Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

The Art is the Thing

By F. Lennox Campello

In the last issue, I offered my thoughts and predictions on the Superfine! DC art fair which by now has come and gone to the District’s historical Union Market. I visited the fair, and spent a few hours enjoying the “artmosphere” (new word that I invented decades ago) that any major art fair brings to any city, and I have some new thoughts and facts to share.

Bottom line: Superfine! art fair management announced that they’ll return next year – that by itself is a major success in view of the DMV’s past attempts to entertain and host a major fine arts fair such as the ones that routinely take place in many other world capitals as well as in Miami each December for the art world’s big dance. This is excellent news for the capital region’s art scene!

Upon entering the fair spaces, and as a veteran of nearly 100 art fairs all over the nation and overseas, I immediately noticed two things: (a) Zenith Gallery – which had my work at this fair – had the primo spot by the entrance, and (b) this fair’s display booths were superbly well designed and spaced, and unlike any other art fair that I’ve ever seen! That’s a good thing.

Why do I say that? Because every other fair on this planet has one mission in mind when designing their floor plan: maximize the number of booths, because the more booths that you can squeeze into a floor, the bigger the profit that the fair organizer stands to make. Kudos to Superfine! DC management for their booth arrangement.

Another important thing separates this fair from your typical New York or Miami art fairs: Artists can have individual booths. This is both a positive (especially in the DC art market) and a negative impact… but that’s a story for another column.

Before I visited the fair, I went online to preview it, and I was very impressed by DMV artist Martin Swift’s chiaroscuro portraits and how good they looked online – they presented even better when closely examined! Swift’s works were displayed with Monochrome Collective and are a delight to the eyes.

That’s one of his portraits illustrating this article – Note the enviable agility with the brush and the mastery of the paint application! This artist is really good.

We visited several DMV gallerists, admiring the works by Gregory Ferrand and Jessica Drenk at Adah Rose Gallery. This art dealer is one of the hardest working gallerists in the area and her booth looked superb! Drenk’s work was one of my son’s early favorites for best in show.

In the past I’ve grumbled via this column about the peculiar issue of how DC area museum curators ignore artists in our area – Once, while talking about art, artists, and museums in our area on the Kojo Nmandi show on NPR, I noted (as an example) that a “Hirshhorn Museum curator would rather take a cab to Dulles to fly to Berlin to visit the studio of an emerging Berlin artist, than take a cab to Bethesda, or Adams Morgan, or Alexandria to visit an emerging DC area artist.”

That explains how an impressive artist like Scott Hutchison can remain largely ignored by museum curators in this area – mostly because DMV museums think of themselves as “national” museums, rather than regional or local. In person at this fair, Hutchison’s new series of works were even more impressive.

Another artist that I “discovered” at this fair was Baltimore artist Daniel Stuelpnagel.  His elegant geometric work hides the extraordinary amount of compositional planning and work that it takes to deliver these intelligent pieces.

I also spent some time chatting with the hardworking art dealer Gabriela Rosso of Potomac’s RoFa Projects – I was astounded to find that this is Rosso’s 9th fair this year! All over the globe, by the way, not just the US. This is a lesson to art galleries everywhere.

RoFa’s booth was full of impressive work, the output of this gallerist’s focus on Latin American artists (mostly). I was taken by the photographs of Jesús Chacón; they’re minimalist works with large areas of white, which focus the eye on the subject at hand.

When I had done my earlier online preview, I had thought that the work of Gaithersburg artist Hannah Sarfraz was fabric-based, and essentially fabric design or painting on fabric… but they were in fact really well executed, hyper realistic water media paintings! Another great find at the fair.

Sometimes a young set of eyes are the best critics, and halfway through our walk, my son Anderson made a straight line for Rogelio Maxwell’s booth and was fascinated by his works and received a really nice reception and explanation of Maxwell’s talented handling of color.

From there we found my way to the refined works of Wayson R. Jones, whose technique and presentation just keeps getting better and sharper! This is a key DMV artist deserving of more attention by the curatorial cabal of our area.

Another artist who caught the eye of the youngest Campello art critic was Dennis Crayon, who was gracious enough to spend a lot of time discussing his techniques with an admiring 9-year-old fan!

But no artist fascinated this young mind more that the Ft. Lauderdale artist known as Aliguori.  His fascination was in large part driven by the 3D effect delivered by this painter’s focused genre of monochromatic works that tickle the eye’s ability to separate depths based on color warmth and position.  The fact that the very nice artist was also kind enough to spend a lot of time discussing his art and technique with a young admirer is also a great lesson in art fair niceness and etiquette!

By now we had spent a few hours at the fair, and towards the end I discovered the booth of New York’s Lori Cuisinier, whose Ariadne series of works were not only elegantly hung in the minimalist style preferred by the art fair management set – not only did she have the best hung booth at the fair – but was also the singularly sexiest booth in the entire fair and stood out in prudish Washington.

My overall impression of the fair was very positive, and I applaud the decision to return next year. This is a kick in the creative tuchis of the DMV, and it helps the capital’s artistic juices in not only a seminal way, but also in one that helps our art foot print in multiple ways.

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