The Inaugural Philadelphia Fine Art Fair Draws Robust Crowds and Curious First-Time Collectors

With a successful first edition already in the rear-view mirror, there are now plans for round two next year.

View of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, April 4–7, 2019. Courtesy of Philadelphia Fine Art Fair.
View of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, April 4–7, 2019. Courtesy of Philadelphia Fine Art Fair.

They came, they saw, they sold. This past weekend, galleries and dealers from across the country gathered at Philadelphia’s historic 23rd Street Armory for the inaugural edition of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, the city’s first fair focused primarily on contemporary art. It appears the event has filled a niche: over 4,000 guests attended across three days, and there were lots of lively and active sales.

Works in the $3,000–30,000 range were met with particular enthusiasm, and in the final hours of the fair on Sunday, sales spiked, with some galleries selling five or six works just before closing. There was robust buying of both Latin American art and contemporary realism, while the fair’s special exhibition, “The Magical World of MC Escher,” was crowded throughout the event.

For the ten Philadelphia galleries participating, the newly minted fair provided the opportunity to connect with unknown area collectors. Stanek Gallery, which specializes in figurative painting, said: “We ran out of cards. There was so much interest from locals we’d never been in touch with before.”

Over 4,000 people attended the first edition of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, April 2–5, 2019. Courtesy of Philadelphia Fine Art Fair.

Over 4,000 people attended the first edition of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, April 4–7, 2019. Courtesy of Philadelphia Fine Art Fair.

Rick Friedman, the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair’s founder, has spent the past decade organizing regional luxury exhibitions and fairs across the country, in places like Aspen, the Hamptons, and Palm Springs. For Friedman, the hunger for a fair serving Philadelphia seemed readily apparent. “There are over six million residents in the metro area,” he said.

“There are dozens of art museums and institutions with world-class patronage, five art schools, 30 art galleries, and the largest collection of public sculptures in the nation. Philadelphia has an active and affluent collector base, including many art philanthropists. Even though I have long produced successful regional shows in many affluent areas, Philly is simply a more fertile ground.”

View of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, April 2–5, 2019. Courtesy of Philadelphia Fine Art Fair.

View of the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair, April 4-7, 2019. Courtesy of Philadelphia Fine Art Fair.

Getting the fair off the ground wasn’t easy, however, with many viewing Philadelphia as an “antiques town.” But Friedman was able to underscore the untapped potential of collectors in Philadelphia’s Main Line suburb, the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, as well as among the successful young professionals in downtown and Fishtown. 

Now a second edition of the fair seems certain, with plans for expanded partnership, attendance capacity, and special programming.

“We created this event in five months. As people were leaving, they were thanking me for creating this,” said Friedman. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘now we don’t have to travel to New York City to experience an international contemporary art fair. It’s about time.’”

The second Philadelphia Fine Art Fair is scheduled for April 2–5, 2020.


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