American Art · Exhibitions

My Review of the American Art Fair Online

The thirteenth edition of the American Art Fair, a yearly event featuring top-quality American art for sale, opened online yesterday. I really enjoy this event and have attended several times in the past. It is usually held at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City. Historic American art isn’t a huge field in the art market, and I believe this is the only event entirely dedicated to it, which makes it quite exciting for me. Right after college, I got much of my foundational knowledge about American art history by attending this event and reading all the booklets I picked up there.

The Virtual American Art Fair

Forum_Steinberg_Walking In Manhattan
Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), Walking in Manhattan, c. 1951, ink and watercolor, 14 1/4 x22 3/4 inches. Image courtesy Forum Gallery and American Art Fair.

This year’s virtual fair opened on Friday, October 9th and runs through Sunday, October 18th, 2020. Twenty-four galleries are participating, which is actually several more than last year’s seventeen. Almost all the exhibitors are familiar to me from prior fairs.

Unlike the much larger and higher-profile Frieze Viewing Room, which opened the same day, the American Art Fair doesn’t have a dedicated viewing platform. Instead, the fair’s website has a page for each participating exhibitor, showing two works from the gallery’s selections alongside links to its website and other contact information. Some galleries – I estimate at least half – have prepared special online exhibitions for the occasion. Look for links saying “Additional Works” on the left side of the exhibitor pages. Each gallery has its own method of displaying their selections; some are easier to browse than others. For galleries who haven’t curated a selection, the only option is the cumbersome process of looking through their entire inventory online.

The Offerings

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Torrente–The Dora Riverbed in Purtud, (Bed of the Dura,Il letto della Dora al Purtud), c. 1907, watercolor on paper, 14 1/4x 20 5/8 inches. Image courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery and The American Art Fair.

The composition of works for sale is very similar to what I remember from past years. There’s a nice mixture of big-name and lesser-known American artists, with some great works in both categories. I enjoyed pieces by quite a few people I don’t often think about. There’s a nice range of time periods, too, ranging from early-19th through late-20th centuries. Paintings and drawings make up the vast majority, though some sculptures appear as well. I saw a lots of American Impressionists, Ashcan School, Regionalists, and Modernists, along with some Hudson River School paintings. While I usually gravitate to earlier American artists, I really enjoyed the strong Modern selection here, especially from the first half of the 20th century.

Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937), Chatham Square, 1919, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches, aigned and dated lower right: Colin Campbell Cooper 1919. Image courtesy Debra Force Fine Art, Inc., and The American Art Fair.

Here is some of what caught my eye:

  • I really like the selection from Debra Force Fine Art, including a lounging woman by Robert Henri, a beautiful Bierstadt landscape, and an unusually naturalistic flower painting by Florine Stettheimer. While you’re on Debra Force’s website, I also recommend the Traveling America: East to Midwest exhibit.
  • The Forum Gallery has a really fascinating figurative Jackson Pollock painting on linoleum. It also has a Guy Carleton Wiggins painting of Manhattan, the sort of thing I adore, and a great Saul Steinberg (pictured above), also set in Manhattan.
  • Gerald Peters Gallery has chosen to display a beautiful John Singer Sargent watercolor (pictured above) on its exhibitor page.
  • Hirschl & Adler has a William Glackens sketch that caught my eye and a great Reginald Marsh painting of a cabaret.
  • Godel & Co. has a lovely selection of 19th century landscape paintings. As my readers probably know already, this is totally my scene.
  • Surovek Gallery has a Norman Rockwell portrait of JFK priced at $1.75 million!
  • Menconi & Schoelkopf has a Frieze Viewing Room booth that includes a stunning Charles Birchfield watercolor of an autumn forest. The gallery also has a separate online exhibition, Fall Modernism, that is also worth a look.
  • I always love Questroyal Fine Art because they deal with my tribe, the Hudson River School painters. Questroyal has one of the biggest selections of any gallery in the fair and was also kind enough to send me the email that informed me of the virtual details.
  • Vose Galleries has too many diverse lovely works to mention, including several by historical artists. Along with Questroyal, Vose’s platform is one of the few that offers significant verbiage about each piece.

The Verdict

Art-wise, this virtual American Art Fair delivered everything I would expect and desire. But no virtual experience can measure up to a live one. That’s not a criticism; it’s simply a limitation that must be acknowledged. The best part of attending an art fair is getting to see works by your favorite artists up close and without crowds.

Jacob Lawrence, (1917-2000), Makeup (Dressing Room), 1952, egg tempera on hardboard, 20 x 24 inches, signed and dated lower right: Jacob Lawrence 52. Image courtesy Jonathan Boos and The American Art Fair.

Once you get past the intimidation factor that many people (including me) feel at their first few art fairs, you’ll discover a much more intimate viewing experience than even the quietest of museum galleries can offer. Because the audience is self-selecting, there are no velvet ropes, and the attendees can be trusted to behave around the artworks. Art knowledge and conversation surround you. The fact that you could, at least in theory, buy any of the works on display and bring them home with you definitely change the dynamic. This is especially true at the American Art Fair because of its small size. I suggest trying it for yourself once live fairs return.

All of this being said, I definitely enjoyed “attending” this event. I looked at lots of great works by American artists, including many of my favorites. I didn’t have to take a train and a cab to do so, and I could spent as long as I wanted viewing each work and zooming in on my computer screen. I can even go back and do it again if I want to, at any time of day or night. However, I am genuinely disappointed that there will be no special lectures by American art experts this year. I have never been able to attend one in the past, so I was really hoping to enjoy them online this year.

Click here to visit the virtual American Art Fair. It officially runs until October 18th, but the exhibitors’ image-laden, information-rich websites are around all the time. Enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “My Review of the American Art Fair Online

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