Monday, March 7, 2011

The Artist Project

While in Toronto these past several days, I visited an art exhibition called The Artist Project at the Queen Elizabeth Building at what would be their high end IX center complex. Major media coverage promoted it as “200 artists, 4 days, 1 venue” of “carefully juried contemporary artists”. But it was much more than that and quite impressive! Unlike the Art Basel events in Miami and other locations across the US, this show is for independent artists, not those affiliated with galleries or agents.  198 of them were Canadians and 2 from the US. Because Toronto is far more “international” than we are, the artists were not just “Canadian”, but Chinese, Russian, Italian, Japanese and a fruit salad of other  nationalities.

This concept is coming to the US in New York City in a couple of weeks for the first time ever. The same basic sponsorship will be in place. No white tents and homemade display racks allowed. The set up is very high end, with solid white walls provided for each artist, abundant lighting, carpeting in the NY venue (not Toronto) and only one little display table to hold cards is allowed. The look is very clean and very contemporary. The works were quite large for the commercial buyer or wealthy collector and almost each artist had a handful of smaller affordable works for the average investor just getting started. Red dots were all over the place and empty nails as well.

There was an untapped emerging artist competition for those in grad school or 3 years out, a 3-D lounge sponsored by Sony to showcase video artists and photographers, a theme competition sponsored by Absolute Citron Vodka featuring lemons, and a center alley (wait…centre alley in Canadian) of large scale sculptures, conceptual art and installations.  Art Walks with docents, Art Chats with guest speakers and even some onsite Art Stylists** were part of the program. (I want to be an Art Stylist when I grow up!). Of course a bar, some food and a ticketed admission were part of the package. All the artists were on site, well dressed and engaging the crowd. The art work was in most cases spectacular, in some cases redundant with other exhibitors, and every now and then, ….odd, but none the less entertaining and visually fascinating.  Okay, this is exactly what the famous Art Basels are like here and around the world except for the representation part. The Miami and New York locations do have tents for those who want to buy a spot in the show to ummm….show their work.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? I was psyched all the way home, including the 3.5 hours spent in traffic due to a jackknifed tractor trailer blocking all lanes for hours and hours. Still pretty excited about the possibilities while finally inching up an exit ramp to gain access to a utility road parallel to the highway for another 10 miles of crawling cars. Not nearly so enthused when looking back and realizing that only three cars behind us, the highway was reopened and zooming by while we sat at a red light on our one and only way to the access road. I felt much better once passing through our Border Patrol station and not having to watch the little numbers below the big numbers on the speedometer. We can go 90 in Canada? Really!!  Oh…..that is kmph not mph. Rats.
But back to the Artist Project, now that I have internet access again, I checked out the too good to be true details of such an exhibition both Canadian and American. For some reason, with exchange rates factored in, the US booth space (once you are juried in) is double the Canadian price. Standard show process applies in that one submits the usual materials, statements, non-refundable fee and so forth. Several contracts are included regarding exhibitions within 30 days before and after the event, allowable materials, PR issues and fine print that a corner, extra wall or extra lights will cost additional fees. So how much would it cost in New York? The minimum 5’ deep by 15’ long space which is the smallest one you can get is $3825.00 and the largest at 10’ deep by 20’ long is $10,000.00 but they will sell you additional footage if desired. Add on your travel costs, rooms for the three nights, meals and incidentals and that is one whopping chunk of change to show some work. Granted, it is one of the few and probably best ways to make it “in the big time” world of the art market. Reading the exhibitor’s bios and records for the Canadians, these artists put the capitol “P” in professional. With some pieces selling in the upper price ranges, no wonder they can afford such exhibition fees.  I still wonder how much those Art Stylists got paid.

Would I love to be a part of something like that? Absolutely. Could I sit inside for four days on a little director’s chair and make small talk to people all day long? Absolutely not.  Did I see work on par with what is found here in NE Ohio and by some local Cantonians as well? Absolutely. Did I see anything at all that looked even remotely like the style of work I produce? Absolutely not.  I guess this is one of those “when life gives you lemons” moments… only the choice is lemonade or lemon vodka.  I am perfectly happy leading a lemonade lifestyle as age and experience and opportunities have proven that a lemon vodka life is both expensive and short-lived.

**Definition of an Art Stylist according to the program: “The Art Stylist will help you overcome any apprehension you may have when buying your first piece of artwork. Learn the basics of art buying with an introduction to various mediums, genres and trends that will assist you in finding the right piece for your home and lifestyle. They will offer tips and insights that will make any first-time buyer feel at ease.”
(Snarky’s first piece of advice would be….don’t bounce the check or have your credit card rejected.)

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