In a sea of art fairs designed to attract collectors, Clio feels made for a very different clientele – artists.
In small sections pushed together, the fair brought together the work of 50 artists in a gallery-sized room at 550 West 29th Street in Chelsea. Unlike other exhibitions, artists present themselves (the premise being that they cannot be exclusively represented by a New York gallery), and in a few cases a friend or family member staffs the booth. The majority of visitors to Thursday night’s opening were not seasoned collectors, but supportive friends.
In the small space, David Bowie blared from the speakers and an open bar served cheap wine and mixed drinks. The most expensive pieces I saw were three oil paintings priced at $10,000, and the cheapest were prints at $125. Most works on paper were listed for around $400, with most canvases going for several thousand dollars. At opening, the price lists were already dotted with red wine.
However, the low price points signaled miraculously undiscovered phenomenal artists. Some of the artwork – and the cramped setting – made the Clio feel more like a flea market than an art fair. But regardless of the quality of the works, it was refreshing to see artists in the wild exhibiting their work just blocks away from Chelsea’s most exclusive galleries.
One artist said she chose the fair because it’s affordable: the lowest-priced booth is $250/square foot with a minimum purchase of four square feet. The the condition of self-presentation is a welcome break with the tradition of the art world, which dictates that galleries and dealers must act as intermediaries between “their” artists and collectors.
One visitor emphasized that the traders who attended the Clio booths (in this case mostly artists) were not “distant” like the gallery workers at art fairs and spoke of the benefit of artists explaining their own work: “Here you get inspiration why it was made.”
Julia Rivera, who exhibited seven paintings, explained the feminist drive behind her practice. “I am so upset about what is happening right now. Sometimes you just have to breathe,” Rivera said, pointing to her images of women whose faces are obscured by plants. In the adjacent column, hung on her small section of the wall, Rivera’s paintings depicted women with inverted Italian coffee machines or “mocha pots” on their heads, reflections on the impossible expectations placed on women.
To Patrick Webb Cataclysm pictures — the fair’s most expensive works — were another highlight. With an MFA from Yale and a professorship at Pratt, Webb isn’t exactly an outsider, but his strange, apocalyptic portraits of firefighters catching falling civilians felt new to the subject, even though their execution screamed classic technique.
Webb, with his traditional education and career in the fine arts, was outsized. Many presenters were young hobbyists and aspiring full-time artists, and some were older people who discovered their artistic passion later in life. Mumbai-based Vienna Advani was a fashion designer before she started painting. In his exhibition, Advani uses his embroidery background to create sculptural works on canvas.
A series of paintings by Felipe Fredes was another standout, among them a fragmented face in three parts, a petal-like abstraction and two hands – one fleshy and one bony. The latter looks like Egon Schiele until you get up close and you get the feeling that Fredes is doing his thing.
The work that seemed to get the most attention, however, was a canvas covered in splashes of LED letters spelling out “Sugar Daddy,” listed for $8,000. Artist Jay Martin told me he sells most of his work through Instagram.
Another popular stand was that of the artistic duo Formento & Formento, whose relatively huge variety of photographs featured women in glamorous make-up, evoking the effect of movie stills or glossy pages of fashion magazines.
The tricks of some of Clio’s art added to the low-key mood of the fair.
“I don’t need to go into the conversation feeling like I have to show off my knowledge of the art world,” said one visitor. “Everyone here is much more transparent about their feelings.”
Rivera, who said this was her first Clio exposure, also expressed her gratitude for the fair. “I hope they can do it all over the world,” she said.
Clio advertises itself as an independent art fair, and that is abundantly clear. Where else can you see so much new art (and so many artists) in one place without a gallery broker putting up a nice facade? Where else but online can people who are into art actually afford to buy it?