Mosshouse: The Art Fair in Review – by Scott S. Jennings

The Art Fair in Review – by Scott S. Jennings

Photo by Mido Lee

3rd ArtPad Iteration Presents More Than Typical Fare

By Scott S. Jennings

Photos by Mido Lee

At this year’s ArtPad  I got to know five participating venues, a cross-section of the fair’s exhibitors that ranged from local and non-local galleries, non-profits and curatorial projects, to performance-based projects, installations, and associated programming. My intention: to get some insight into the impressive diversity of this year’s presentation, and how it would all groove together.

The diversity of exhibitors brought a wider audience base, and marked a concerted interest from fair organizers to host an art- and entertainment-based experience rather than a purely consumer one. Several themes became apparent throughout my conversations; words such as non-traditional, inclusive, and young were evoked repeatedly. By focusing on a non-exclusive visitor experience, ArtPad successfully reached beyond those with collecting agendas, which was nice considering the other fair going on that weekend, ArtMRKT, offers more traditional fare, no pun intended.

However, if people are only looking, having a good time and not buying, the event won’t last. ArtPad succeeded with the open air, and laid back, funkier vibe that made interacting with participants, asking questions, creating connections, and even purchasing natural. For this scene, it worked.

Yes, there is an interest at ArtPad to sell art and gain exposure, but it is not the only goal.  “ArtPad is a place where we try and blur the narratives,” said Maria Jenson, fair Director, on how ArtPad sees the complexion of this year’s fair. “It’s a way to bring everyone into the dialogue.”  This is partly by ensuring equal parts of commercial and entertainment space. Often, fairs feel stuffy and exclusive. Instead, they took a chance and leveraged the participants against a discerning public looking for entertainment value over a more traditional art fair.  And still, sales were good. According to Alissa Polan, Associate Director for ArtPad, “Sales were great this year, we had exhibitors reporting exciting connections with the Bay Area tech community as well.”

Amanda Roscoe Mayo and Guido H. Maus

Amanda Roscoe Mayo and Guido H. Maus

One such gallery approach I saw exemplifying the ‘more than a little something for everyone’ mentality was Beta Pictoris Gallery/Maus Contemporary Art, from Birmingham, Alabama, who came for their 2nd year. What struck me about the only southern-based exhibitor was the curatorial focus; painting. Is it coming back, has it ever gone away etc. etc.? Its stable of painters was supplemented with a mixture of local artists curated by local independent curator, Amanda Roscoe Mayo. They utilized a two-room approach focusing on its theme, and presented work with these considerations, rather than exhibiting the gallery’s best sellers. Not to mention, the price points were approachable for almost any budget.

It’s a dynamic I believe makes the experience more satisfying for the audience. According to the gallery director, Guido H. Maus, people that come into their rooms are looking for education and interaction, as well as information about the artists. “It’s a very discerning audience,” said Maus.

Perhaps that’s why some of the galleries had more of a curatorial focus, and others stuck to their big guns. Different needs demand a different approach. I found the curatorial presentation in Oakland based video and photography gallery, Krowswork, particularly interesting. Jasmine Moorhead, the gallery director, explained how they went about translating what they do, mainly video and photography, into their small space.

The focus was hybridity, while also examining video installation in as many as five projection set-ups: projected onto a flat screen with sculptural elements, projected from the ceiling onto a sculpture, a traditional projection and a flat screen presentation etc. with work by Monet Clark, Jason Hanasik, Malak Helmy, and Liz Walsh. It made the room really dynamic, and showed the exemplary work of the artists, while also creating a way for the audience to enter into the work from several vantage points. Adding in the sculptural work of Mark Baugh-Sasaki, among others, created the feeling of a sci-fi atmosphere, aiding the visual experience created by the projections.


At the heart of ArtSpan, one of the fair’s non-profit participants, is a clear curatorial vision with the mission to support local artists through exhibition opportunity and community resources.  Showing the work of Amber Crabbe, along with a mixture of other ArtSpan “Selections” artists, was an effective way to communicate ArtSpan’s mission within a fair context, and well curated space.  I talked with Heather Holt Villyard, ArtSpan Executive Director, about how their room represents the fact that you don’t have to be a part of the commercial gallery world, as an artist–in terms of your access to resources–to enjoy the exposure fairs can bring.


Andy Hawgood of TPW and Low Subject curator, Luca Nino Antonucci

Andy Hawgood of TPW and Low Subject curator, Luca Nino Antonucci

Exposure is a main part of why exhibitors participate in fairs, especially for newer galleries like The Popular Workshop (SF), that benefit from access to the concentrated time and valued attention, particularly of such a diverse crowd as at ArtPad. According to TPW Owner and Creative Director, Nate Hooper, the opportunity to introduce new, perhaps emergent, audiences and collectors to the emerging artist with whom they work is incredibly valuable. Like artist David Bayus, whose work is also in their current group exhibit, Low Subject, at their Sutter Street location in the Tenderloin until June 21st. Hooper explained the importance of “punctuating” your year with an art fair for sales and exposure purposes, but says he chose ArtPad because of the vibe and the interaction element that it supports.

An established gallery like Toomey Tourell Fine Art (SF), in the 49 Geary building in San Francisco, shows in comparison a stable of mostly established artists with track records at other fairs. Nancy Toomey explained that they too chose to participate for the relaxing and fun atmosphere, while reaching out to a lot of people who perhaps wouldn’t go to 49 Geary.

Chris Figge and Nancy Toomy

Chris Figge and Nancy Toomy

Their participation is one representative of an established local gallery, which adds to the overall diversity within the fair program. Audiences should appreciate this spectrum, particularly young collectors.

Most of the exhibitors, artists and audience members I came in contact with shared my enthusiasm: we saw education, exposure, interaction, disarming atmosphere, experiential, and the experimental all come together. For some people the scene was just that, a scene, and less about serious art connoisseurship and critique. Yet most agreed we need a fair that values and represents these attitudes; a representation, however incomplete, of our region’s talent. Hopefully the next iteration will only build on the last, as each prior fair has done thus far.

Polan, recalling how this fair compared to the past two, said, “The fair itself was spectacular. Our exhibitors, programming partners and sponsors were very engaged and dedicated to making this year the cutting-edge art fair that San Francisco was waiting for,” adding that, “Attendance was higher than expected and our exciting exhibitors and programming really engaged audiences.”

Let’s remember that this is an emerging fair. There will be problems along the way, and some will not be attracted to what ArtPad has to offer. Where is Eleanor Harwood, Catharine Clark, Ratio 3 and some of the other local galleries? They’re either at ArtMRKT or not participating in local fairs at all. But that’s another story. Choices are based on need and are a calculated risk any way you cut it. Still, I believe that the format and complexion continues to improve. We as a city and region need forums like ArtPad for exposure and the opportunity to make connections. And as it grows, we as fair goers and potential exhibitors will have some impact on what the fair becomes. I look forward to what comes next.