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winterfair (show trends)

updated mon 3 may 99


Philip Schroeder on sun 2 may 99

I have not had a real long history of doing art fairs but my assessment of
the trends in fairs is a bit different from some of the posts I have read
here. ie: some fairs I have done do, esp. big city fairs, have alot of
younger customers, lots of 'dual income no kids' kind of folks. These folks
are furnishing houses/lofts/apts/businesses, and seem to have plenty of
money, and they don't seem to afraid to spend it. Many seem sophisticated
in there taste, some trendy, some not so sophisticated. Of course there are
folks who appreciate but don't have the financial means to purchase. I
generally try to provide for a range of prices in what I show. What am I
trying to say?? I don't necessarily see the "younger generation" as not
becoming art fair patrons. I think one has to go where that market is and
present work that appeals to that audience. I also think that big urban
areas are the best market for contemporary art/craft.

There are a number of big, established shows in Chicago. Each one seems to
have a different character and seems to attract a different customer
group(s). I have been fortunate to do most of them at one time or another,
and have done well at some, less so in others. That is , I think, attributed
to finding the 'right' market for my style of work. On the north shore,
where "bigger/brighter/bolder" seems to be the going thing, my restained
plaette dies. I am much better off south of Evanston and east of Oakbrook.

In other areas, if I were to judge from Best of Season alone, for example, I
would come up with the same conclusion about the next generation. At that
fair, the audience seems older, more established. I seem to sell pieces
intended for gifts, or a specific "spot", but generally not multiple
purchases that I have experienced elsewhere. I also get alot of "I don't
have room for anything else" or "I'm trying to get rid stuff, not aquire
more( the Florida Show National Anthem!!!)".

I do have a few comments about promoters and the number of shows. There are
an "awful lot of shows" cropping up, every Tom Dick, & Henrietta from every
little neighborhood and burg seems to be starting an art fair. Some
promoters do a horrendous job. (Some are downright unethical, do you know
the reputation of the Gold Coast fair in Chi???) There are some promoters
that seem to cater to the lowest common denominator of our culture; these
shows attract throngs of patrons who buy tons of crap. A potter doing these
shows is competing with Walmart. Some shows don't accept a variety of
style; 10 raku folks doing essentially the same thing. Pretty stiff

Some promoters seem to do a bit better but there is a "sameness" to the
work/the show even when the exhibitors change from year to year. ODC does a
pretty good job but falls into this catagory; they are alittle better than
most, I think.

I have run into only a handful promoters who try new things/take a few risks
and in terms of the overall quality of show: they do, IMHO, a terrific job.
The danger of this "risk taking" is that, from the public's perspective, the
show is "all over the place" from year to year. I really believe that there
is only a very small percentage of folks who are artistically sophisticated
enough to respond to innovation at an art fair. The gallery going crowd, I
would guess, probably doesn't frequent art fairs all that much, unless one
counts SOFA or the like as an art fair.
(You might want to go see a SOFA show if you haven't. Even though there
seems to be alot of "good ole' boy gallery network" , not something you or I
are likely to break into easily, it is a different world. I like watching
the people as much as the art.)

An art fair promoter who takes great risks, risks not attracting a crowd, not
being around next year. Just like an artist who, at an art fair, presents
truely innovative/ challenging/ fresh work that has some guts. The general
public seems to respond best to "the familiar but just slightly unique" , if
you know what I mean. I guess I think that the art fair business is
basically a conservative marketplace. I am there, that says something about
my work. But fairs change over time. 57th St started 50 odd years ago when
someone asked local art students/artists if the wanted to hang there work on
the schoolyard fence in hopes of making a few bucks to buy more materials.
Humble beginnings, but an impressive list of exhibitors. Duckworth was
there, I believe, early on. Some other well known people , too. It is very
different now; where it is headed, I am sure I don't know.

Enough of my rambling. Phil Schroeder in Chicago