrival on a Thursday, July 24, as I had been invited to be a guest speaker as part of the 2008 Plein Air Easton festival. We decided to arrive a couple of days early, to soak in the whole experience of a little town taken over by a bunch of artists painting out in its streets and countryside.

Our hosts had put us in at the Inn at 202 Dover, and I must admit that even for an experienced traveler such as I am, I was floored by the beauty, authenticity and elegance of this gorgeous 19th century historical house, recently refurbished and brought to spectacular modern glory by owners Shelby and Ron Mitchell.

The place is breath-taking and the love of the Mitchell’s for their inn is apparent in the care and expense that they took to restore it.

Restoration began in 2005, not only under the watchful eyes of the owners, but also of Historic Easton, the State of Maryland, the Easton’s Historic Commission, and the Department of Interior. Today the beautiful colonial revval building and gardens boasts four elegant suites and one luxury en suite bedroom, each themed and decorated accordingly. The Mitchells like the Victorian approach to decor, and invoking the Victorian era, the suites have an international flavor in keeping with the Victorian concept of what was exotic to them. Arrivals can expect to choose among France, Asia, England and Africa (Safari) suites or, the Victorian bedroom.

We were given the Asian suite, which was larger than most New York apartments — in fact I think it was larger than the Brooklyn apartment in which I was raised. In addition to a beautiful huge bamboo canopy bed and Asian furniture, I loved the antique puppets and the original Ukiyo-e woodblocks on the walls.
inn at 202 dover
And the steam shower, and the cool air jet tub with the golden dragon spitting high pressure water, the fireplace, and the high definition flat screen TV with satellite TV - located… ahem… in the sitting room within our room.

And free high speed internet access.

But enough about this gorgeous place; suffice it to say that if you visit Easton, and want it to be a super special visit, this is the only place in town that will be a memorable stay! It gets a hundred stars and a thousand thumbs up from my wife and I.

At 5:30PM on our first day we hung around for happy hour at the inn… and it didn’t disappoint, as Jorge Alvarez, the Inn’s Cuban-born chef popped in with some tasty food, which included what can be best described as my first exposure of the delicious results what happens when Southern cooking (let’s say fritters) meets Cuban food (let’s say WOW!).

Afterwards we walked over to a local Easton restaurant called … ah… Restaurant Local, where we had some good happy hour vittles (Shrimp Fajitas and Calamari) on their sidewalk tables, listening to a local dude play the guitar, and you won’t believe this: a $5 pitcher of beer in a fancy restaurant! It was great, although we did have to teach our young Russian waiter what “seltzer water” was.

We walked around town and saw several artists painting out on the streets, although it seems most of the 2008 artists were out in the gorgeous countryside. We also scoped out a couple of the town’s art galleries - more on that later, but overall the first afternoon and night was just an opportunity to walk around Easton, see a few galleries and a few artists here and there.

Tomorrow the judging begins!

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Art Santa Fe… and Art Basel Miami Beach

I know that I had promised to report from Santa Fe, where last week I was wearing both my gallerist and artist hats at the Art Santa Fe art fair. However, the best laid plans of mice and art dealers often go awry when you arrive at your pristine white booth and the crates full of artwork await your unpacking, review and hanging.

An art fair is a demanding event for an art dealer – there are the long hours on your feet, the science of hanging the work on the limited wall space, arguing with your partners as how and what to hang, and attempting to figure out what will best represent your gallery, dealing with the thousands of people, day after day, and hoping for the best return on the massive investment that participating in an art fair can be.

And in spite of nearly flawless delivery by the organizers of Art Santa Fe – and kudos to them and to all art fair organizers; it is a complex and demanding job and I am always in awe of the people who organize it well – the fair was not a commercial success for most of the participants that talked to me.

But the talk at the dealers’ break room and at the aisles was the same: low sales.

Like any art fair, I am sure that some dealers did very well; however, I spoke with many gallerists who were very disappointed by the low sales and the crowd composition.

“This is the worst Saturday that I’ve had in ten years of doing art fairs,” said to me a New York gallerist with a lot of fair experience.

The fair started with a vernissage on Thursday evening. “Don’t expect sales to night,” warned a local gallery which had done Art Santa Fe several times. “Tonight is a social gathering and chances of making a sale are less than 1%.” A video of the grand opening, courtesy of Vernissage TV can be seen below:

Unfortunately she was right, but for many spaces her prediction eventually applied to the entire four day event. As the last day approached several dealers confided in me that they had not made a sale yet. Sunday brought a few sales from that same sample group, but in low numbers. A British gallery only sold $900 worth of art in the entire fair, while an Asian gallery didn’t sell a single work the entire four days.

A New York gallery that had sold a $2500 painting on the opening night (and thus hit that 1%) went through the entire next three days without a sale other than selling a catalog. last year they had sold seven paintings on Sunday alone. But on this Sunday the gallery assistant went to the break group, grabbed a couple of apples, and when he got back to his space, tossed one to his boss. “Thanks,” he said acidly, “that’s a $20,000 apple.”

The low sales at Art Santa Fe appear to reflect anecdotal evidence that the art fair market has certainly put the brakes on. The fair organizers seemed to have done everything that was demanded of them to make the fair a success, although one local dealer commented that it was crazy to set the fair on the same weekend as the Fifth Annual International Folk Art Market,” the largest international folk art market in the world, an event which was taking place at the same time as Art Santa Fe. I’m not sure what, if any effect this had on the low sales experienced by most of the gallerists and dealers who confided in me, and in fact it seemed to me that if that other art event attracted (as I am told it does) collectors from all over the world, then perhaps some sort of complimentary ticket factor, where your ticket to the folk market gets you into Art Santa Fe, and viceversa, may have worked out wonders in adding some actual art buyers to both fairs’ visitors.

Other than the curious fact that the art storage was closed and not manned during the fair’s hours of operation (so that if one had the rare sale and wanted to replace the sold work, then you had to fill a work order sheet to get someone to open storage in order to get a new piece for your booth), the fair organizers operated the complex chess game of running an art fair pretty well and deserve well-earned kudos for organizing it.

One last thing, not just for Art Santa Fe organizers but for nearly all art fair organizers in the world: invest in a dozen community ladders that can be borrowed by the galleries as needed. It will make installation and deinstallation flow much smoother.

Thus overall, in my impression the art fair was a commercial failure underscored by lack of significant sales by the majority of participants – the galleries which did well (and I am sure some small number did ) will probably return next year, but I suspect that Art Sata Fe 2009 will see a lot of new faces in a year.

Money is not everything in the decision to participate in an art fair, but it is the most important factor. It is expensive to do an art fair, as booth costs are in the thousands and rapidly climb into the tens of thousands. Then there’s shipment costs, hotels, staff salaries, transportation and food. By the time that you add up all those costs, even the smallest booth often means investing more that $10,000, and if expand just a little, you can easily end up with a $20,000 apple… or $30,000 or…

But another key factor in fair participation is exposure, and in this aspect our presence there was a successful one.

In the crowds, although collectors seemed rare, artists were plentiful and tourists enjoyed the visual show, and we did manage to connect with two separate top notch collectors, and we hope that as we develop a relationship with them, that it will translate into some future sales.

And the networking facet of this connection has many ramifications. Collectors with connections are possibly as important as a good sale. In one case of a collecting couple, he is not only a major photography collector about to become a collector of contemporary Cuban art (on the advise of his art advisors), but also he is on the board of a major American museum. He is very interested in acquiring some important pieces by some of the Cuban artists who we represent and we have begun a cyberspace dialogue with images, prices and details. His wife is a major collector of glass, and also on the board of a major school. At Art Santa Fe we exposed her to the groundbreaking work of Tim Tate and this may be the beginning of a long relationship.

For a gallerist interested in promoting his artists to other markets and dealers, art fairs are also very good, and we were able to begin cementing a relationship with three separate galleries for one of our key artists, including his first gallery representation in the United Kingdom, as well as representation in Santa Fe and New York.

And thus, although we didn’t sell a single piece of his work, we will now be working with him to get his work represented and exposed to Europe, New York and Santa Fe.

There is a lesson in there somewhere as to why a good artist-gallery relationship often encompasses a lot more than sales. In this case the artist walks away with three new dealers, while the gallery walks away with a huge bill, but the good feeling of knowing that it helped the artist grow. As the artists grow, hopefully they will help the gallery grow.

Networking and information exchange are good for business and gossip, and Art Santa Fe yielded some gems!

Not only the overall feeling that American art fairs seem all to be doing fairly bad this year, and that the “brakes are on,” as far as the art fair market is concerned, but also that we may see an associated reduction in the number of fairs in 2009. We also heard some horror stories about some “hotel fairs.”

And yet the Miami December art fair weekend, which in December 2008 hosted 22 separate art fairs, and in spite of seeing some of those fairs not return in 2009, will nonetheless have some new fairs in the schedule and I’m told around 25 art fairs will take place in the land of exiles, sun, sand and mojitos.

One lovely Santa Fe evening we had dinner with some gallerists from Europe and the US, as well as a few other artsy folks - a fair organizer, a curator, an art magazine editor, and someone who has a business of constructing the booths at the fairs; all of them insiders into the fair scene and name-dropping, connected art nobility.

It was lively conversation as arguments erupted about the art centers of the world, and the discussion of LA as future emerging art center for the developing marriage of art and technology.

It was here that I dropped a bomb of a rumor that I have been hearing for months from people who do not want to be quoted.

“I’ve been hearing a rumor that Art Basel Miami Beach may be pulling out of Miami Beach and relocating to Los Angeles,” I said.

“Nonsense!” said a very, very connected curator from Miami. “ABMB and the city have a six year contract - ABMB is not going anywhere!”

“I’ve heard the same thing,” said a magazine publisher from Los Angeles.

“And,” added the art magazine publisher, “there’s only two years left on that contract anyway.” That info was backed by another person in the group, who also added that he thought that it was pretty much set that ABMB would be moving to LA after its contract with Miami Beach expires.

“It will never happen,” said the vigorous defender of the Greater Miami area. “Miami is a magnet for Europeans in the winter, and the crossroads for Latin America, Europe and North America… people and collectors, want to go to Miami in December.”

“That’s true,” replied her Californian tormentors, “but LA is the center point of the Latin American Pacific rim as well as Asia… and we have beaches as well.”

And thus you heard it here first… several plugged-in insiders seem to verify what I’ve been hearing about for months: that the heart of the Miami art fairs phenomenom - Art Basel Miami Beach - may be, and I repeat, may be, pulling out of Miami Beach once its six year contract ends and ABMB may be moving the American version of the European fair to Los Angeles.

The question then becomes: if ABMB does move to LA, will the other 25 satellite mini-art fairs follow ABMB to Los Angeles?

Miami is not an easy place for art fair visitors to get around, but it is still a hundred times better to get around Miami than to get around LA trying to visit a dozen separate art fairs – not to even try to visit all 25 of them – in one weekend.

ABLA may be able to re-create its ABMB success in Los Angeles, while at the same time shaking off many of the small satellite fairs that slowly but surely sprouted around it over the years. But it will – at least initially – be a lot less satellite fairs than ABMB and thus it may be a cool, calculated move by AB to reduce its competition for the stagnant collectors’ market by bringing them to a new pond with less competition.

It is no secret that part of the success of most major art fairs like AB, ABMB, ARCO and others is that on their nickel they fly in and put up a most of the top 200 or so art collectors in the world – much like Vegas does with big gamblers.

And because of this, these major collectors attract many other collectors and soon you have the core of the world’s collecting nobility at an event like ABMB. Some portion of those collectors will not only spend their Euros and dollars at ABMB, but also at the satellite fairs.

Bring them to LA, shake off a few satellite fairs in the process, and the over saturation of available art is reduced, and more money is spent at ABMB and the few brave satellites that will follow AB to LA.

I imagine that the LA city fathers and mothers are doing all they can to make the move to California irresistible for the AB people. Not only great incentives in potential location, city involvement, etc. but plausibly enough even in the creation of city ordinances and regulations which may make it impossible for a hotel fair to be organized.

In austere financial times the need for drastic action rises to the top, and so I think that this combination of factors may be the reason that the rumored ABMB move to LA may be true.

And if ABMB does become ABLA, what would that mean for the first weekend in December in Miami?

If ABLA takes place on that weekend, things look grim for Miami. I believe that there still will be room for a few art fairs – after all the foundation has been set – but we will see a handful of them, not 25 on that December weekend. But I suspect that most of those fairs would follow AB out West.

If ABLA takes place on some other timeframe, then perhaps the Miami December art fairs - a reduced number of them anyway – could possibly exist on their own, sans ABMB.

We will see. For now we have to check our bank account to see if we can afford to get a booth in Miami this coming December.

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Art Santa Fe - Day One

And so we flew in couple of days ago to beautiful New Mexico where I’m taking part in the Art Santa Fe art fair, and where we’ll be trying to find homes for lots of good artwork at the fair, which is being held this year from July 10-13, 2008 at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe and right across the street from Site Santa Fe.

After spending a day in Albuquerque, on Wednesday we checked into the fair and checked our booth spaces. The whole area around the fair site is a whirlwind of construction as new art sites, art buildings, etc. continue to populate this area of the city.

At the fair, it was a beehive of work as shiipers unloaded crate after crate of artwork and gallerists from 19 countries checked in. All of our crates were waiting for us at booth 52, and right away I realized that (as usual) I had shipped too much work. In fact, I probably shipped about twice as much work as I should have.

Somehow though, we hired Reed (an art installer) to help us open all the crates and begin hanging the work. Somehow everything was unpacked and then we had the crates removed.

Because the storage area at the fair site didn’t open until 5 PM (memo to fair organizers, the storage site should be open and manned at all times), it was an interesting chess game moving around all the extra work while isolating what work to hang for the opening tonight.

The press preview is today at 3:30PM, and then the grand private opening for collectors is an hour later. Keep checking in - there will be lots more later as I tell you how the opening gala went!

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Art Santa Fe

Early tomorrow morning I’m flying out to Art Santa Fe, where we will be participating as one of 59 galleries from 19 countries showcasing over 1,000 artists.

I hope to be able to report from the fair and give you an insider’s view on the business of art from inside the art fair.

The fair’s 2008 Keynote Speaker will be Dean Sobel, the Director of the new Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

If you’re in that gorgeous and amazing little sunny city full of art galleries (nearly 300 of them) known as Santa Fe between July 10-13, come by booth 52 and say hola!

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Storing and Moving Artwork and WWII Tunnels

“Humboldt Storage and Moving Co. in Canton has been transporting people’s most prized possessions for more than 100 years.

But when the company was asked to make a high-profile, cross-country delivery of a $135 million painting by Austrian artist Gustav Kilmt in 2006, Humboldt CEO Howard Goldman saw a prospective niche in storing, moving and managing fine art collections.”

So it begins an interesting article by A.J. Bauer from the GateHouse News Service.

Mind’s Eye, a division of Humboldt devoted entirely to moving, storing and managing collections of fine art and collectibles is also our sponsor and backer, and a few weeks ago I had the interesting experience of touring their spaces, and personally seeing the spectacular care and attention that they give to the emerging art of … ah… moving and storing art.

We’re all sort of snobs, even if we deny it, and I must admit that I was expecting to find only fine art being stored in custom made, climate controlled, impregnable room-sized walk-in safes.

I found that, but I also found them being used to store rare wines, family heirlooms, collectibles, and of course, blue chip art.

And I think that this is the tip of the iceberg, as more and more people focus their attention on the business of collecting artwork. According to the article, the company already “has plans to build an additional 3,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage vaults within the next three months, and expects an expansion of an additional 32,000 square feet in the next few years.”

In the next few months I hope to relate my own experiences with moving artwork as I continue to do art fairs all over the nation. It’s a fascinating aspect of the new boom of the art fair business, with galleries and private dealers moving artwork all over the world, from fair to fair. This is in fact, a very special and unique slice of the business of moving and storing artwork.

I am also curious to discover more about museums that are running out of storage space, which I think is the case with the various Smithsonian museums in the nation’s capital. As I am led to believe (and maybe this is all urban legend), a lot of this storage takes place in underground chambers under the National Mall in Washington, DC. These chambers apparently were originally built during WWII to store our national treasures in case the Germans or Japanese ever bombed our capital. Perhaps I will do a little digging research in this area to see if it is true and if an interesting story comes out.

More later…

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Report from the Affordable Art Fair in NYC

Just back from New York where I took part in that city’s version of the Affordable Art Fair. In the past I have described this fair as being on the front battle lines of the art world, since its aim and price points (artwork from $100 - $10,000) tend to focus the event on both emerging collectors on a budget and savvy collectors of all kinds looking for regional emerging artists and good deals on established artists of all levels.

The fair opened on Wednesday night with a press preview and then a collectors’ preview, and according to the fair’s effervescent and hardworking director Laura Meli, it was the largest opening in the fair’s history.

Held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York’s W. 18th Street, the fair packs galleries from all over the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia into two halls, and it is the New York version of a successful formula that sees Affordable Art Fairs take place in Bristol, London, Sydney and Amsterdam. Curiously, there’s no Affordable Art Fair in Miami.

Preview night was indeed packed, and because our booth was next to one of many free bars, there was a good flow of people, mostly young and mostly drinking, throughout the night.

In the past (I have done this fair before) good sales do take place on this overcrowded night, and although the sales were a bit slower than I remembered, we did manage to sell several oil paintings by Norfolk-based artist Sheila Giolitti as well as a few of my own drawings.
Erosion by Sheila Giolitti
“Erosion,”Mixed Media on Wood by Sheila Giolitti

With price points ranging from $200 to $2,000, the sold work was at the lower end of our price scales, which were dominated by Cuban artist Sandra Ramos gorgeous oil paintings ranging from $7500 to $10,000. We also spent a long time talking to a curator from the Met, who was admiring Ramos’ works and was very well-versed in them. We also had sales of photographs by Cuba’s talented Cirenaica Moreira, whose work ranges in price from $800-$1200.

The rest of the fair saw pretty much a pattern emerging in both sales (at least from the gallerists anecdotal reports) and in people and traffic.

As far as sales, they appeared to be brisk and constant, and the wrapping line for purchased artwork was long nearly every hour of the fair. We saw all sorts of work being sold, and certainly size seemed to matter; the more acreage that buyers got for their buck, the more it seemed to move.

As with any fair, location is key to success, and many dealers in the larger of the two halls were complaining that the new entry pattern, which forced visitors to enter the fair through the smaller hall, rather than through the building’s main entrance. This entry pattern ensured that the people flow initially went to one hall and made the second, larger hall, a secondary (and thus more visually overloaded) destination. One of the galleries on this new traffic pattern (in the first hall) told me that they had doubled last years’ sales by Friday night.

And it did seem that most of the people action took place in the smaller hall and the large areas around the two hall’s connecting hallway. Once visitors entered the maze of booths in the main hall, traffic dissipated significantly by the time it got to the rearmost walls.

In fact, sales seemed so brisk in certain geographical parts of the fair ,that there were people lining up in some of the galleries on the people-path, actually waiting to buy art. Galleries in the rear walls were a bit less busy, but there seemed to be artwork moving nonetheless.

For example, Parisian gallery Envie D’Art, located at a prime location where all foor traffic had to walk by, reported that they had nearly sold out their entire booth on preview night!
Sujeto/Objeto by Ruby Rumie
Teselas: Getsemani Sujeto / Objetoby Ruby Rumie

New York’s Angela Royo Latin American Art was also having resounding success selling panels from a 5,970 piece installation by Colombian artist Ruby Rumie. Each panel held 25 of the miniature acrylic, lacquer and resin pieces – sold for $2,000 each – and by Saturday she had sold out. Rumie’s fascinating work, according to the artist is “a representative section of a historical neighborhood on the Caribbean coast of Colombia… Due to the pressures of the real estate market, this neighborhood will soon disappear. I have created a record of its people with a painted silhouette of each adult, elder, child and adolescent member of this neighborhood, 5970 people in total.” It is a brilliant work of art.

As the weekend progressed our own trend continued to establish itself: a lot less foot traffic and sales focusing on the lower priced items on the booth. By the end of the fair Giolitti had nearly sold out, with only two paintings left from the fifteen or so that she had brought to the fair. I also continued to sell my lower priced drawings in the $200 range, but none of the higher priced drawings were moving.

We did manage to sell the very last print from Cuban artist Sandra Ramos’ set of 50 mixed media etchings of “La Maldita Circumstancia del Agua Por Todas Partes” (The Damned Circumstance of Being Surrounded by Water).

 La maldita circumstancia del agua por todas partes
“La Maldita Circumstancia del Agua Por Todas Partes.” Mixed Media etching by Sandra Ramos

This is Ramos’ iconic piece from her very dissident series from the 1990s and her first work to enter the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was also used as the cover for Holly Block’s indispensable bible of Cuban art, “Art Cuba: The New Generation.” The piece was acquired by a member of the board of the Newark Museum.

At $5,000 for the work, it was our biggest sale of the entire fair.

We’ll be back next year, although we intend to get the largest size booth available and thus hope to be relocated to the main traffic areas of the fair. Although much has been written about the brakes being applied to the art market, it is my impression that at this art fair, and at these price levels, the buyers were still out looking for good art at a good price.

One final kudo to the organizers and worker bees of the fair, they really worked their arses off to make the complex operation of running an art fair work efficiently and well, and my only constructive criticism to them would be to return the entry point to the building’s intended entrance, thus affording either of two halls an equal chance of being selected for the first and most important viewing.

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