The world of buying and selling art can be a fairly rigid business, stuck in long-standing traditions and protocols that don’t always encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Alex Mitow, co-founder of Superfine!, launched his innovative approach to curating and offering art for sale to break out of this tradition.
His series of Superfine! Art Fairs, which has been called “one of the most unique art fairs in America” by Art & Object Magazine, is changing the game and making contemporary art a much more accessible experience for everyone involved. Superfine! describes itself as “a transparent, approachable player in an often stuffy and opaque art market.”
In addition to its innovative model, finding the right location for these temporary events is an important part of the equation. The latest in the series runs May 1-5 at 107 Grand Street in Soho, Manhattan, which is a popular event and retail space in Storefront’s portfolio of temporary spaces in New York. It will feature more than 80 talented artists, as well as thought-provoking panels and networking events.
Accessibility is key
Mitow’s approach blends the best of many types of art exhibits and events and adds several unique touches. The underlying philosophy is that art should be affordable so none of the works showcased at the Superfine! events are priced more than $15,000; most are under $5,000. With that as a guiding principle, SuperFine! then curates works from emerging artists around specific themes with target markets of art enthusiasts in mind. Mitow calls it “hyper curated” and it stands out from the mass fairs and exhibits the typify this genre of art selling.
“No one has really taken the approach we did – at the intersection of affordable/accessible and hyper-curated. After doing a few pop-up shows, we realized that the only way to really affect our brand of change in the art market was through a fair…being an outsider has allowed me to see all of this more clearly and really double down on my bets without worrying about what “insiders” might think of me, or of my company’s role in the art market,” Mitow said in a recent interview.
For Superfine!, the key is a personalized approach that allows young artists to engage and build their brand. Shoppers get to meet and interact with artists, which is not always possible through traditional exhibits or galleries. The theory is that by getting to know the artists, the art becomes more familiar and accessible to would-be buyers. “Originality is huge, and personality is a close second,” Mitow says of the artists who thrive at Superfine! fairs. “Being good at talking about your work and relating to people doesn’t mean you have to be a full-on extrovert, but you have to practice and maintain a public persona that’s natural and “goes” with your work.”
Of course, the no-haggle, what-you-see-is-what-you-pay approach also makes the experience a more accessible one, especially for first-time buyers.
Location, and space, is important
Temporary shows are not new to the art world; indeed, art selling may be one of the original forms of the pop-up concept. On any given weekend in New York, Los Angeles or Miami there may be a dozen or more events happening. So besides differentiating on the philosophy and approach that Superfine! takes, Mitow knows location is key.
The Superfine! NYC event had been held in the city’s Meatpacking District for several years, but when the property they had been using was no longer available, Mitow turned to Storefront to help find a new location. After looking at a couple of dozen potential spaces, he settled on this Grand Street location, which puts Superfine! in the heart of the bustling Soho area.
“I love being in Soho which is in many ways the birthplace of contemporary art in New York, and it’s such a meeting place for all of the downtown neighborhoods. Trains mean a lot in New York and being adjacent to so many train lines is a huge boon for us, traffic-wise,” Mitow said.
By leveraging the advantages of temporary space rental, Superfine! (which has fairs scheduled in Washington DC and Los Angeles as well) can efficiently pinpoint neighborhoods and demographics that it can tailor its events for.
As for space itself, Superfine!’s success is built on facilitating interactions between artists and buyers in a comfortable environment, so bigger is not necessarily better. The NYC space is about 22,000 square feet which affords each artist enough room for an effective display but is not an overwhelming convention-center like an experience than many shows present. Space also gives Superfine! the flexibility to hold other elements of the fair, such as interactive panel discussions and casual areas for receptions and networking.
Mitow is bullish on the Superfine! model and the approach of executing it as a series of temporary events vs. establishing permanent locations. He is looking to 2-3 new markets a year (Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco are in the works) and is even eying global expansion.
“I believe we’re really the art fair of the future. We haven’t reinvented the wheel. It’s not the Museum of Ice Cream, or 29 Rooms – a selfie-moment for post-millenials. Superfine! is an art fair, a place of magic and discovery where you can find a new artist you love, build a relationship, and take their work home.”