Love ’em or hate ’em, art fairs have in the last decade become the agora of the art world, a place where galleries, collectors, artists, art advisories, art fans, curators, and, increasingly, art critics meet to discuss business, trends, and gripe about how awful art fairs are. Now, an upstart art fair in the nebulous East Williamsburg/Bushwick region, NEWD Art Show, is throwing its hat into the ring during the 2014 Bushwick Open Studios (May 30–June 1).
NEWD is not the first art fair to open for BOS, as that honor goes to Bushwick Basel back in 2012, but its organizers want to build on the lessons of their predecessor. “We thought it was great, and it is definitely a previous model we looked towards in organizing NEWD (other past fairs we admire, for different aspects, include Dependent, Spring/Break, Collective Show, Independent),” says Kibum Kim, one of NEWD’s co-directors. “We think the key differences between Bushwick Basel and NEWD mainly pertain to scale; we believe the spirit remains similar.”
Kim doesn’t necessarily think Bushwick needs an art fair, at least not in the traditional sense, but he feels there’s something to be said for the art fair — it injects a sense of urgency that draws collectors and promotes sales.
“With the NEWD Art Show, we hope to channel that excitement to benefit those doing experimental, critically engaged curatorial work,” he says. “These are the people who are on the front lines, discovering and working with young artists, often giving artists their first exhibitions. Sales are not their focus; in fact, some of them have never made sales. We feel that giving these artist collectives, project spaces, and nonprofits a platform to get critical notice and make sales so they can sustain their activities is meaningful.”
Among the participants in NEWD are neighborhood stalwart — and art fair regular — Regina Rex, Carroll Gardens–based nonprofit Residency Unlimited, and even Lower East Side gallery Eli Ping Frances Perkins. The organizers are aiming for 8–10 exhibitors, but they also plan to include a section devoted to artist-book publishing presses (three to five in total), while hosting talks addressing various issues, including those relevant to artist economies. The fair, which will open at 592 Johnson Avenue, has even commissioned site-specific kinetic sculptures by Brazilian artist Raul Mourão.
“At the most basic level, we would like to bring up-and-coming, intrepid players in the art world with strong curatorial points of view together to show great new art in a beautiful space,” Kim says. “As far as bringing a commercial enterprise to Bushwick goes, we believe we are approaching this in a way that not only stays true to the Bushwick spirit but also benefits the neighborhood and emerging artists. Indeed, in tweaking the art fair model to shine the spotlight on artists and curatorial initiatives at the emerging level, a big component of the project is to foster a conversation about the paradigm shift we are seeing in the art world with the market increasingly dominating the discourse, mega-galleries, and auction houses taking greater cuts of the pie, and the ceaseless proliferation of spectacle-based events (like art fairs, we admit) choking up the international art circuit’s calendar.”
Kim’s own background in law, investment banking, and journalism, and his current job in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York, means that he, along with his co-director and high school colleague Kate Bryan, who has herself worked at Sotheby’s and Andrea Rosen Gallery, are trying to approach NEWD in a multifaceted way. One aspect that immediately caught my attention was the line in their promotional materials that explains the fair “will foster a conversation about alternative ways to engage and support emerging artists.” How exactly does this small fair plan to do that?
“We hope that bringing up negotiated resale royalty provisions as an issue will foster a conversation about supporting and incentivizing young artists in the right way as the market evolves at a rapid clip (and many young artists get anointed suddenly only to get burned, like on sellyoulater.com),” he says. “It would be something negotiated upon the sale with the collector and the exhibitor (who would have agreed on the terms with the artist) and stipulated on the invoice. There is already precedence for this with The Artists’ Contract, which the lawyer Robert Projansky and the dealer of conceptual art Seth Siegelaub introduced back in 1971. That contract ran into some issues of legal enforceability, which we will address with the new version and make the record keeping very simple. We feel resale royalty arrangements that are agreed upon by all parties involved gets everyone to invest in the artist’s career and is a better option than legislatively mandated resale rights, which puts collectors and artists in antagonistic positions.”
To call Kim optimistic about Bushwick may be an understatement. He believes that it represents a thriving community of artists and galleries not seen in New York since Soho in the 1980s, though artists in the East Village, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg scenes of the 1990s and 2000s may disagree with that assessment. He also thinks collectors can play a role in keeping the art community in the North Brooklyn neighborhood, which can only happen by bringing them in to witness that local art scene firsthand.
“We believe NEWD is an additive project to BOS that will bring a new audience to check out the impressive work Arts in Bushwick has done,” Kate Bryan says. “We very much want people who come to the fair to also visit artist studios as part of the BOS programming, and we are in conversation with BOS about collaborating to direct collectors from the fair to artist studios.”
In 2012, Bushwick Basel, which was predominantly organized by artists and scrappy local galleries, was by no means a financial success. While some galleries sold sporadically throughout the two-day event, what the small fair did do was garner a lot of media attention and community chatter. Two years along, Bushwick has certainly changed, as high-priced real estate, watering holes, and restaurants are now common sights in the area, and the economy has significantly improved for the collector class. The fortunes for NEWD seem promising, particularly with art industry professionals at the helm, but nothing is certain.
The annual Bushwick Open Studios event, which is entering its ninth edition in 2014, is often seen as a barometer of the neighborhood’s artistic health. This year, NEWD Art Show is certainly going to factor into people’s perceptions of Bushwick’s art community. If the fair financially succeeds, it will mark a turning point for a neighborhood that is still on course to replicate the art-to-condo gentrification story of Williamsburg. But what a success could mean is anyone’s guess. Talk to almost anyone on the streets of Bushwick, and the general sentiment is that they hope history will not repeat itself as it’s done so many times before, in one art neighborhood after another. Probe them further, and they’ll likely admit that there are no signs of disruption of that same old story.