The Art Expo is returning to New York this month. Independent artists, both popular and obscure, and some large art publishers set up booths in a gigantic trade show, billed as the world’s largest.
Exhibitors come from all over the world, so it’s a chance to strike new relationships, and it’s free to gallery owners, with the opening day is “to the trade only.” Some documentation is involved. It’s really like any other trade show in terms of structure.
I’ve been many times, and I can tell you it’s a mixed bag. A huge, exhausting mixed bag. Over its 30 years, the expo has hosted big-name artists: Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Indiana and Leroy Neiman. Far away from the elite Art Basel scene, this is largely middle-brow and commercially oriented.
Some exhibitors are aiming for strip-mall galleries. One exhibitor last year validated his paintings for looking “just like a photograph.” Well, I suppose they did look like photographs, if that’s the measure of good art. (Lots of visitors seemed to think it was.)
All the trends appear. One artist renders anthropomorphic martini olives and seems to do well — one year, he had someone dressed as a huge olive to attract attention to his booth. Jane Seymour, the actress, has been a repeat vendor as well — and to take her art seriously it probably helps to be a fan of “Dr. Quinn.”
It’s not all mall-friendly. A Korean artist filled his booth with ejaculating cartoon penises. But the majority of this is aimed at galleries who think of themselves as retailers.
Peregrine Honig will speak at the expo. Remember her from “Work of Art”? She was incredibly creative (I remember her eerie and beautiful dead fawns), but I remember coming away with mixed feelings about her for her brittle interactions with others. TV critic Ken Tucker said she often came off as an “art-addled sprite.” He also thought that she should have won the final prize.
Her talk is called “BOUND—A Lecture on Art, Social Media, and Patronage: The Freedom and Limits of Editions and Technology.” Uh, OK. I have no idea what that means, but her talent is undeniable. In her bio, it says that over a decade ago, Peregrine was the youngest living artist to be included in the Whitney’s permanent collection.
So the expo can be crassly commercial, but also a little precious and lofty. And given its enormous scale, opportunity knocks for everyone who comes.