Contemporary art fair


Dear Artist,

I follow a gay couple from booth to booth. They know many dealers — they give hugs, kisses. Everybody enthuses — “so much fun visiting so-and-so in Jersey last week” sort of thing — “so happy with the Tom Gregg we bought in the summer.” A tall, attractive dealer suspects that I’m photographing her. A lady with square glasses has just decided on a Nathalie Forneri. A girl in black stockings tips up, reaches behind a curtain and pulls out some Peikwin Chengs. A white-haired, white-suited man crosses the aisle and asks to borrow some red dots. “We’re out of red dots,” he says. A coffee cup comes along: “At least it’s busier than yesterday,” he says. “Yesterday,” the Warhol-guy says, “a woman had been to all our websites and picked out already — just went around the fair and said ‘this, this and this.’ Over two hundred g’s all round.” A striped dealer lounges, her feet up, her antennae barely out; her assistant does something on his laptop. She points to a Jennifer Garrido and he gets a stool and straightens it. Middle-aged coiffures in basic maroon, their glass-hangers merging in their bosoms, embrace in front of a Sandra Tarantino, happy in the knowledge that they both already have one. A boy-cut dealerette from London explains to me what a “Lambda on Duraflex” is. It’s a high-end digital print, sharp as a tack, on polyester. A bright yellow frock is advising a blue-jeaned couple carrying a yogurt-eater in a Baby Bjorn. “You’re always safe when you buy quality,” she confides. The gay guys have bought a large, enhanced photo of a bee. The attractive dealer, seen before, is escorting what looks like a retired rocker to the wrapping department. It’s busy. There are at least ten pieces undergoing bubble-wrap. The rocker wants “Double-bubble — it’s glass.” He’s just leaving for LA via JFK. “It’s a wrap,” he says.

One hundred and fifty dealers take up most of Pier 92. There’s nothing over $10,000. That’s the rule at the New York Contemporary Art Fair. Most are well below five. Everybody has an eye for trends — what is selling and what’s not. Dealers tend to like what people want, but many have strong ideas, exclusive interests, particular passions. What’s selling is figurative, abstract, decorative, clever drawings, photos, mixed media. All over the place. Not too many landscapes. A lot of these artists must be pretty busy. The home fires burn when dealers talk. A dealer’s business is sharing the magic. I tell ya, some of these folks just love what they do.

Best regards,


PS: “Time and again passion overwhelms reason.” (Alvaro Castagnet) “It is your soul’s duty to be loyal to your desires.” (Rebecca West)

Esoterica: Across town at the Neue Gallery there’s an Egon Schiele retrospective. Dead at the age of 28 in the 1918 flu pandemic, the Austrian Schiele drew and painted with extraordinary facility and expression. Following his lines in the originals is a joyous trip of confidence and exploration. Pause, whim, nuance, paucity, power, play, passion, form and edit are in every chiseled turn. Added watercolour and gouache bring graphic soundness.


AAF Contemporary Art Fair — Exhibitors


“The artist and the Boxer”
by Derek Boshier, Steven Wolf Fine Arts


photograph by Barron Claiborne


“El Nomade”
mixed media by Gustavo Lopez Armentia, Galerie Yoramgil








“Tourist trap”
photograph by Thomas Barbey, Gallery71


mixed media by Antonio Carreno, G.R.N’Namdi Gallery


“Cherry Blossom Worlds”
nails, resin, mixed media by Darlene Charneco,
Morgan Lehman Gallery








Today’s art corruption
by Hans Werner, Australia

Your description of the crowd at the “art” fair is priceless. It illustrates precisely why these events are the pinnacle of today’s art corruption driven by pseudo art lovers posing as dealers. Note the operative word is “posing” as there is no intellectual substance with these people… “Digitally enhanced image of a bee.” …bah.


Not too many landscapes
by Mary Buergin, New Boston, NH, USA


“Winter Marsh Sunset”
oil painting
by Mary Buergin

I am a landscape painter in southern New Hampshire. I passionately love what I do, (along with good jazz and working out at the gym). Recently separated, I am now in a position to travel a bit and indulge my longing to paint in Europe and the southwest… both of which I will be doing in the coming months. I am truly inspired by your total immersion in your art, and your ability to express so well its impact on your life. In reading your last letter, I just felt this sense of frustration at reading that “not too many landscapes” were selling at the show. This is so discouraging to me sometimes. I have done shows as well where I see abstract art flying out of booths and beautiful landscapes being walked by. I have no choice but to paint the landscape… I am in a love affair with it, I notice it everywhere, every subtle shade, every beautiful composition. It is sad to me sometimes that I feel my work will never be taken as seriously because it is traditional landscape.

(RG note) Thanks, Mary. I was not particularly upset at the lack of landscape paintings represented in this fair. I was merely curious about the trends and the concern that dealers and others seem to have about the genre. I often think, as you do, that landscape is an available combination of variations that can amuse and challenge a painter almost indefinitely. Whether they sell or not is another matter.


Slice of life
by Betsy Bauer, Santa Fe, NM, USA


“Siena Tramonto”
oil, mixed media painting
by Betsy Bauer

I loved your slice of life at the New York Contemporary Art Fair. As a former New Yorker, now painting in the desert in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it brought me great pleasure to hear snippets of conversations and impressions. I loved the link to galleries and seeing a sample of the artwork. Great way to start my painting day.





Cesspool of material excess
by Mark A. Brennan, Westville, NS, Canada


“Spring Day, Whitehill, Nova Scotia”
oil painting
by Mark A. Brennan

‘Contemporary art fair’ was nothing more than a complete waste of cyber space. If artistic success is defined in this way then there must surely be a lot of failed artists out there. Although, perhaps Robert has just made a simple observation with this piece of writing and has left it up to the reader to judge the whole contemporary art ‘affair’. So what’s my problem? In the ‘west’ success is defined in purely material terms. He with the most money wins. In so called art ‘trends’, monetary success or failure is basically defined by the ‘dealer’ and those buyers with the money. This art scene is so far from the real world of art it just ceases to be even credible. I define the ‘art world’ as that which attempts to make a positive change in our society’s well-being. I shun the current ‘contemporary’ definition of what is art and what is not. We should question, speak out and work for a better society with a whole different definition of what is deemed a successful artistic life.

I define myself as some sort of ‘ecology’ based artist, putting the well being of this planet first in my life and my art. I try to live simply and could never see myself as a part of this excess that is clearing the ancient forests, polluting the rivers and wreaking havoc on the earth’s eco-systems. It’s a little like a pro sports team paying tens of millions for the latest player. Something is very wrong in our society when we cling to this kind of material lifestyle without the slightest regard for the millions dying around the world of disease, famine and broken neighbourhoods. Now I am not having a go at the art work, but the whole stinking cesspool of material excess we have come to accept as a benchmark of who we are in life.

(RG note) Thanks, Mark. Your idealism and concern for the environment are brilliant. Do you think that things of creative beauty and stimulation are not valuable in themselves as civilizing elements?


House of many mansions
by Anders Knutsson, Brooklyn, NY, USA


painting Oaks Guarding triptych

At the same time the AAF Contemporary Art Fair (formerly the affordable art fair) was going on in New York I co-managed a booth there for a Brooklyn gallery. Many of the 18,000+ visitors were artists, and quite a few of them had had been to Pearl. All trying to figure out what it’s all about. And although this particular art fair is for works modestly priced, by “emerging artists” — meaning (perhaps) largely unknown artists — and mainly directed to urban young folks, many of the visiting artists I spoke to were having a hard time connecting the dots. Nothing at the fair even remotely looked like what the Pearl Paint’s Showcase instructors do. There are obviously many mansions in this big house called art.

An email from AAF to the exhibitors at the end of the fair included the following:

Thank you for participating in the fourth annual AAF Contemporary Art Fair New York. The purchase slips indicate that overall sales totaled over $1.3 million of work was sold. Comments from many of you at the Fair indicate that buyers were slow to write checks, others commented that the Fair seemed much larger (although there was only an increase of 8 exhibitors from 2004) and many commented that the overall quality of the exhibition was a dramatically improved.

If you do the numbers — 130 galleries and $1,300,000 equals $10,000 per gallery in sales. If 50% goes to the artists there is $5,000 for the gallery on average. Not counting the preparation, it was 7 days of long hours, very hard work. Our small, bare bones booth alone cost $5,000. Since we are in Brooklyn, we don’t have to deal with hotel [min $300/pers]food [$50/day] shipping, airfare (from London, Calgary, Paris, Venezuela etc) taxis, buses… only five $22/day parking, $8 micro salads, baby sitter, dog-walker and the like. So there it is: a financial disaster for the galleries. Go a step further, and figure out what’s really happening here. Why the concept of “affordable” art worked 3-4 years ago, and not now. So why do we (galleries) do this? Take this enormous risk. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else but me: It is mainly to show un-known, non- or under-represented artists to a wide audience in a short time.

(RG note) Thanks, Anders. I suspect it’s the same for galleries as in the real world — where ten percent of the galleries do 90 percent of the business. It seemed to me that some galleries had invited their regular customers to “come and see us at the fair.” As usual, some booths were busy, others quiet. Also, one cannot discount the value of a gallery just being present at such an event. People are exposed to new things and new, under-represented artists. Anything that exposes younger artists is worth the effort. Furthermore, connections and sales for these dealers and artists go beyond the event itself. It’s a learning curve for dealers — for example — some were able to hear and see just how effectively some other dealers are using the internet. For those who might be interested in knowing more about this event, check the out online: AAF Contemporary Art Fair 2005.


Same footsteps
by Michael Abraham, New York, USA


“Studio / Artistic License”
oil painting
by Michael Abraham

Hey Robert! You have been following me! I was at Pier 92, and the Neue Gallery Schiele show, and the Dahesh, and the Met and the MOMA, and the Met again, and to the Arts Students League, and to shows in Chelsea at the Forum, met with the editor of American Artist Magazine, and more… so when are you going to call?

(RG note) Thanks, Michael. Members of the brotherhood and sisterhood are always in flux — like ships that pass in the night. What treasures, what friendships, we might have for one another.



Ritual and taboo in art
by Jonathan Kwegyir Aggrey, Ghana, West Africa

In Ghanaian societies contemporary arts are taught through formal educations and there are no divisions of art according to the sexes as there are in the indigenous arts. In the indigenous societies “taboos” are associated with arts, in addition to safety rules in arts. While in the contemporary arts only safety rules are important. Contemporary arts are made to satisfy all ethnic groups and cultures, while indigenous arts are made to serve particular traditional groups and cultures. Indigenous arts are associated and inspired by “rituals” while contemporary arts are associated and inspired by uses, functions, foreign concepts and essentially by aesthetic values.


Style shifters
by Gene Black, Anniston, AL, USA


“Tomatoes for Pablo”
acrylic painting
by Gene Black

I have found that I shift styles and methods as well as mediums. I find great delight in experimentation with my art and materials. I was amazed that at a workshop I attended the “realistic” painter taught us to use wadded plastic to make leaves and foliage. I was quite bold with it as I use alternative materials in much of my work. My art does not necessarily “look” like they were all painted by the same artist. Surprise! Neither does Picasso’s realistic work resemble his abstractions. Both are great and valid work. I think that switching from style to style helps enhance all my work because, what works in abstraction can work in realism also. So, I bash out more and more to learn more and more.


Problems with originality
by Schar Chappell, Auburn Hills, MI, USA

When I started my quest of originality, it seemed every idea that came into my head had already been done. The saying, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ rang loud and clear. This is when I realized how conditioned I am and most of the things I do in my life are what I believe is expected of me. Therefore I am not in harmony. A friend of mine, Margarete Nagarkar, said, “Originality really means the ability to put things together in new ways, to make connections where nobody had ever seen any. The ability to mix up various elements and come up with something new. When you take it apart you realize none of the elements are really new, but the end product is.” The fact is every sunrise as unique, not just another sunrise.


Alter ego concerns
by Ortrud K. Tyler, Oak Island, PA, USA


“South Beach Grill”
oil painting
by Ortrud K. Tyler

The comments about artists who are working on developing an alter ego were interesting. It came to mind the requests of galleries to “Keep doing what you are doing, because people like it, buy it, are used to it etc” Anything but, “Let’s see what else you can do.” I found myself in that situation two years ago. I am known for my water-media abstracts and collages and had a dry run (it happens, doesn’t it) and though I switched to oils for a while I wanted a change in subject matter (more figures) medium, style etc. Well, the gallery response was less than positive. I asked them to bear with me, try them and see. Well, the oils sold just as well, some clients wanted to know why I changed and I told them, I needed a change. Maybe only for a while, maybe forever, what do I know. I just paint. Besides nobody does the same all the time, eats the same, wears the same stuff. Why can’t artist go through changes unchallenged? After all it is the product that counts. As long as the piece has integrity, is well done etc., why not. I have come to love doing figure work. It is difficult, doesn’t always come out well, in which case it is given a fond farewell into the refuse bin and we start again.


Studios worldwide
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA


“Island Caves”
oil painting
by Liz Reday

Regarding Steve Alvin’s questions of great places to paint, one of my favorites is on the island of Ischia, in Southern Italy. The Aragonese Castle was a fortress built in 474 BC and has survived through the ages as a monastery and castle. There is now a small hotel right at the top of the castle owned by Gabriele Mattera. They beautifully restored the hotel part, and the view is astonishing. The castle is on an enormous rock, joined to the island of Ischia by a walkway.

If you’re in the area, stop by the island of Capri. It has tons of history as well as gorgeous rock formations. If you can, lash out and stay at the Villa Krupp. It has marvelous views and is not as expensive as most of the hotels in that area. Or you can go up to Anacapri for cheaper digs and take the bus around the island.

Another one of my favorite places is Newlyn in Cornwall. This is still an authentic fishing village and you can rent an old fisherman’s cottage in North Corner and walk along the little alley named Rue des Beaux Arts by the artists that lived there over a hundred years ago. Unlike St. Ives and Mousehole, Newlyn is not a touristy place, but it has great harbor views and lots of fishing boats. I brushed up on the history of the artists that lived there, known as the Newlyn School. They had a great show at Penlee House (museum) in Penzance where I spent all my money on books. I love the old photos of the artists painting in North Corner, and they’ve mounted a bronze of a palette, brushes and paint tubes right under the wall leading to North Corner.

(RG note) Thanks, Liz. And thanks to all those who sent location suggestions to Steve Alvin. Near every clickback letter we have a little note that says “Email Steve.” If you wish to advise or connect, please send your material directly to the writer as well as copying to us. This is how we help to build voluntary connectivity and friendship between artists.


Working Flake dept.
by Dawn Smith, Panama

I want a whole essay on the Working Flake! Honestly, (and somewhat anxiously) I suspect it’s where I’ve been — and what I’m trying to work out of. Give us worst case character or habit study of the WF, and how to extract ourselves from the rut!

(RG note) Thanks, Dawn. And thanks to all whose curiosity was aroused by the WF concept. I see the Working Flake thing as valuable, and not worth trying to work yourself out of. Some years ago I was interviewed and the reporter quoted me as saying that in order to be fully evolved as an artist — and maybe even successful — you needed to have an iron will and a butterfly mind. The iron will to keep working — and the butterfly mind to keep the ideas coming. I deal with this combination on page 136 in my book The Painter’s Keys. If it’s a rut, it’s a fun one.


Art taking a wrong turn
by Dhyaneswar Dausoa, Upper Dagotiere, Mauritius

Art interpretation and expression has taken a wrong turn. Every silly thing made unconsciously has become a work of contemporary art. What about someone who wants to embellish his living environment, will that person invest in such works? In another way contemporary art has also become a bluff. As a contemporary sculptor I do not approve works that are not appealing to human feelings. Today the world is evolving in a very distressful way. I feel that we should cater to something that can ease human ailments. I would like to take part in some discussions about contemporary art and how it could serve certain social causes.


Another New York
by Gerrit Verstraete, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada


“Reclining Nude”
original paintng
by Gerrit Verstraete

Even though a collection of “square glasses, white suits, striped dealers, middle-age coiffures, boy-cut dealerettes and yogurt eaters” may comprise the New York art scene we all would like to be a part of the Contemporary Art Fair. But there is another New York just as vibrant and alive, just as stimulating and encouraging. It’s the sanctuary studio of the artist. I travel to “New York” every day just to the other side of my west coast island home. Yet, I feel as complete here as I would in any other art scene, perhaps even more so.





Dark Pilings, Bright Morning

oil painting
by Michael Chesley Johnson, Timberon, NM, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.

That includes David Cornwell who wrote, “People-watching is a closet hobby of mine and art fairs are a great place to do it. I do not mean to insinuate that I do not enjoy your other letters, I look forward to them twice a week.”

And also Deb Williams, Des Moines, Iowa who wrote, “What a great way to start a fabulously sunny, crisp and gorgeous autumn day. Pure reading pleasure.”

And also Patsi Hughes who wrote, “You ought to follow someone around in one of our art fairs in Las Vegas. It’s all you can do to make the rent. Art is quite a joke here. There is no support for it either.”

And Bernadine Fox who wrote, “I love to follow the pictures you create with words.”




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