The Bay Area has long been knocked for its lack of commercial prospects for artists of all stripes, including visual ones.
San Francisco may be teeming with young creative types, but most who want to make a living from art depart for New York or Los Angeles, where strong gallery scenes are complemented by scads of art fairs, a staple of the contemporary art market.
Last year, for the first time in the better part of a decade, the city hosted the San Francisco Fine Art Fair at Fort Mason. By most accounts it was a success: organizers say that more than 15,000 people attended and $5 million in work was sold.
Although the local art scene is abuzz with anticipation, the success of three simultaneous art fairs is far from assured. Skeptics say that the new fairs did not screen galleries carefully enough, leading to sketchy quality. And while last year’s fair filled Fort Mason, the surge in fair locations means that the art audience will be pulled in different directions.
The trio of fairs is “a kind of risky endeavor,” said Glen Helfand, an instructor at California College of the Arts and an art critic.
“They show that a lot is going on here,” he said, but “there are a lot of galleries that I’ve never heard of.”
The fairs take pains to distinguish themselves from one another: The San Francisco Fine Art Fair and ArtMRKT are the most conventional, both run by professional art-fair producers based on the East Coast. ArtPad, founded by Chip Conley, executive director of Joie de Vivre Hotels, and Maria Jenson, an art consultant, has the most alternative feel. It will take place in the Phoenix Hotel and features more experimental programming than the other two. (Burning Man’s Black Rock Arts Foundation, for instance, is curating its opening night celebration.)
San Francisco has had fairs before, but nothing on this scale. In 1995, to coincide with the opening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s new building, Jack Hanley, who owned a gallery in the Mission District until last year, did an alternative art event at the Phoenix Hotel. There was an occasional art fair at Fort Mason, but that dried up over the last decade.