Each year, as the annual swam of mega art fairs and exhausted crowds descend on New York City, it becomes more evident that the art fair model as we know it is broken. They promise an exchange of ideas with the efficient system of gathering lots of art in the same place, but in reality, only high-end galleries end up making a profit and it is increasingly difficult to see new galleries (and new work) at big fairs.
The inaugural edition of the MFA Fair, launching November 14 at Downtown Manhattan’s Pier 36, presents an opportunity for art fairs to once again serve as catalysts for new and exciting work by showcasing a survey of work by recent MFA graduates from leading institutions.
Founders Max Fishko (of fair producer artMRKT) and James Salomon (of gallery Salomon Contemporary) saw a missed opportunity in the series of scattered MFA thesis shows happening at pop-up locations all over the country, the majority of which go largely unseen outside of academia.
“Our feeling is that the world of academia and industry rely on one another in so many different ways but the nexus between them is sometimes opaque,” Fishko told Observer.
The MFA Fair seeks to expand art world visibility for both the MFA Programs and this new generation of emerging artists, opening up the doors for curators, collectors and dealers to discover and showcase new work at art fairs. Some participants include The New York Academy of Art, Columbia University School of the Art, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Sycracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, each program director in charge of the curation of their institution’s booth.
“It’s pretty much the only way you’re guaranteed to see new work at an art fair,” Fishko said. He had a similar initiative to incentivize dealers to bring fresh work to another fair he organizes, Texas Contemporary. “It’s definitely a challenge, but we feel that the same sort of collective marketing and cooperative elements that make art fairs function could be applied to the incredible work we see by MFA graduates.”
In an ecosystem where art fairs are squeezing smaller galleries out of the marketplace and making it next to impossible to showcase emerging artists, only time will tell if the MFA Fair will be a sustainable model. For now, we welcome a platform that responds to art world elitism—rather than reproducing it—with what will hopefully be innovative work.