At UNTITLED San Francisco, Dealers Chase Tech Money While Collectors Remain Circumspect
Photography is the medium of choice for collectors at the fair's third annual outing.
Along the Embarcadero, overlooking the bay, the UNTITLED San Francisco fair has settled into its third home in as many years: Pier 35, a cruise ship terminal with a decidedly industrial chic vibe. No fewer than 55 dealers from 16 cities have made the trip, hoping to lure in wealthy tech elite and other local collectors.
Thursday’s opening followed on the heels of the gala opening at FOG Design+Art, now its sixth year. The two fairs “wanted to work together to create more of an art-fair week for San Francisco,” UNTITLED’s director Manuela Mozo told Artnet News.
If a fair’s third outing is a make-or-break moment, Mozo is nothing but confident that UNTITLED, San Francisco, will succeed. “There’s been a substantial uptick for registration and ticket sales,” she said. “We’ve had overwhelming support from the Bay Area.”
Dealers are eager to break into the San Francisco market. At least one gallery, Espai Tactel of Valencia, Spain, is even making its first stateside appearance. “We think San Francisco is interesting; it is a multicultural town,” said the gallery’s co-founder Juanma Menero.
Another first-timer, Blain|Southern of London and Berlin, is doubling down on San Francisco with booths at both of the city’s fairs. At UNTITLED, they are near the entrance, but have hidden Mat Collishaw’s piece All Things Fall behind a wall in a darkened chamber, where a strobe light transforms the spinning work into a sculptural zoetrope.
Visitors who spotted the hidden room were instantly transfixed by the optical illusion of animation, based on Peter Paul Rubens’s The Massacre of the Innocents. The 3D-printed work has been shown at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, and is priced at £350,000 ($451,000).
“We wanted to focus on bringing him to the US market,” gallery sales consultant Ashley White told Artnet News, noting that the first of the two editions of the work belongs to artist Tony Cragg, and that Damien Hirst owns a similar piece by the artist.
State of Sales
While there were no takers yet on Collishaw, a number of galleries reported early sales during the fair’s Thursday preview. Many were photographs, which has long been a medium of choice for major San Francisco collectors, and other works below $20,000.
Toronto’s MKG127 quickly sold two of Roula Partheniou’s painted wooden sculptures, which realistically ape colorful objects such as raffle tickets and boxes of candy, for $5,500 and $2,800.
By the end of day one, New York’s Fort Gansevoort had sold five of nine paintings from its solo presentation Roy Fowler, a former California surfer kid who makes striking blue and white works depicting crashing ocean waves. At the fair, his canvases are priced between $10,000 and $20,000.
Five Car Garage from Santa Monica dedicated its booth to the romanticism-tinged paintings of Alison Blickle, and sold two canvases for between $8,000 and $10,000.
“UNTITLED kind of curates your booth and tells you the artists you think will do well,” Belinda Neuman, the co-owner of first-time exhibitor Neuman Wolfson Art of New York, told Artnet News. The gallery presented a two-man booth of Michael Bevilacqua and Christian Schumann, whose star-covered panel painting sold for $32,000.
“Christian went to art school in San Francisco and Michael grew up in California and is in the collection of SFMOMA, so they seemed like a natural choice here, because it’s a regional fair,” Neuman added. The gallery also brought works on paper starting at $3,000 in an effort to accommodate a range of budgets.
Even lower on the price spectrum, the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive was doing brisk business in their eye-popping booth selling $100 prints by Masako Miki. Her exhibition “Masako Miki/MATRIX 273” is on view at the museum through April 28, and the artist is leading a poster-making workshop at the fair this afternoon to help guests create signage for tomorrow’s Women’s March.
Photography in Focus
Trends can be hard to spot at art fairs, but there were a number of booths highlighting photography. “The history of collecting in San Francisco is traditionally more geared toward photography,” noted the Seattle-based dealer Mariane Ibrahim, who was showing exclusively photos by Ayana V. Jackson.
The striking presentation featured toile wallpaper on the booth walls, contrasting an idyllic county scene with photographs referencing histories of slavery and the objectification of the black female body, as well as contemporary concerns such as Black Lives Matter. The works are priced between $3,800 and $12,000.
Meanwhile, rising star Devan Shimoyama had an entire wall at New York’s De Buck Gallery, with four photographs from the artist’s residency in New York’s Fire Island, also currently on view at his solo show at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
“Devan’s really taken off the last year and a half,” said owner David De Buck. “People seem to be very attracted to this work.” The gallery also sold a photographic collage by Rashaad Newsome for between $15,000 and $20,000.
Paris’s onestar dedicated its entire stand to Daniel Gordon’s series “Au Bon Marché.” The photographs capture still-life arrangements the artist created by collaging found photographs of everyday objects into 3D versions of themselves, instantly recognizable but delightfully distorted. Each print cost €2,000 ($2,270) for the first edition and €2,500 ($2,840) for the second edition.
Gordon originally discarded the sculptures after creating the photographs, but the originals are now for sale as well. “We said, ‘stop destroying it! People should see these objects themselves,'” said Darlene Lin, onestar’s director of sales.
That’s not the case with Jasper de Beijer, whose photographs are the only record of his carefully constructed architectural models, which are about two-thirds the size of the final, larger-than-life images.
New York’s Asya Geisberg Gallery had already sold one of his works for $10,000. “Jasper is actually the only photographer we have in our program at the moment,” said gallery manager Hanna Fruchtenicht, citing the medium’s popularity among the local collecting community.
Some dealers had yet to make a sale during opening day. But “I’m not very worried,” said Louis Lefebvre of Paris’s Galerie Lefebvre et Fils, whose booth was dedicated to husband and wife team Alexandre and Florentine Lamarche-Ovize. “There’s been a lot of art advisors, and they’ll go and consult with their clients and come back. In Miami, it’s different; I sell a lot on the first day.”
A Good Bet?
Despite a great deal of optimism among dealers at both fairs, not everyone is convinced that San Francisco art fairs can be money-makers for galleries. One Bay Area dealer who has shown with UNTITLED in Miami Beach—reliably selling out the gallery’s booth—but has yet to commit to showing in their hometown, told Artnet News that they weren’t sure they could sell enough in San Francisco to cover the cost of the booth.
“It is hard to invest the same amount in this city,” the dealer explained. “You have more enthusiasm than anywhere here, but they are a reasonable people. They’re not caught up in the hype that you see in New York and LA and of course Miami. They take their time, and the sale doesn’t necessarily happen.”
But if the market hasn’t totally caught fire, it is certainly on its way.
“Is this becoming a destination art city? Maybe,” said Robin Wright during a VIP tour of her art-filled San Francisco home. A member of the board of trustees at SFMOMA, she is also showing at UNTITLED’s new art book publishers section with RITE Editions. “The art collectors in San Francisco can sustain fairs in a way that they haven’t in the past.”
UNTITLED, San Francisco, is on view at Pier 35, 1454 the Embarcadero, San Francisco, January 17–20, 2019.
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