Painting by Nancy Friese

"Above the River"
by Nancy Friese
Riverhouse Editions,
Steamboat Springs, CO

Painting by John Gibson

Painting by John Gibson
Miller Block Gallery,
Boston, MA

Painting by Denise Mickilowski

"Concord Grapes with
Granny Smith"
by Denise Mickilowski
Fischbach Gallery, New York

Painting by John Belingheri

"Study for Locust"
by John Belingheri
Andrea Schwartz Gallery,
San Francisco, CA

International Exposure:
The AAF Contemporary Art Fair

A somewhat new and increasingly lucrative phenomena of the contemporary art scene is the "Art Fair." It's hard to pinpoint the actual origination of the genre, that is, where and when the first one took place. But it may be reasonable to say that art fairs were inspired originally by international art exhibitions held by different countries, such as the well-known Venice Bienale. This bi-annual event, held in Venice, Italy, is almost like an Olympics of the art world, as many countries from around the globe enter a single artist to represent them in the large international competition. There are quite a few biennial exhibits around the world now; even the South American country of Brazil attracts a strong international interest in its São Paulo show.

The Art Fair, however, is not limited to such exclusive representation. Depending upon the exhibitors included, and the price of the booths, there may be a great range of collectibles, from totally "new" artists' works to high-roller-priced blue-chip rarities. Art fairs take place now in most large American and European cities and provide exposure for artists and galleries to the collectors and art critics of each fair's particular location that they might not achieve any other way. While online galleries have become a common venue for art representation and websites are now neccesary for art galleries, most collectors prefer to see something as particular as an artwork in person, before actually aquiring it. Art fairs are perfect for the collector because each booth is like a miniature gallery, and today's fairs have excellent lighting and thoughtful layouts.

Art fairs are accounting for a larger and larger percentage of art sales internationally. While an international traveler can schedule their visit to a city for the time of the art fair and see most of that city's galleries under one roof (and check out some of the many parties and events associated with the fair), a resident of that city might go to the same fair and see art represented by participatng galleries from all over the world. New York City hosts a number of such gatherings, among them the AAF Contemporary Art Fair.

Formerly called The Affordable Art Fair, this season's AAF Contemporary Art Fair took place in late October. Over 130 galleries were represented, with more than a quarter from outside the U.S. and the others representing a wide range of regions in North America. The fair featured public programs including a lecture series designed to advise and educate new collectors and first-time buyers, children's workshops, art demonstrations, and on-site wrapping stations for purchases.

AAF was launched in London in 1999 with great success, and has expanded to five cities worldwide, including Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and Bristol, England. A relaxed approach combined with affordable prices defines AAF and makes it an exciting and accessible venue at which visitors can purchase quality contemporary paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography and prints for under $5,000. The 2003 AAF Fair in New York attracted over 13,000 visitors over four days, with one in every four purchasing at least one work of art. Total sales reached $3,500,000.

The 2004 fair was up again, by the looks of it. The location was Pier 92, at 12th Ave. and 52nd St., and a free shuttle bus was provided for the convenience of attendees. The official opening of the fair was preceded by a Press Preview, A Private Preview and a Cocktail Party. The sound of packing tape being stretched off the roll could be heard continuously from the "wrapping booths" and became quite loud at the end of each day, a sort of music to the gallerists' ears. The art fair also offers an excellent chance for the discreet artist to meet gallerists from all over, and four days to establish a connection.

This year's AAF Contemporary Art Fair featured gallerists from all over the United States, and while artists in galleries from upstate New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusettes and Rhode Island were all among the regions represented, there was one state glaringly not represented: Vermont. In fact, landscape was a large component of the show. Seascapes, South Western desert scenes and prairie vistas were there, but no Green Mountains.

Art fairs such as the AAF would seem to provide an excellent opportunity for local galleries dependent on seasonal sales and a limited clientele to expand their exposure and sales substantially, while giving the collectors in large cities a chance to purchase an artwork "made in Vermont" and find out that the place known for its scenic and seasonal athletic appeal also has a vibrant art scene and great art to collect and invest in. The fairs are typically bustling from opening to closing, first day to last, with a lot of happy faces packing up their booths on the final evening and a steady stream of proud purchasers carrying their treasures home the entire time.

Here's a challenge to local art purveyers: Let's get into the game! (See you at the cocktail party!)

Copyright 2004, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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