In a sea of art fairs designed to attract collectors, Clio feels designed for a very different clientele — artists.
In small sections pushed up next to each other, the fair packed the work of 50 artists into a gallery-size room at 550 West 29th Street in Chelsea. Unlike other shows, the artists represent themselves (a prerequisite is that they cannot be exclusively represented by a New York gallery), and in a couple of cases, a friend or family member tended to the booth. The majority of visitors to Thursday night’s opening were not seasoned collectors but supportive friends.
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In the small space, David Bowie blasted from the speakers and an open bar served cheap wine and mixed drinks. The most expensive works I saw were three oil paintings priced at $10,000, and the least expensive were $125 prints. Most works on paper were listed at around $400, with most canvases at a few thousand dollars. At the opening, price lists were already speckled with red wine dots.
Low price points, however, did signal miraculously undiscovered phenom artists. Some of the art — and the close-quartered setup — made Clio feel more like a flea market than an art fair. But no matter the works’ quality, it was refreshing to see artists in the wild, exhibiting their work a block away from Chelsea’s most exclusive galleries.
One artist said she chose the fair because it was affordable: The lowest-priced booth runs at $250/square foot with a minimum purchase of four square feet. The self-representation condition is a welcome break from art world tradition, which dictates that galleries and dealers must act as intermediaries between ‘their’ artists and collectors.
One visitor emphasized that the salespeople who attended Clio’s booths (in this case, mostly artists) weren’t “stand-offish” like the gallery workers at art fairs, and spoke to the benefit of having the artists explain their own work: “Here you get the inspiration of why it was made.”
Julia Rivera, who exhibited seven paintings, explained the feminist drive behind her practice. “I’m so upset with what’s going on right now. Sometimes you just need to breathe,” Rivera said, gesturing at her depictions of women whose faces are shrouded by plants. In the adjacent column hanging on her small section of wall, Rivera’s paintings portrayed women with upside-down Italian coffee makers or “moka pots” on their heads, reflections on the impossible expectations placed on women.
Patrick Webb’s Cataclysm Paintings — the fair’s most expensive works — were another highlight. With a Yale MFA and a professorship at Pratt, Webb is not exactly an outsider, but his strange, apocalyptic portrayals of firefighters catching falling civilians felt new in their subject matter, even as their execution screamed classical technique.
Webb, with his traditional education and career in fine art, was an outlier. Many presenters were young hobbyists and aspiring full-time artists, and some were older people who had found their artistic passion later in life. Mumbai-based Veena Advani was a couture designer before she started to make paintings. In her exhibition, Advani used her embroidery background to create sculptural works on canvas.
Felipe Fredes’s series of paintings were 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 an Egon Schiele until you move closer and get the sense that Fredes is doing his own thing.
The work that seemed to attract the most attention, however, was a canvas covered in sprinkles with 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 booth was that of artist duo Formento & Formento, whose comparatively massive spread of photographs featured women in full-glam makeup, eliciting the effect of film stills or glossy pages from fashion magazines.
The gimmicks of some of Clio’s art added to the fair’s unpretentious vibe.
“I don’t need to come into the conversation feeling like I need to show off my knowledge of the art world,” one visitor said. “Everyone here is just very much more transparent about their feelings.”
Rivera, who said this was her first time exhibiting at Clio, expressed her appreciation of the fair, too. “I hope they can do it all around the world,” she said.
Clio markets itself as an independent art fair, and that is exceedingly clear. Where else can you see so much new art (and so many artists) in one place, without a gallery broker creating a palatable facade? Where else, besides online, can people who work with art afford to actually buy it?