Superfine! founders James Miles and Alex Mitow set out to change people’s perception of the art world with their ‘refreshingly welcoming’ fair, which started during Art Basel in 2015, and grown to full-scale annual fairs in New York, LA, SF, DC, and Seattle. The Brooklyn based couple have also launched a series of free virtual workshops to teach marginalized artists about the business of Art.
Photo above: James Miles and Alex Mitow by So-Min Kang.
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic moved the boundary-pushing contemporary art fair online, giving anyone who wants to spice up their quarantine space access to uniquely shaped canvases, mixed media light-based works, macro portrait photography, edgy sculptures, oil paintings and more, with 100% of the revenue going directly to the artists.
The fair, which focuses on the work of LGBTQ+, female, and African American artists, will also feature their first queer-only exhibit, Superfine! Magick.
Above: Selection of works from Kalin M. Brown.
How does SuperFine! Art Fair make fine art more accessible to communities that may not have the kind of access that one would have in a big city? We’ve made the decision to bring Superfine! and our artists not only to the major art hubs of New York and LA, but also to burgeoning communities around the country like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington DC. While each city has its own unique art scene which you can find encapsulated in our fairs (at least 50% of each fair is comprised of local artists), those cities are dramatically underserved by an art market that’s not only cutting-edge but also affordable, accessible, and transparent. A lot of the communities we reach haven’t really thought of themselves as “Art Collectors” in the past, and we build them a bridge through Superfine! fairs. For the buyer communities, this empowers them to start real, meaningful art collections without breaking the bank, while connecting with artists one-on-one (something 75% of our visitors claim as their favorite aspect of our fairs!) For artist communities, we’re showing them that collectors are all around them and there are different paths besides the typical hard-to-break-into art world.
What do you look for in an emerging artist? For us it really comes down to the two P’s: passion and professionalism. Gone are the days of the hell-bent Basquiat artist paradigm, fortuitously scooped up by a knight in shining armor ready to make them rich quickly. Today’s artists need to work hard on their public personas and self-marketing expertise, and we have the tools to help them. However, we need that base of professionalism to start with, for artists to really get the most benefit out of exhibiting with us. The passion component is self-evident – you can tell when an artist is pouring themselves into their work, versus proliferating art world trends. Good work can be on trend of course, but work created solely to fit trends is seldom strong enough to be considered for our fairs.
What frames or serves as the lens for how you recognize artistic talent? Originality is important, but even more important is authenticity. How much does this work reflect the artist’s individual story, and can that be read visually? Prospective buyers want to know the “Why” of a work, and then they lay their own stories onto the artists’ story to create a synthesis between collector and artist that really makes a work of art special. We look for artists who carry that element of story into their work, and can talk about it.
Why did you decide the art world was in need of an update?
Because it wasn’t working! Of course, as with any industry, there are superstar artists with big galleries backing them doing extremely well in this market. But they make up only 1% or less of the working artists out there, many of whom are pulling in a pittance while working the strings of a broken puppet show. We didn’t like the look of that one bit, and we felt like would-be collectors such as ourselves were woefully excluded from participating in the art market. That whole exclusivity factor really wasn’t serving the artists, the buyers, or really anyone in the market, and that’s why we started Superfine! Art Fair.
What advice would give to the beginning collector? Look for the emotional connection. There’s good work, bad work, and everything in between, but if you feel the artist’s passion and story shining through a work, you’ll know it. Listen to your own heart, there’s no wrong way to feel emotionally connected to a work of it. Whatever it arises in you, if you want to look at it every day and feel the feelings it makes you feel, buy it. If it’s out of your immediate budget, propose a payment plan or use Art Money. Don’t worry so much about whether it’s an ideal buy or if the price will go up or really what any others think. The art is for you.
What does disrupting the status quo by welcoming new collectors into the fold do to the market?
I think what we’re doing to the existing market is redefining it. There are millions of people out there who could collect art — even if it’s a $50 lithograph or small original drawing — and aren’t, because they don’t see themselves fitting that paradigm. We’re here to say, you are, you can, you can be a collector. Our market exists almost independently of the conventional “art market”, which when you see it written about in financial publications is more about extremely wealthy people moving money around, and less about the art itself. We’re here to build a market for artists to sell art, and for people who love art to own it.
Are young collectors more likely to seek out and support marginalized artists? The current generation(s) really care about intentionality in all of their purchases. I think that clearly extends to art. When you’re a young collector, you’re not bound to collect any one artist or an artist from any particular community, but as you grow into collecting art you may find that part of that emotional connection I mentioned extends to what your purchase does when you support an artist. Queer artists, women artists, and artists of color have historically not achieved the same sales and success of white male artists, and while that’s course-correcting across all strata of the art market, it’s really wonderful to see such a high percentage of these artists applying for, exhibiting at, and selling their work at Superfine! fairs. I think this resonates with young collectors and helps them make their decision on who to collect.
How does Superfine empower artists to take more control of their work?
We effectively eliminate the need for a middleman. While we do encourage artists to work with entrepreneurial, marketing-focused galleries as channel partners for their art, we’ve shown artists that there are numerous ways – including Superfine! fairs – to take their work directly to an audience. The effect of this is insurmountable. Artists meeting their public one-on-one means not only better connections with collectors + retained data they can use for future sales, but also excellent feedback that’s unattainable otherwise. Artists find out where their ideal price point is, rather than guessing at it or asking a friend, by finding out what collectors will spend. The feedback on their work face-to-face is also incredible, and artists who are looking for direction really benefit from this. All in all, artists are getting everything right from the end user – the collector – instead of someone in the middle, and it shows in their quick advancement in their work.