A few weeks ago I went to the Harlem Fine Arts Show, which was basically an art fair, exhibiting new and experienced artists, as well as the works selected by various galleries and dealers. I essentially went to chat with the gallery director of Canvas Paper and Stone where I used to intern ages ago. But it turned into an art adventure I was not quite expecting. Canvas Paper and Stone is a small gallery that was run out of the gallery director’s home. Now it’s going through some changes, as all things do, but I was really privileged to be a part of it, and form such a great relationship with the director.
Any way. I had been to a bunch of art fairs when I was studying in London, getting my Master’s with Sotheby’s Institute. I had been to some young art fairs, such as one in Berlin and Brussels. But I also attended one of the most famous art fairs, with the most expensive, and prestigious art galleries and artists represented in Maastricht. The art fair in Maastricht has all the glitz and glam (and pretension) it is known for, and the art ranges from antique to current, and diamonds and furniture. It was beautiful to see, but kind of uncomfortable to go to.
Art fairs are becoming more and more important in the art world, as gallery spaces have become extremely expensive to obtain and maintain. What has been dubbed artfairization, took its roots more than a decade ago, during a large boom of the art market. Ever since then, there has been dramatic exponential growth and success of art fairs, where cities jump at the potential for art fairs as they bring tourism and satellite fairs. There are many benefits as well as disadvantages to art fairs, but, that’s a long story, that I, unfortunately, am well versed in. I wrote a whole paper on this…
This art fair in Harlem was completely different than any I had experienced in Europe. The setting was Riverside Church, uptown by Barnard and Columbia University. It was a pretty beautiful venue, which added a sense of atmosphere and history, as the building is a piece of art in of itself.
The air, the attitudes, and especially the art were different. Everyone, artist, gallerist, attendee, was friendly and warm. The artists, who were generally representing themselves, were so open to questions and so willing to give answers. I asked questions I would never have dreamed of asking in the stuffy Maastricht fair, and artists were excited to answer them, excited that people had genuine interest. I was let into the pathos and reasoning as well as process of many artists’ work, which is amazing to me, being an art history junky. Art history, especially looking at the art that I love the most, the old stuff, is kind of about making up those answers. Yes, there are theories, and sometimes the artists wrote things down, but much of what I think art history is, is creating sound hypotheses. So, actually hearing from an artist exactly what they were thinking when putting together a piece and executing it, is truly amazing.
One of the people that was helping out my old boss asked me what I thought of the fair. I spoke to him about my previous experiences, of high ceilings and convention spaces, and elaborate city planned carpeted venues. I also noted the sense of community I felt and saw. So many people knew each other, not only artists knowing other artists, but attendees knowing other people coming to see the art. I loved that bit a lot. Just seeing the black community supporting each other, especially in a field that it is not generally recognized for.
It was definitely a good experience, stepping out of the familiar-ish territory I had already witnessed. I got the chance to see something different, something that some day I would hope to become a part of, you know, once I get interested in contemporary art (yuck).