Gold Digging: Silicon Valley Fair Debuts in Spring

Here comes Silicon Valley Contemporary.

The remodeled San Jose Convention Center will host the inaugural edition of the Silicon Valley Contemporary fair in April

For years, art dealers and others in the art world have been scratching their heads about the notable disconnect between the wealthy young residents of Silicon Valley and the contemporary art world. What seems like it should be a natural fit—young clients with considerable disposable income actively acquiring cutting-edge contemporary art—has, for reasons not readily apparent, failed to materialize.

This spring, fair organizer Hamptons Expo Group (HEG), under the leadership of president Rick Friedman, hopes to tackle the issue head on, with the debut of Silicon Valley Contemporary, a new fair that opens April 10 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and runs through April 13.

“How do we wake up Silicon Valley?” was a question frequently batted around among exhibitors at HEG’s annual fair in San Francisco, Friedman recounted to artnet. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report released last year, Silicon Valley has the nation’s second-highest concentration of wealthy people in the United States, after southwestern Connecticut. “We know who buys art in San Francisco, we don’t know who buys in Silicon Valley,” says Friedman. And despite the relative proximity, the hoped for influx of visitors and buyers from the nearby tech startup hotspot just never seemed to happen.

Asked what he thinks the barriers are, Friedman explains: “It’s this sort of insular world of big companies that have their own campuses with armed guards—sort of like countries within countries—and God forbid you trespass. How do you penetrate that?” Friedman, who made his fortune in Silicon Valley in the 1990s by producing magazines, journals, conferences and trade shows about advanced software technology, and who counts Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs as associates, believes he has an edge. “ I have a little bit of a running start on the sector. I felt like I can go back in and  crack through a lot of the layers [of these corporations] and get people excited to participate by sending internal emails and tickets to employees and encouraging them to go.”  He adds: “They’ve made their money and have houses and sports cars. What’s next? Maybe it’s art.” Friedman himself is an avid collector.

For starters, HEG put the San Francisco art fair on hold last year while organizers focused on reaching out directly to San Jose officials, who were enthusiastic about the idea. There are roughly 40 exhibitors signed up for the first edition and there is a decided emphasis on video art, says Friedman, as well as a strong education program that will focus on topics including the difference between fine art and commercial art, how to collect, and the role of the internet in buying.

Not surprisingly, HEG is not the only fair organizer keeping a close watch on Silicon Valley and its potential to produce new clients. Another company, Art Miami LLC, the fast-growing Florida-based fair organizer, helmed by Nick Korniloff, is planning its first edition of Art Silicon Valley/Art San Francisco, for this  fall in San Mateo County.

Noting that the 2016 Superbowl is going to be held in the Bay Area, at the San Francisco 49ers’ new “Levi’s Stadium,” in Santa Clara, Friedman says “Silicon Valley gets whatever they want. If they can get a Super Bowl, they can get an art fair.”

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