Los Angeles hasn’t always been an art fair destination—its commercial art scene development has yet to reach the breakneck pace and spectacle seen in New York, Miami, or London. Nevertheless, it’s got a solid core that’s been expanding and garnering more attention in recent years. Long-standing regional fairs, the LA Art Show and Photo LA, have entered their 21st and 25th seasons respectively, and they’re joined this January by the 7th edition of the increasingly influential and trendy Art Los Angeles Contemporary and the 3rd reprise of the irreverent Paramount Ranch. New museums, an exploding gallery scene, and this growing fair landscape certainly attract a global audience of collectors, art tourists, and professionals. But are the artists at the wide base of the region’s art pyramid able to gain access to the resources, funds, and collectors at the top? As the commercial influence of the city grows, can artists connect with and tap into these expanding networks of galleries, fairs, collectors, and institutions?
Arturo Herrera, Dairy Queen, 2013. Exhibitor at stARTup Art Fair LA
Raising similar questions about the position of artists in the Bay Area, in 2015 Ray Beldner and Steve Zavattero launched stARTup Art Fair in San Francisco as a way to bring artists without gallery representation into the marketplace, connecting them with collectors and art professionals. The goal was to provide a platform “that gives the artist the power to present and sell work—and keep 100 percent of their sales proceeds—on their own terms.” After the successful inaugural edition, they’re bringing the operation to Los Angeles this week.
We spoke with the stARTup co-founders about the needs of unrepresented artists, how the fair fits into the LA scene, and the possibility of evolving new, alternative economic models for the art world.
stArt Up Co-founders, Steve Zavattero and Ray Beldner. Photo: Mido Lee Productions
ArtSlant: How did stARTup come about? Why did you decide to focus on unrepresented artists?
Ray Beldner and Steve Zavattero: A lot of the energy and money in the art world in the past decade has shifted towards art fairs. Here in the US, art fairs are primarily geared to help galleries reach a broader, international audience for their artists. That’s terrific except when you consider how many artists are out there working without the benefit of any galleries to represent them and take their work to that fair-going audience. Those artists represent the majority of the art production in this country and they have few outlets for their work. stARTup Art Fair was conceived to serve artists who may have lost galleries and others who never had gallery representation because they are recently out of school or couldn’t break into that world. We want to put those unrepresented artists on a level playing field with represented artists, help them promote and sell their work, get their art in front of curators, critics, art consultants, gallerists, and perhaps some will even find gallery representation if they want that.
In recent years, Los Angeles has really grown as an art fair destination. How do you envision stARTup fitting into the LA commercial ecosystem? What’s the role of stARTup?
We love LA and the scene here; it’s full of energy, hope, and creative risk-taking. There are lots of exhibition spaces, great museums, exciting artists and adventuresome collectors. We would like to think our role in LA is similar to San Francisco: to give space to art and artists and create a fun event that brings the various groups in this art ecosystem together. We don't think we will change the art world overnight, but rather like to think that we are contributing to an evolving new model. One that is more independent, self-sufficient, and artist-facing, rather than institution-centric.
Highland Gardens Hotel, site of stARTup LA
How has the shift from San Francisco to Los Angeles been? Is the niche of stARTup any different between these two cities? Are you seeing a difference in the needs and concerns of artists from SF and LA?
From what we are starting to gather, there are even more unrepresented artists in LA than SF—and it’s often by choice, which is a hopeful sign. However, the concerns are still the same: not enough galleries, not enough collectors, not enough support of the local scene by museums.
What did you learn from the inaugural edition of stARTup in San Francisco last year? Is there anything you’re hoping to avoid or recreate in Los Angeles?
We had high hopes for the first edition of the fair in San Francisco, but it exceeded our expectations beautifully. Most artists made sales, some sold out their rooms, many got into museum and gallery shows, a few got gallery representation; and in general, most told us that they felt like the entire endeavor was well worth the cost and the effort. On top of that, we had fantastic press with front-page coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, and about a dozen other major pieces online and off written about the fair. Obviously, we'd like to see those same things happen here: good positive press, more visitors, more doors opening for our exhibiting artists.
One of the critiques of stARTup in San Francisco was that artists were assuming all the financial risks (for increased financial gain, of course). Can you speak to this at all? Has anything changed in the way the fair has gone about securing funding?
Artists assume a financial risk the moment they wake up in the morning. Many of them are already in debt from their MFA programs. They have to pay rent, buy materials, make art objects completely on spec, pay for websites/email lists/marketing, etc.; all of that is taking a risk. We like to think of our fair not as a risk, but as a unique growth opportunity for artists, if they are willing to believe both in us—and in themselves. Our fair is not for everybody. It is especially not for those who believe in the status quo and cling to the outdated notion that work never need leave the studio, because a mystery benefactor will magically appear.
We have tried extremely hard to secure financial sponsorships in order to lower our exhibitor fees, but have had only a little success as of yet. Hopefully… as the fair becomes more established we will. For the time being, we have made every effort to keep our exhibitor fees as low as possible. We are very confident that our cost—both per square foot and per linear foot of usable wall space—is a fraction of costs at commercial booth fairs and other independent art fairs.
Sarah Ratchye, enchantikAt, 2014, Oil on wood. Exhibitor at stARTup Art Fair LA
How did you reach out to artists? What was the curatorial/selection process like?
We recruit through an open call for submissions via some of the usual channels like call for submission websites, for example. But we also do a lot of personal outreach by going to art exhibitions, other art fairs, using social media, and by tapping into our personal networks. The stARTup artists themselves have been a great help in spreading the word about the fair and getting other artists to apply.
When we put together our Selection Committee, we are trying to find a good representation of art world professionals: artists, dealers, consultants, and curators. We also try to balance the male/female ratio because we believe that is important. We work with mainly local art professionals because we think that most of the artists likely to apply will be local. Who best to vet them but respected people who may already be aware of them and understand their practice.
The Advisory Council is similarly comprised of local art professionals and they are there to help us understand and connect to the regional art scene. They also advise us on non-profit partnerships, how to reach artists in the area to apply, and other opportunities for the fair that we may not be aware of.
What are you most looking forward to about stARTup Fair LA?
The opportunity for our exhibiting artists to meet and reconnect with a wide range of people, and present them with an excellent, juried show. Hopefully, to cultivate a new breed of contemporary art collectors, who realize the importance of supporting living, working artists!
stARTup Art Fair runs January 29–31 at the Highland Gardens Hotel, 7047 Franklin Avenue Hollywood, CA.
—The ArtSlant Team
(Image at top: Gillian Keller, Goddess of Uninhibited Ideals, 2015. Exhibitor at stARTup Art Fair LA)