ArtAspen: In art fairs, size matters (but bigger doesn’t mean better) |

ArtAspen: In art fairs, size matters (but bigger doesn’t mean better)

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoThe second annual ArtAspen opens Saturday at the Aspen Ice Garden and continues through Monday.

ASPEN – Among the issues a visual artist needs to consider is scale – the size of a piece, how it fits into its surroundings, its physical presence and mass.

For the producer of an art fair, scale might be the paramount issue.

“The fairs, the big fairs with hundreds of galleries represented, are imploding under their own weight. The viewer can’t get their minds around it all. It’s overwhelming,” Rick Friedman, who has been in the business of producing art fairs in the U.S. for the past four years, said. Regarding Art Basel Miami Beach, the monster fair whose main event, in the Miami Convention Center, has spawned 20-some additional satellite fairs, Friedman said, “It’s become like a spectacle. It can be a 45-minute drive from one event to the next. It’s too much.”

In the four fairs that he stages – including ArtAspen, the second edition of which runs Saturday through Monday – Friedman has tried to temper that instinct to grow to massive proportions. He recognizes that scale is what has caused an explosion in the number of art fairs: “People feel they can go to one place and see so much art, rather than to a gallery or museum and see one perspective on art,” he said. But a balance needs to be struck so that a fair remains manageable.

Friedman, whose past business endeavors have ranged from creating the ’80s TV show “Dance Fever” to owning a womens volleyball team to putting on digital media trade shows, started his Hamptons Expo Group with ArtHamptons, which houses 80 galleries and draws nearly 10,000 viewers. His Houston Art Fair and San Francisco Fine Art Fair are roughly of a similar size, which he says is just manageable. “Over 75, 80 galleries, it starts to get a little funky,” he said, noting such problems as galleries overlapping in what they exhibit, a loosening of aesthetic standards, and for viewers, having simply too much art to absorb. “It’s hard to see everything and remember what you’ve seen.”

For those who believe that less is more, ArtAspen might be ideal. With 30 galleries this year, and the event confined to the Aspen Ice Garden, it can be navigated in a matter of an hour or so – unlike Art Basel Miami, whose four days doesn’t give enough time for the multiple locations, the accompanying parties and travel time. ArtAspen, which features some 2,000 works and a total valuation of around $100 million, opens with a preview party this morning at 10 a.m., with proceeds benefiting the Aspen Art Museum. Regular viewing hours are today from noon-9 p.m.; Sunday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Monday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Friedman said the relatively small scale of ArtAspen allows for an elevated art experience. Some 30 percent of the galleries who applied for a spot were not accepted; the galleries that made the cut were based on prestige and the quality of the work they sell. Among the artists having their work exhibited are Donald Sultan, Robert Motherwell, Milton Avery, local resident James Surls, and Andy Warhol, whose painting, “Dollar Sign,” has caught the attention of Friedman, a collector of 1950s and ’60s art. Friedman thinks the fair is especially rich in photography, with the Peter Fetterman Gallery, from Santa Monica; the Scott Nichols Gallery, from San Francisco; and Philip Lexïng Projects, from New York and Miami, in attendance, and photographers Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Laila Essaydi and Henri Cartier-Bresson represented.

“I think this will be a rewarding artistic experience – even for the most experienced, savvy collector,” Friedman said. “It really is a museum show. And it’s a small space. You can’t get lost.”

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