In an increasingly market-driven art world, one art fair is still all about the artists: The Satellite Art Show, founded in Miami in 2015 by artist Brian Whiteley. The scrappy fair, which has hosted editions in an abandoned hotel and a parking lot full of shipping containers, has announced its first full-fledged New York edition.
Satellite Brooklyn will take place in the Pfizer Building on Flatbush Avenue this October. Whiteley is promising to charge exhibitors no more than $700 for the chance to show their work, and doesn’t take any commission on sales.
“We’re trying to showcase younger artists, younger curators, younger galleries—people who don’t have a large amount of money to spend on booths,” Whiteley told artnet News. “They can come to our fair. We’re going to curate the best projects based on the merits of the work, not the ability to pay.”
Although the fair caters to emerging artists, more established figures, like the much-liked duo Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw, who spent Satellite’s 2016 edition swimming in a 3,000-galloon pool of cereal, have been known to make appearances. And in 2017, when Kalup Linzy wasn’t performing in drag at his solo booth with Miami Beach’s David Castillo Gallery at Art Basel in the convention center, he was up in North Beach, presenting his drawings at Satellite.
The fair has also allowed artists to make important connections. Collector and curator Tiffany Zabludowicz visited Satellite in Miami in 2016, and wrote about one of the highlights, an installation by Signe Pierce, for Artspace. Zabludowicz has since given Pierce a solo show at her curatorial venture Times Square Space, and included her work in the current show at the Zabludowicz Collection in London.
Whiteley runs Satellite with creative producer Anna Liisa Benston, special projects coordinator Jason Derek North, and Quinn Dukes of Performance Is Alive, who curates the fair’s robust performance art section. The upcoming New York edition follows an entirely performance-based outing in a former Brooklyn dollar store last fall—timed to Bushwick Open Studios—and comes on the heels of Satellite’s first outing in Austin, Texas, during South by Southwest in March.
“People made a lot of sales,” said Whiteley of the Austin fair. “Visitors were really excited about having something like Satellite in a different market.”
New York, of course, is a different story. “We thought it would be better to have a freestanding event instead of competing with some large-scale art week,” said Whiteley, who co-founded the former Select fair, which held its fourth and final New York edition during Frieze Week in 2015.
He felt that the time was right for a new venture in New York largely because Satellite was able to secure an affordable venue. The Miami fair likely won’t happen this year, Whiteley admitted, because he doesn’t want to have to charge his exhibitors more. “It’s become insanely expensive to produce anything,” he explained. “In Miami, if the venues know you’re there for art during Basel, they charge you double.”
As an artist, Whiteley knows how valuable it can be to participate in an art fair, and how difficult it can be to secure those kinds of opportunities. Therefore, keeping down the costs to artists and galleries is his primary goal. (When he got free use of the old Ocean Terrace Hotel in Miami in 2017 ahead of its planned demolition, Whiteley charged just $250 to show.)
“There are different ways to produce an art event that can be highly successful but don’t cost people thousands of dollars. If you are exhibiting with Art Miami, you buy the booth for $15,000, but then there are walls and lighting and all of that—it turns out that you have to spend $30,000!” Whiteley lamented. “A lot of these other art fairs are just raking in the cash from these galleries.”
“We’re trying to be transparent about cost and translate that to affordable booths,” said Whiteley, who is offering a discounted rate of $500 to returning exhibitors. “We have an empty, raw warehouse space, so projects will have to figure out how to be freestanding, or if they need, to build infrastructure.”
Visitors can expect a rich mix of art, performance, and tech-based presentations that will activate all the senses. “There will be a lot of interactive elements. We’ve done therapy spas, CBD oil hand massages, Tarot card readings, and makeovers at the bar,” said Whiteley. “We want to provide more than just a fancy cocktail and a VIP night. I think that is an experience that is outdated.”
But Satellite isn’t just a cheap cash-in on the rise of the so-called experience economy. “There is definitely a social consumer who will want to go to the Museum of Ice Cream or 29Rooms for something that they can Instagram, but those tend to be very vapid,” said Whiteley. “What we’re trying to do is show art that’s critical and progressive and transgressive.”
And Whiteley is equally critical of his competitors in the fair world. “With the large fair model, what you’re seeing is market-tested works from big blue-chip galleries,” he said. “Whether it’s TEFAF, or Armory, or Frieze, you’re basically going to a trade show. They try to glorify it as an art fair or almost a museum show, but it’s really just a trade show for already-established artists. That’s a cycle that I’m trying to break.”
“This is about finding a way to make an art fair that is more in touch with the artist community and the creators,” Whiteley added. “We’re trying to honor the impetus of the creation. I think that’s what’s missing. There needs to be less of a focus on commerce, and more on giving the young people who are actually producing cutting-edge things the chance to shine.”
Satellite Art Show Brooklyn will be on view at the Pfizer Building, 630 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, October 3–6, 2019.
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