Pulse, Art Miami exhibitors talk shop off the record, know that ho on camera

10 Dec

Visiting the Pulse and Art Miami fairs on Sunday, I ran into quite a few exhibitors who had shown at the Houston Fine Art Fair, the first of two contemporary fairs that debuted in Houston this fall.

I know that ho - Katherine Rodway, director of William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis

I also came across a few booths for galleries that had shown at Texas Contemporary, the second fair, but did not catch any proprietors or staff when they were free to talk. (Max Fishko, one of Texas Contemporary’s organizers, allowed me to tag him in my Facebook photo of the ‘I know that ho’ stickers I gave out at the fairs, including Art Basel Miami Beach and the New Dealers Art Association (NADA) fair, for which I also attended a party over the weekend.)

Most exhibitors said they had done reasonably well — in some cases extremely well — at HFAF, especially for an inaugural fair and in light of the fact that the two fairs were held a month apart due to a rivalry between Rick Friedman, president of Hamptons Expo Group, and Fishko, who used to work for Friedman. (The one gallerist who said sales had been poor did not on appear on camera; nor did everyone who said they were happy with the fair.)

They were nearly unanimous in wishing Friedman and Fishko would put aside their rivalry — some background here — and hold their events the same weekend, but that appears not to be in the cards. HFAF is slated for Sept. 14-16 at Reliant Park, and Texas Contemporary is set to return to the George R. Brown Convention Center, where both fairs were held this fall, Oct. 18-21.

Another topic of near-consensus was that Fishko’s replacement under Friedman, HFAF director Fran Kaufman, made the September fair the success it was through a combination of tireless effort, high credibilty with gallerists due to her past experience organizing fairs and a generally higher comfort level with her personal style. By contrast, Friedman was widely viewed as too flashy and off-putting to serve effectively as the fair’s public face.

Kaufman is no longer listed on the HFAF website as part of the leadership, and several sources said they had heard Friedman felt he no longer needed to pay a director. That, sources were nearly unanimous in saying, would be “a huge mistake” — a phrase that came up repeatedly.

As for their experiences in Miami, most seemed to be doing well, though some of the Art Miami exhibitors said their interests would be better served if Art Miami was positioned closer to Pulse and NADA, where the galleries were generally of comparable quality, rather than near the generally inferior Scope and Red Dot fairs. They complained that while the overflow from those fairs flooded Art Miami with attendees, just of fraction of them were there to collect. While sales were strong enough to make exhibiting at Art Miami worthwhile, gallerists felt they were working four times as hard to get those sales than they would without the crowds. (Of course, the crowds are what make the fair a financial success for organizers, and as one exhibitor pointed out, “if we didn’t come back next year, they’d have no problem filling our booth with someone else.” Houston fair organizers, by contrast, have to work harder to keep participating galleries happy.)

A combination of all-around last-fair-day exhaustion and camera issues made the ‘I know that ho’ video below primarly a blooper reel, but it was fun to make nevertheless. Thanks to proprietors and staff at Margaret Thatcher Projects, Pavel Zoubok Gallery (both New York), William Shearburn Gallery (St. Louis), Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern (San Francisco), Greg Kucera Gallery (Seattle) and Richard Levy Gallery (Albuquerque, N.M) for being willing to see and be seen with me at the fairs on Sunday.

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