Last year, Rick Friedman, former Owner and President of Hamptons Expo Group (HEG), sold the entire art show lineup consisting of the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair (PSFAF), Art Aspen, Art Hamptons, and Houston Art Fair to Urban Expositions of Kennesaw, GA.
Urban, a full service trade show organizer, had broken into the large scale, international art show market with its 2013 acquisition of SOFA Chicago, Chicago’s longest continuously running gallery-presented art fair. With the acquisition of HEG, in partnership with the UK-based Clarion Events, Urban now operates an impressive roster of high end art shows.
In a 2015 press release, it was reported that Friedman would continue to act as consultant on the shows and much of the management personnel from the events would be retained. Quotes from Friedman and Donna Davies, Director of SOFA, made it sound as if the leadership from the existing shows would work collaboratively on the whole lineup. Davies spoke of “expanding into new markets” and Friedman touted the “exhilarating collecting environment we plan for our fairgoers in 2016.”
However, this year with the new name and the rather stark, minimalist branding style, the show is offering a reduced number of complimentary passes for its cultural partners, and now has a restriction on the use of cameras by the general public. There is no mention of Friedman or HEG in any of the press releases. The most recent search result for “Friedman” that comes up on the website is a KESQ interview that looks to be from the 2015 show.
So, despite the typical claims that things will remain the same or be even better than previous years, its starting to look a lot like what one would expect from a partnership of one company that owns 40 events, and another that operates over 200 in a variety of different industries and topics. In contrast to the the privately owned, single purpose Hamptons Expo Group that was dedicated to its own art shows and nothing else, it feels a little like the focus is shifting to the money and away from the art.
It’s a little disturbing when things like this happen in the art world. It’s expected in industries like design, entertainment, gaming, or technology. But fine art is supposed to exist on a higher plane and for a greater purpose. People donated and volunteered for PSFAF, even though it was not operated by a nonprofit, because it was done for the love of art and to the taste of art lovers.
Everything about it just felt right in 2015, my first year covering the event for AFDHS. Last year, it looked the same and a lot of the same energy was present in the artists and galleries. But, it didn’t quite feel the same somehow.
I’m hoping that this year, despite the little details that feel like corners being cut, the new ownership will redeem themselves and bring us a truly inspiring experience.
Share your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear what others think about the changes to this signature art event.