January 28, 2015

What's up with stARTup?

This essay was written collaboratively by Joseph del Pesco & Bean Gilsdorf.

“Unsatisfied with the brevity of Twitter and the isolation of a coffee-shop conversation, we thought it could be productive to post a critical analysis of the fair.”

Here’s how it started: On December 3, 2014, Bean received a press release about a new art fair called “stARTup,” a joint venture by artist Ray Beldner and former gallery director Steve Zavattero. Bean raised her eyebrows at the application fee and hotel costs, and posted this to Twitter:


Joseph retweeted and a short conversation ensued. The fair’s organizers responded:


Shortly after, stARTup reduced the application fee from $75 to $45.

On December 22nd, after corresponding with Bean via text message, Joseph posted:


Ray & Steve responded to Joseph’s post on Twitter and then emailed to request a meeting. Together they called Joseph on January 5. Bean and Joseph met a few days later and started writing:

Unsatisfied with the brevity of Twitter and the isolation of a coffee-shop conversation, we thought it could be productive to post a critical analysis of the fair. Our goal with the following text is to unpack the marketing rhetoric presented on the website and examine some of its assumptions and implications. We began with a list of stARTup pros and stARTup cons, and developed them into a set of dialectical arguments, meant to highlight debatable points.

First, stARTup sets itself apart from other fairs by creating a system in which “participating artists keep 100% of the proceeds from their own sales.” Artists who have gallery representation often complain that they’re locked into one or more galleries who take 50 percent of sales, but who don’t “do enough” for them to justify such a large cut. This fair eliminates the gallery cut, doing away with the middleman. While this may sound like an improvement, it distracts from the economic truth that artists will only start making money after they’ve recouped the up-front, out-of-pocket costs of the application fee, the room fee, and other related expenses. We’ll revisit this point in a moment.

The press release also asserts that the fair is “an innovative and experimental way to provide artists with access to a professional exhibition environment.” The model for stARTup originated with a fair called Photo Independent (PI), held in Los Angeles in 2014. Indeed, PI presents unrepresented (“independent”) artists, and charges them a fee to participate. Ray and Steve noted they were impressed by the high level of quality at the fair, and pointed out that the fees for stARTup were comparable to PI’s middle range. Fair enough, but we don’t see any innovation here—and hotel fairs have been around for decades.

The press materials promise that the fair will be “populated by dealers, curators, collectors, critics, publishers, and art appreciators,” but with the title “stARTup,” it seems to us a transparent attempt to lure the Bay Area’s newly moneyed Silicon Somebodies by aligning the fair with an entrepreneurial sensibility. Phrases like “get in on the ground floor” aren’t likely to win the hearts and dollars of the start-up elite nor venture capitalists. While we’d all like to see more of the local wealth directed toward supporting area culture in substantial ways, we feel this approach lacks a sense of dignity. The fair’s overview imagines Bay Area artists as “entrepreneurs” or “creative visionaries”; most artists we know would be loath to apply such hollow self-nominations, and the clichés of corporate culture are largely unwelcome by artists. One could argue that stARTup’s marketing is simply a kind of veneer, the platitudes most people understand are simply part of the game; but employing a superficial understanding of the attitudes and interests of the tech community at the expense of the art community is an unproven tactic that threatens to aid neither group.

Most of the artists we know are intelligent, motivated, and capable; but do they want to be cast in the position of primary salesperson of their own work at an art fair? Are they prepared to negotiate with a buyer/collector who wants, let’s say, a substantial discount (a routine matter in collector-dealer relations)? Certainly artists can fend for themselves, and some already have experience selling their own work, but these kind of negotiations can be awkward, or worse, when you’re cornered in a small hotel room. The only imaginable benefit here is the trial-by-fire skill-building for the artists as they absorb the ancillary duties of branding, marketing, interpreting, negotiating, and (hopefully) selling.

The supposition is that the fair is a particularly important opportunity for artists who’ve been ignored or dropped by commercial galleries and arts institutions. Ray mentioned during our conversation that he’s lost gallery representation three times in recent years, for various reasons. Certainly he’s not alone. But it’s worth pointing out that two-thirds of stARTup’s application review panel (four of six members, or 66 percent) is comprised of representatives from galleries and institutions. This doesn’t do away with institutional hierarchies and professional biases. Why should artists who feel they’ve been ignored by these galleries and institutions gamble $45 for the privilege of being ignored yet again?

Let’s return to the issue of cost. To participate in this fair, there’s the aforementioned application fee, then a $2,750-4,000 room fee; undoubtedly there will be other costs: Transporting the work (wrapping/packaging, gas, etc.); installation (hardware, tools, framing); and the often-overlooked costs such as food and other incidentals. And let’s not forget the cost of making the work. By our estimate, the average artist will spend over $4,000 just to show up. To be fair, Ray and Steve told us that three-quarters of the rooms are being offered to artists at the lowest ($2,700) price. As the organizers, they’re risking a large investment of initial capital, expecting that artists will apply and of course honestly hoping and planning for the fair to achieve its most successful outcome. However, it’s worth noting that at the moment the fair opens, the burden of risk will shift from the organizers to the artists.

We respect that Ray and Steve have given more than twenty years of their lives to the San Francisco art scene. Certainly they are taking a risk starting a new business, but we’re more concerned about the fifty artists than the two organizers. Our critical analysis here is not personal, it’s about their business proposition to artists. Finally, Ray and Steve kindly shared their budget with us: we can see that if the rooms fill, the organizers will make a living wage while the artists are will be operating at a deficit. The question remains for us: what does an ethical art fair look like, and is this as close as we can get?

Comments (29)

  • It seems that so many fairs like this are popping up. It’s a reasonable business model for the fairs, but are they actually bringing the viewing and buying population they claim to. I’m hoping it might be legit but this certainly could be another vanity fair. Worth little to most of the artists and costly.

  • I’m very happy to see this article and comment thread. stARTup fair is coming around again- and i’m noticing it pitching its dubious model to artists for its LA and SF torment in January and and March 2016. these bottom feeder organizers have taken a the Gold Rush model of business- making money by selling the maps and tools rather than ever having to find gold themselves.

    As an artist who has run a gallery in Chelsea NYC and also participated in Art fairs internationally, I say ‘BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID’. perhaps we can learn from others’ mistakes. I’ve made enough of them , trust me. The frightful thing about many art world opportunities for talented artists is the pay to play model. There are extremely few serious opportunities for artists and sometimes we bank on frail things like hope and self belief for these prospects, that at least we’ll make contacts. But unfortunately, whilst artists are asked to pay to be vetted and participate, serious collectors and qualified buyers are very slim on the ground.
    So I reckon we should all steer clear of this art business model. Collectively , we shouldn’t validate it. There has got to be a better way.

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    I was listening to this Q&A with Peter Fischli: “It’s not coming out of a strategy or something. I think it’s very nice when as an artist you can do something and you can do it today. You can do it with not a lot of money. It’s like Arte Povera attitude that you can just work with simple materials. You can do it alone. You don’t need–It’s just the possibility as Martin Kippenberger said ‘Heute denken, morgen fertig’ (‘Think today, be finished tomorrow’). This kind of spontaneous, just do it thing. There is even like a punk mentality in it you know? When you want to play music just do it without taking hundreds of lessons. It’s more this kind of attitude.”

    Maybe today it’s punk to rent a room in stARTup. I don’t think punk is just rejecting, not at all. But I also feel that having a day job to avoid all the whims of the market is not the worst thing imaginable.

  • To me, the question boils down to how we can create market opportunities for community members that may feel excluded. and is there is a way to engage in the market ethically with any model.

    I would like to invite all of you to my home this Sunday from 10:00 – 1:00 for pancakes and discussion. Let’s meet face to face, look at what our community entails and see what stays on the table. Email jhoover.charles@gmail.com to let me know that you’re coming. I live in the sunset, 1421 Lawton St. At 20th.


  • Peter Simian says:

    Since most of Bay Area art is crap and mimics other places or previous movements at this point and doesn’t bother creating a relevant school of creative engagement this whole discussion is BS. Some of the artists in this thread are glorified graphic artists or scene chasers. The critics involved here are just pathetic onlookers to a moment when art should just be regarded as irrelevant object porn that needs to find its soul again.
    I’m thinking of tossing some of my collection on the sidewalk to see if someone even bothers to pick it up before Recology does

  • Here’s a q&a with the fair organizers:

  • Paul Mullins says:

    I am with everyone for carefully examining of all the issues and components. Couldn’t understand caution more. And I am particularly sensitive to people’s economic realities. But I find the level of suspicion depressing.
    Mel has it right, we need more opportunities, not fewer.
    This fair has a title that I think merely aims to signal a reply to the tech boom’s impact on the cost of roofs over our heads.
    There simply has to be new places for artists to show work and do business, and said roofs have gotten too pricey.

    Everyone knows our longstanding existing model. It means new MFA’s are confronted with a tough reality: that getting one’s work seen, perhaps written about, and (hopefully) purchased, will mean years of navigating networks seeking exposure that (hopefully) will lead to long courtships with galleries (hopefully), that will exhibit them every other year and (hopefully) take their work to Miami in December.
    (being represented by a gallery doesn’t mean your work will get taken to the fair…most galleries take a portion of their stable, or the fair even mandates one-person or two-person presentations)
    For many, this position remains the aspirant’s place for long periods, years probably, as they try to maintain their studio practice, working meantime for another source of income (read: Day Job). Accepted that long ago.
    Lately, scores of artists whose hard work had aligned with the good fortune to achieve with this model, have found themselves back at the start. Galleries have closed, rents are untenable, and the spaces that are in operation rely more and more upon sales at yup, art fairs, which they pay colossal fees for their booths at.

    Comparing with this: the idea of applying and showing within a few months, to the same audience that you need a gallery to bring to you? With credible professionals involved? Sounds a lot better to me, if we can get it going.

    The fee is comparable to the amounts an artist has invested in out of town exhibits…shipping, airfare, hotels, and so on. Or what one saves up for an SF vacation.

    I’ve seen lots of artists developing direct strategies to get their work out and make some money outside of galleries – Kickstarter and Gofundme and whatever to help make it happen. I think we should approach this similarly. If I must break even ( something I think artists will admit to not happening regularly), I myself would far prefer to sell around 20 modest works at a few hundred dollars to people who therefore can afford it and genuinely love it, than cross my fingers hoping to crack the elite collector set again. Think of the swell of artists (and superb people who simply aren’t wealthy) we see supporting other artists at our local auctions benefiting non-profits, say.
    The organizers of this are doing a lot of work and taking a risk to make something possible. The success of it depends upon participating artists of quality. And I, also, find most artists I know to be motivated, intelligent and capable. So I’d trust them to handle their business, I think what they need help with is bringing the market for that business all together in one place.

    How much did art school cost again?

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    Me too, Anuradha! & I’m with you that Joshua Tree or Ukiah are not easily accessible, may not be food on the table type of endeavors. But that goes back to my original comment & I think what many are hinting at, “What is the identity of stARTup?” Or to put it more bluntly, why does it exist? Instead of Wifi it could be Whyfair? Knowing the goals & intentions of the fair would make it easier to critique. If it’s through the experimental or curatorial lens, is another hotel fair the answer? If it’s to tap into tech money, are there more direct or effective means? Has anyone tried renting a wall at Google? Or Artsy.net & Paddle8.com websites tailored specifically for Silicon Valley? At my most skeptical I keep thinking that people with hopes & dreams are the most susceptible, the easiest to take advantage of. Any young artist (as was mentioned, in a crowded or crowding field) looking for opportunity…doesn’t this have so many parallels to Hollywood? & the entire industry around it that actually has nothing to do with the making of films but peddles more in the dreams & hopes of individuals… anyway, any young artist looking for opportunity I believe should turn toward community, to creating community, to building something with their friends. Not in the utopian sense but in the fundamental sense. It’s much more concrete than the alternative concept, another fair-tech people will come-I will sell everything I made to the tech people who’ve come to buy what I’ve made-this is a one time investment for untold returns…(kind of sounds like a barker at a carnival). For me, the alternative, however unpolished & undefined it may be, is community. If that takes the form of Group Material or Gelitin, or the form of Kiki Gallery (with it’s antecedents King Ubu and Six Gallery), or the form of Right Window or The Thing Quarterly; is everyone going to be a Ferus Gallery? No. Or become financially viable? I don’t even think Ferus was ever financially stable, but through the endeavors maybe it produces something worthwhile, something concrete to treasure.

  • Ajit, I love the idea of an artists’ county fair! There are so many potential alternatives to art fairs, but what of the artist who wants to engage the market but can’t crack the gallery system for whatever reason? Alternatives like High Desert Test Sites don’t put food on the table. Not that there is evidence that stARTup would – but what alternatives might we consider that would satisfy artists’ need to support themselves financially in what is still a capitalist country? The utopian strain of Bay Area thought warms my heart and yet it has left people ill-equipped to survive without patronage, hence my earlier point.

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    I agree Mel. The point I was trying to make, which I wasn’t very articulate about, is that there is a rich tradition of DIY cultures and communities in the Bay Area. My feeling is there is more potential in enriching that culture. Not to wait to be invited by anyone. Not to wait to be programmed into anything but to do the programming. Not to pay someone else to show your work. I would still stress the community aspect. If there is a group of 4 MFA students, rather than pay $3,000 each to show their work in a fair for three days, couldn’t they take their accumulative $12,000 and do something together that would generate more rewards & returns for themselves in the long run? I didn’t mean to be exclusionary talking about Ukiah, I simply meant to suggest alternatives to the typical art fair format, the county fair being one example.

  • I can see so many sides to this discussion– and while I think this new art fair is not the answer or the beginning of a new paradigm– I do see how it allows potential exposure for those who can pay but might not know/ be invited to anything programmed by “Larry & Colter”. I don’t mean this in a snarky way at all, but I do want to raise the idea that not everyone is connected. SF is small and there are many artists here who haven’t been shown or shown enough and with the ever- growing and strong MFA programs there are even more artists every year. I think we could try a lot of models for art galleries, art fairs, project spaces and see what works, rather than writing something off beforehand. But people also need to be realistic and educate themselves about what they are risking (time/ money/ peer pressure/ etc) when they participate. All the myriad things that galleries do and are responsible for, besides just selling artwork, is a hard-won skill and a challenge. I just think we need more potentials rather than less.

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    Thanks Joseph! My sentiments align with yours. (I hate to be unduly critical to the organizers, I know organizing ANYTHING demands enormous amounts of time & energy. It’s always easier to criticize someone else’s efforts) but…but if you’re not introducing a new dynamic or situation what are you adding? Are you expanding horizons or simply clouding them?

    I wish there were more counterpoint approaches. Like you said, not just a business proposition or a “pay-to-play” dynamic.

    I wish places stopped trying to be so slick & gross & just showed a little heart. Who cares, be a little funky. The shell is not important, it’s the content. There has to be some JOY in this or why does it exist?

    I’m not volunteering them but couldn’t you envision something on Larry & Colter’s property in Ukiah? Something like NADA Hudson, which has such a relaxed atmosphere & is more in tune with a county fair than the stuffy & predictable format of a traditional art fair?

    Heck it could be tents on the beach (little overhead). The point is the people involved.

    Again, it goes back to my original comment, what are the intentions? Where do the priorities lie?

  • Yes- the language and branding of stARTup is problematic and art fairs, in general, are horrible places to view art and have an authentic experience. But the pool of independent arists in the Bay Area is amazing and I would love to see that aspect showcased in a big way. I hope this discussion bears fruit. Thank you, Bean, Joseph and Ajit and Aaron and everyone.

  • The canned response from the fair is incredibly telling, as if there are tons of other conversations on the internet about their project they are indeed participating in.

    Kelly, your comment on ‘galleries closing’ and the need for new models I think reflects everyone here’s interest in new models, but this ‘full financial burden on the artist with no guarantees’ is certainly not the best.

    Imagine a model in which a trusted curator (so participants would feel strongly about their company) organized such a thing and all artists split the proceeds evenly… imagine if the fair acted like a pseudo-gallery facilitator, risking their own money and taking only a small cut over agreed upon costs…

    From website to font to business model to (well regarded by still… not my favorite) curation to that damn horrendous name, this project leaves so much to be desired.

  • I agree that the fees seem untenably high for individual artists, though I would expect that a few artists could go in on a room together and share the workload as well as the expense. However I take issue with the alarmist tone of this text wrt “entrepreneurial” language. The fact is, SF is notoriously underinvested in its local artists and that condition predates the recent tech boom. Most artists can’t wait around for validation from the old-school art elites (who only validate artists with NY pedigrees anyway, or those who satisfy Boomer nostalgia). As Ben Davis has articulated, artists do operate a kind of proprietorship. It’s disengenuous to suggest that under the current circumstances, artists ought not to identify as entrepreneurs when the prior model held so dear is one that runs on unspoken wealth privilege.

  • Joseph del Pesco says:

    I’ve been ruminating on an unresolved (and possibly fundamental) question that is only addressed sub-textually in our essay: Why does an art fair, before it has even happened, deserve this kind of critical attention? The comments by Dana and Ajit are really important because they point to solid examples of art fairs taking different approaches—art fairs as creative endeavors by artists. Considering the lengthy experience and creative potential of the people involved in stARTup, why isn’t this fair more enticing, more appealing?

    My own impulse to critique is because stARTup is presenting not just a business proposition, but also an aesthetic and curatorial perspective. There are cultural values as well as economic values embedded in the model and language. In other words, we should indeed be comparing it to projects like the Milwaukee International Fair (organized by the Reeders and others), the Dark Fair, or Murakami’s GEISAI in Japan/Miami. By comparison, stARTup is underperforming.

  • We sincerely appreciate the critical discourse that Joseph and Bean have introduced with this essay. stARTup Art Fair is new, and it’s a work in progress; we are determined and committed to produce a great fair experience for everyone involved, especially the participating artists. We are working around the clock to get this endeavor off the ground, so we are not able to monitor and respond to every blog post or tweet. Anyone who has questions, concerns, or comments about the fair is invited to email us directly as we are available to respond.
    Steve Zavattero: zav{at}startupartfair{dot}com
    Ray Beldner: ray{at}startupartfair{dot}com

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    I agree Kelly (apologies for so many posts! last one I promise, waiting for Amy to get home…) The broad question is does the world need another art fair, the consensus is likely a resounding “NO!” So the question is does the world need THIS art fair? The differentiating factor being direct sales, without the intermediaries. I’m saying the answer may still be no. It might be good to look at alternatives, which is why I mentioned the Reeders’ and Andrea Zittel’s High Desert Test Sites (Swap Meet). Someone like Xara Thustra? Yes please. As Keith Haring said ‘it’s seeing a truck that says “BETTER METHODS”‘

  • When I think about the fact that SF galleries have been closing for years now and artists regularly flee the Bay Area in droves for places with a larger collector base, I think it makes sense to try something different. It doesn’t always have to be about sales but sometimes, you know, it does…Sadly, those fees are going to prevent a lot of amazing artists from participating and that will negatively affect the quality of the fair. Maybe the fair could receive some kind of sponsorship (institutional or corporate) to help relieve some of the financial burden of the artists? Level the playing field?

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    An alternative to the Art Fair Marathon is our very own Right Window. Right Window (aside from being “San Francisco’s Number 1 Gallery!” as Kevin Killian would say) is a loose and fluctuating collective of twelve artists and curators; members have one month per year to install their own work or curate a piece in the space. The individuals of the ‘collective’ pay a small amount each month that covers the lease. This is an alternate model/scheme that works! The brilliant and generous Karla Milosevich often does the Artists Shop (a miniature fair) in which the artist receives sales directly. Because they are direct the prices are not ridiculously inflated. I purchased a wonderful Cliff Hengst piece last time, the Mike Kelley collector, Kourosh Larizadeh made purchases as well as many others & although the sales were brisk the emphasis was on “community”.

  • Great to see this conversation. Joseph and Bean mentioned the PI (Photo Independent) Fair, I was wondering what people both thought about the GEISAI art fair that Takashi Murakami has been working on for some time? I am not sure if it is still happening, but they did several iterations in Miami (info on one here-http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/launches-geisai-miami/), where the application and booth are free to the artist.

    In this case with the financial burden aside, do you think it is okay for artists to be involved in the direct sale of their work? Or do the issues about professionalism in the world of sales you mentioned still crop up as potential criticism? I just wonder if the stARTup fair’s issues surround its cost to artists or the direct relationship it allows between the artist and client/collector? As this is particularly poignant as we seem to be moving into a new paradigm where people want to think of artists and entrepreneurs (thinking of this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/01/the-death-of-the-artist-and-the-birth-of-the-creative-entrepreneur/383497/).

    The post makes some salient points about how this fair has some contradictions in its own wordage/hype (e.g. is ‘innovative and experimental’ or is it just a spin off of PI?), but I wonder if that criticism leads to: this fair is a version not done well, or no fair should ever be doing this?

  • Ajit Chauhan says:

    An alternative might be what Scott & Tyson Reeder have done. The Milwaukee International (Milwaukee being even less of an ‘art destination’ than San Francisco) drew in institutions and galleries like White Columns, Gavin Brown’s & Hiromi Yoshii. The Dark Fair at the Swiss Institute in 08′ and Art Cologne in 09′ included Marianne Boesky, Maureen Paley, and Zach Feuer. I don’t remember the sales figures (I took part in two of them) but they were interesting & definitely entertaining. Similarly what Liz Craft and Penti Monkkonen have done with Paramount Ranch. If the raison d’être of stARTup is to avoid the gallery scene altogether more organic options might be Amy & Wendy Yao’s Sky Village Swap Meet. But the goals or priorities seem to be different. The artist initiatives or ventures are more about an experiment in a fun setting not about money. If money from the tech world is the goal wouldn’t it be better to rent out a conference room at Paypal or something?

  • Stephanie Syjuco says:

    Thanks for covering this in a public forum. I’m looking forward to commenting further since this post raises a lot of questions and trepidations, many of which I also had when I first learned of the stARTup Fair. For those looking to hear directly from Beldner and Zavaterro, there is an interview posted on Congratulations Pinetree (podcast by Maysoun Wazwaz and Kate Rhoades) dated from Dec. 24 at this link: http://congratulationspinetree.com/Episode_0021.mp3.

    But the short answer to the final question posed by Gilsdorf and del Pesco, “what does an ethical art fair look like, and is this as close as we can get?” is, I think, “No.” While I don’t think the fair is itself unethical, I also don’t think it’s meant to be ethical as much as it’s meant to be a business opportunity, like most art fairs. Perhaps it’s apt that the startup language is utilized because there is a leveraging of risk for reward placed upon the individual “freelancer” as opposed to the gallery “collective” (rough terms but they’ll do for now). Plus the outsourcing of responsibility to the individual (installation, managerial, gallery attending, etc) in exchange for the potential for vast rewards. This is similar to the culture of entrepreneurship that the Bay Area seems to covet and support. There could be some wildly successful sales for some, but just like the backstory of a successful startup model, I would hazard a guess that the bill will fall hard on others. So this gamble is a pretty big one on the artists’ parts.

    Put bluntly, someone is going to make some money, but it may not be the artists. Hopefully it will be. I am going to attend and find out how it turns out. But it’s also unclear to me if they are charging an entry fee because it’s not explicitly stated. And that would also say something.

  • Joseph del Pesco says:

    Eleanor, Christine, Jackie, Michael, Many thanks for your perspectives on this!

  • Michael Schoolnik says:

    Let’s talk about the sales prospects, shall we? You remember Glen Garry Glenn Ross when the plot focused on those “qualified leads?” If I were to put >$2K into this, I’d want to know who was showing up, and on top of that, I’d want to know what sort of qualification process took place. How was this list vetted?

    It’s one thing to pitch “art lovers” and “collectors”. The experienced buyers are used to negotiating with middle-men, AKA the “dealer”. Now you put the artist with his/her work in direct communication with an audience that’s “pre-sold” to them as “anxious to buy” or “qualified”. I say rubbish.

    This is nothing more than what happened with travel agents in the 50’s to pre-Internet, buying bulk rooms and flight tickets in advance. That’s the only “value” here. There is nothing to guarantee qualified prospects will show up.

    If I were an artist investing >$2K, “breaking even” isn’t the expectation here. Selling out my inventory is the expectation. This is a recipe for disappointment. It’s only part of the equation, and I don’t think anyone can bring the buyers to the event. They’ll bring lookie-loo’s and posers. This is nothing more than pay-to-play open studios, only this time it’s under the guise of an art fair.

    PS – who is going to coach the young artists on pricing and negotiating? Don’t get me started…

  • $2,700 is actually incredibly low for a fair booth and I actually can’t think of a fair in the US that will do a full-sized fair booth for that price.

    From the point of view of someone who does fairs, I find this whole enterprise a little naive. It’s a lot of work to make a fair happen for a gallery and it often takes a team to get it done. I would imagine that on top of the actual booth fee, art transportation, incidentals, you can add maybe an honorarium for anyone who helps an artist with the fair – staffing the booth, helping with contacts, etc. It’s a lot for one person to do and especially if it’s their first time. (Though, I suppose you could not pay the person(s) helping you, but that’s a different conversation about labor and wage.)

    It’s not the worst, most terrible idea in the world, but I think the infrastructure aspect leaves a little to be desired. We expect artists to do a lot with their own expenses, and this just seems a step too far to me.

    One last note: there’s a lot of stress about unrepresented artists not getting these fair opportunities. I suppose that was true once upon a time, but I can tell you right now, we have worked with several unrepresented artists to bring their works to fairs. While it’s maybe not the most common, it’s not unheard of.

  • Christine Wong Yap says:

    While $2,700 may be comparable or less than what galleries usually pay for a booth, it does seem like a lot for individual artists. It’d be a big chunk out of an adjunct’s pay for a semester-long class, for example.

    The rates, BTW, for Hotel del Sol, for the three nights on the following weekend, start at $259/night. So at least over $1800 per artist is going to fair overhead. Unlike other non-hotel fairs, it’s not at a raw event space–overhead doesn’t have to cover laying carpet, renting and raising temporary walls, renting scissor lifts, rigging lighting trusses, etc. A question—maybe less for the organizers, and more for artists considering applying—is what is 1,800 dollars’ worth of admin/event planning, brochures, publicity, sparkling water/magazine freebies, lanyards, and a patch-and-paint kit look like?

  • Somehow I feel compelled to defend these guys and their model though I don’t know them nor am I convinced of their plan. However, the basic idea of trying to host an art fair for independent artists doesn’t seem inherently bad. Sure, the investment is a lot, but it is comparable, if lower than, other art fairs that galleries bring artists to. It isn’t for someone who makes books or probably small prints, but if an artist can recoup their costs with the sale of one work, then it may be worth the gamble for them. Direct sales and establishing a customer base that buys that way could mean a significant difference for someone and their practice.

    It’s not for everyone, sure. It’s not the easiest thing to be a salesperson and to maintain relationships with potential customers. But it doesn’t seem like a bad thing to try. It will work for some artists. Whether we like it or not, art fairs work because they’re an event, they’re a party, and they bring in people who haven’t necessarily seen your work before and who may be open to buying it. The organizer’s job is to create that visibility and to organize a good, interesting, and fun event.

    The application fee seems problematic though. Paying to be considered to pay a bunch more. It seems like that cost should have been absorbed into the booth fees.

    I’m also not terribly offended by the startup language. I just glaze over it as them trying to bring two groups together – is it really that bad to be called a creative visionary?

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We regret to inform you that Open Space is no longer active. It was retired at the end of 2021. We sincerely appreciate your support and engagement over the years.

For your reference, we encourage you to read past entries or search the site.

To stay informed about future ventures or updates, please follow us at

Thank you for being a part of our journey!