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Art Market Watch

by Rachel Corbett
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The fledgling San Francisco art market is gearing up for a rumble in the art jungle this weekend, as no fewer than three art fairs go head to head in the City by the Bay. The San Francisco Fine Art Fair, May 19-22, 2011, in its second year at Fort Mason Center, received mixed reviews in its inaugural outing last year. Hamptons Expo Group president Rick Friedman, who also produces ArtAspen in the Colorado resort town -- his hottest fair -- as well as the five-year-old ArtHamptons and a new fair in Houston, is giving it a second try with a roster this year of some 60 exhibitors, including Ace, Gerald Peters and Sundaram Tagore, plus a handful of San Francisco galleries, Caldwell Snyder and Scott Nichols Gallery among them. The vernissage is May 19; general admission is $15 if bought online, or $20 at the fair.

Meanwhile, many San Francisco dealers have defected to the new artMRKT San Francisco, May 19-22, 2011, setting up in the untested Concourse Exhibition Center, a warehouse space near the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. ArtMRKT is launched by Max Fishko, son of Forum Gallery director Robert Fishko, along with his partner Jeffrey Wainhause -- both of whom worked for SFFAF last year -- and San Francisco dealers Catherine Clark and Michael Hackett. Among the fair’s 70 exhibitors are Babcock, DCKT, Barry Friedman, Like the Spice and Nancy Hoffman (New York), Luis de Jesus (Los Angeles), Other Criteria (London) and a sizeable SF contingent, including Paule Anglim, Baer Ridgeway, Rena Bransten, Brian Gross, Hackett / Mill, Frey Norris, Scott Richards and Paul Thiebaud. Admission is $20 online, $25 at the door.

ArtMRKT is positioning itself as a “higher-end" fair, opening with a benefit party for the UCSF Medical Center (tickets: $100). "In about 45 minutes I'm getting a hundred cases of Chandon delivered," Wainhause said in an interview during the run-up to the event, boasting of a catering budget with “an extra zero on it” compared to his competition.

Friedman, for his part, professes to be “not fully concerned” with his rivals, saying that SFFAF is more “international than the others,” with galleries from ten countries. Plus, visitors “will go to more than one, most likely.” Still, he has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Fishko and Wainhause, on grounds that none of the parties will identify. Fishko shrugs it off. “We’re unconcerned,” he said.

San Francisco’s third art fair is the smaller, more alternative ArtPadSF, May 19-22, 2011, a self-proclaimed “boutique fair” produced by Joie De Vivre Hotels founder Chip Conley at the Phoenix Hotel, the legendary hangout near the Civic Center for rockers and Hollywood celebrities. Exhibitors include San Francisco veteran Jack Hanley Gallery and Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller (both from New York) as well as Marx & Zavattero, Triple Base, White Walls and a number of other native SF spaces. Special attractions include panels (“Collecting Street Art”), music and video programming, and a splashy "Swimming Pool Social Sculpture" organized by Cal Arts prof Glen Helfand. Admission to the fair is $10, and gets you a shuttle ride to artMRKT. The May 19 preview benefits the Black Rock Arts Foundation; tickets start at $50.

It remains to be seen how much business can be done at three fairs, but San Francisco Art Dealers Association board president Trish Bransten told that at least collectors will be able to “gauge how their local galleries measure up. That will give them a feeling of confidence, that their home galleries are as strong or even stronger” than those in the major markets. Of course, those that don’t need the confidence boost -- global players like Anthony Meier, John Berggruen, Fraenkel and Altman Siegel -- are skipping the whole thing.

Fishko and Wainhause wouldn't offer a sales prediction for their fair, but alluded to the fact that it may be less than the $5 million SFFAF took in last year -- a figure Fishko dismissed as "pure hyperbole."

And this isn’t likely the last we’ll hear from the Bay City brawlers. Fishko and Wainhause are planning to go head-to-head with Friedman in all his fair markets, starting with their Texas Contemporary, Oct. 20-23, 2011, set to launch in Houston a month after Friedman’s Houston Fine Art Fair, Sept. 16-18, 2011. A leaked email from Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Bill Arning bashed Friedman’s fair in favor of Fishko’s, causing a bit of a rumpus. “Something that was so good for the city and would have benefited the whole art community -- nonprofit spaces, museums, galleries, collectors -- now turns into a state of confusion,” gallery owner Barbara Davis told the Houston Chronicle.

RACHEL CORBETT is news editor at Artnet Magazine.