Meet Superfine!, the Art-World Upstart That Wants to Make Fairs Fun Again

Expanding to Washington DC this month, the fair shows that it’s more than just the quirky cousin of the big box fairs.

Young Collectors at Superfine! Miami 2017. Courtesy of Superfine!

Given just how similar art fairs are today, you’d think there’s a law in place dictating that they have to be that way. There isn’t, of course. Just ask Superfine! The Fair, a refreshing alternative to the boxy, cold Friezes of the world. Founded by partners in life and art, Alex Mitow and James Miille, the upstart fair has always marched to the beat of its own drum, espousing inclusivity, transparency, approachability—and fun.

What’s more, it’s growing: The four-year-old fair is set to move to Washington, DC—its third city—later this month.

The first Superfine! seeds were sewn in 2014. Mitow was a restauranteur (he owned a Columbian hot dog restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side), but he had begun to dabble in the art world, setting up curated cafes at other art fairs. Miille, an up-and-coming photographer, was being approached by galleries, but the experience wasn’t what he or his partner thought it would be.

Alex Mitow and James Miille. Courtesy of Superfine!

“We witnessed firsthand what an emerging artist goes through when they’re navigating the art world,” Mitow tells artnet News. “What we saw was not very conducive to success. There were a lot of people flocking around and promising big things while the artists were left hanging around waiting for those things to happen.”

The fair, which launched in Miami and New York in 2015, is known for its playful program and unpretentiousness. Exhibitors, from small and mid-level galleries to up-and-coming artists, come from around the country. For many, it’s the only national fair on their calendar. Performances are weird and wonderful. LGBTQ vibes are strong. And most of all, you don’t have to be in the one percent of the one percent to walk away with something for your walls.

“It’s not so much that we have the craziest installation art or the best parties,” Mitow says. “We do, of course, have great programming, but it’s really about the feeling that you know what to do there. You know that, if you walk into a Superfine! fair—whether you’ve collected for 50 years or you’re a young professional and have never bought art before—you’ll find something that you love and can afford and can take home.”

Rod Webber, Unititled (2018). Courtesy of the artist and Superfine!

Indeed, Superfine! prides itself on transparency, and it permeates all aspects of the event.

“I truly feel it’s a misconception in the art world that it’s a positive thing to have ‘price upon request’ be the standard,” Mitow says. “Even the wealthiest people I know do not like buying things they don’t know the price of. It creates an awkward interaction, especially if I can’t afford the piece, or don’t think it’s worth what you’re asking. I think it’s much better to have a price out there.”

It’s also more affordable than the major art fairs, with even the price of the top end booths costing tens of thousands of dollars less than those of other fairs in the field. And Superfine! offers payment plans, allowing galleries and artists to settle over an extended period of time.

Maggie Siner, Sleeping Hands (2017). Courtesy of Susan Calloway Fine Arts.

This Halloween, Superfine! launches its inaugural Washington, DC, edition. The expo will feature 70 exhibitors and work by some 300 artists—more than half of which are from the DC metro area.

DC is a big challenge for the fair—and a big opportunity. No fair has been able to successfully crack the city’s niche market scene.

“DC doesn’t have any major art fairs, but it does have a thriving art scene,” Mitow says. “There’s a lot of great artists in the area. I think what this fair is doing is galvanizing and encapsulating that energy into one space, one event.”

Suzy Scarborough, Floating Gardens (2018). Courtesy of Zenith Gallery.

Superfine! DC will be on view October 31 – November 4, 2018 at the dock 5 event space at Union Market. Tickets for the fair are on sale now.

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