SAN JOSE, California — Another day, another art fair. There has been, in recent years, a massive influx of art fairs, to point where it seems like every major city (and some boutique-y destination cities) has their own. Fairs accounted for a whopping 33% of all art gallery sales for the fiscal year of 2013. And why not? With art’s increasing popularity among the elite class as a status symbol, fairs are not only a place to pick out your latest acquisition, but also a status symbol in and of themselves. The act of attending is essentially buying a pass to meet the cognoscenti of art without all that trouble of scholarship and art education.
Thus was born Silicon Valley Contemporary (SVC), which took place April 10–13 at the San Jose McEnry Convention Center in downtown San Jose. A small fair, featuring around 50 booths for galleries hailing from 10 countries, SVC is attempting to do what others have yet to: reach its hands into the deep pockets of tech millionaires and billionaires. In its first edition, the SVC hyped itself as presenting the hybridization of the worlds of art and technology. Yet, while there were twinges of tech creeping out from the standard white cubicle booths, the overall vibe of the fair was one of painting — somewhat stale painting, painting that did little to really grab you. The lack of innovation and aesthetic variation was disappointing, if not totally surprising. Many of the works on view felt lethargic: the same ol’ Gary Langs that ACE Gallery (Los Angeles, Beverly Hills) often brings to the table, or the derivative surrealist work of Joe Hengst, shown by Mirus Gallery (San Francisco).
The tech component did enter into the fair in a few ways. First, there was a series of micro-installations organized by Paul Young of Young Projects in Los Angeles. Titled The Moving Image Experience, it was comprised of works including Gary Hill’s six-channel “Depth Charge” (2009/2012) installation; “Horizon” by Thomson and Craighead, which features live-feed footage from 21 different global locations; and the Marina Abramovic Institute’s “Mutual Wave Machine,” an interactive neuro-feedback installation that requires to two visitors to sit in opposite facing chairs and observe monitors that illustrate their brainwaves as they synchronize (or don’t). The well-curated series added some much needed dynamism to the fair, and put the marriage of art and technology clearly on display. There was also a quirky little piece that addressed the pervasive nature of social media and electronic communication head-on by Desire Obtain Cherish, shown by UNIX Gallery. With acrylic plaques mimicking the look of an iPhone text message conversation, the piece has a satiric flavor that worked.
Tech also entered into the conversation at some galleries, such as KM Fine Arts, which was accepting payment in Bitcoins for its works. At Thursday’s opening KM sold a piece by Dana Louise Kirkpatrick for 40 Bitcoins; other opening night sales included a Jasper Johns for $20,000 and a Mark Flood for $80,000.
The fair organizers also programmed a schedule of special events to complemented the fair, including a tour of modern homes in the area, a Monotype Marathon Party at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, and a performance piece by Tiffany Trenda. These additions did help to fill in some of the holes left by the curation of the gallery booths, but not quite enough to make the fair rise above.
At Thursday’s press preview, things seemed not quite finished, with some exhibitors still receiving and installing art only about an hour before the VIP reception. Not the best impression, but it was a glimpse of an event being born, manifested in its first iteration. Still, Silicon Valley Contemporary has a bit more filling out to do before it can wear that bikini to the beach.
Silicon Valley Contemporary took place April 10–13 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center (150 W San Carlos St, San Jose, California).