The Washington Post
(e)merge art fair returns to Capitol Skyline Hotel.
Performers and exhibitors get the run of a hotel — hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms, even the swimming pool and the parking garage
The conventional wisdom is that the craze for contemporary art fairs — gatherings of art dealers that resemble conventions for the culturati — is a relatively new phenomenon. Jamie Smith disagrees. Smith, an art historian and co-founder of Washington’s (e)merge art fair, which opens Thursday at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, thinks that fairs like hers harken back to the late 15th century, when a group of Belgian artists set up stalls near the Antwerp cathedral to hawk their wares.
But Smith, who founded (e)merge in 2011 with Leigh Conner, her partner in Connersmith Gallery, admits that things have changed a bit since 1480. For one thing, although individual artists are spotlighted throughout the hotel — in hallways, conference rooms, even the parking garage — art dealers make up a substantial chunk of the fair, transforming an entire floor of bedrooms into makeshift galleries, in some cases displaying art in bathrooms and inside dresser drawers.
To be sure, the marketing aspects of (e)merge can’t be denied. Seasoned collectors attend, as do first-time buyers looking to get their feet wet. But there’s a third category you’ll see in even greater numbers: the gawker. Conner says a core part of the fair’s mission is to present a “snapshot of what’s out there,” so even if you don’t bring your checkbook, you should definitely bring your curiosity and your camera. ( The Washington Post is a sponsor of the event.)
The fair has two main parts. There’s what Conner and Smith call the gallery platform, which takes place on one of the hotel’s upper floors. There you’ll find a wide variety of exhibitors, from traditional commercial galleries to alternative nonprofit spaces that specialize in edgy art. The only criterion is that the artist not have had a solo museum show.
Then there’s the artist platform. This is work scattered throughout the building and poolside by individual artists and performers, hand-picked by a vetting committee, and typically not represented by a gallery. Throughout the fair, many of the artists will be on hand to talk about their art.
It’s less intimidating than it sounds, and kind of fun. Just bring an open mind as well as this guide to some of the fair’s multifarious faces.
The number and nature of (e)merge exhibitors has changed annually, with a greater emphasis this year on international galleries and local alternative spaces outnumbering traditional Washington galleries. One constant is Amstel Gallery, a photography-focused space in Amsterdam that again will be showcasing the work of
Agniet Snoep, a Dutch photographer whose slightly creepy art has proved strangely popular every year. Although Snoep’s work has never sold during previous fairs, Amstel director Petra Leene says a significant number of inquiries have trickled in months later from buyers who remember the work from (e)merge.
Snoep, a distant relative of 17th-century Dutch painter Ambrosius Bosschaert, will be represented by her eerily beautiful photos of dead animals that appear to be sleeping. The images will be presented alongside Claire Felicie’s black-and-white portraits of young Dutch marines before, during and after tours of duty in Afghanistan; and black-and-white shots of beautiful young women whose faces are marked by a plastic surgeon’s pen.
Snoep’s surreal — even disturbing — style is a good fit for the fair, says Leene, who describes the vibe in the mid-century modern hotel, designed by Morris Lapidus, as evocative of David Lynch’s bizarre 1990s television series “Twin Peaks.” The description is apt; there’s an ineffable weirdness (in a good way) to wandering around hotel rooms filled with video, performance and oddball installations.