Superfine! Is a New Kind of Art Fair: Welcoming and Affordable

Affordable values -- and a love of both artists and collectors.

Superfine! in the Meatpacking District. The facade is as transparent as the prices of the artwork on view.

“When the average person from outside of the ‘art world’ walks into a typical gallery or art fair, the thought of actually purchasing something is far from their mind,” observes Alex Mitow. This is one of many reasons that Mitow and James Miille are the founders and co-directors of Superfine!, a new and wonderfully inclusive kind of art fair with a mission to be accessible to everyone interested in seeing and collecting art — and at reasonable prices.

After producing fantastic fairs last year in NYC and Miami, Superfine! now returns to NYC during Frieze Week, May 2 through May 6, for what promises to be another exciting show. Located at 459 W. 14th St., under the High Line in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Superfine! will bring together 75 international exhibitors showing affordable artwork in a festive, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Mitow, who has a background as a curator, restaurateur and event planner, and Miille, a bold and accomplished photographer with work on view at the fair, want to teach anyone — well, everyone — to be an art collector. The inaugural edition of Superfine! New York in 2017 might have been the only time I’ve ever enjoyed being at an art fair. More remarkable, it might have been the only art fair I’ve ever attended where the art was outright good.

Story continues below.

Sophie Gamand, “Nakita,” 2015.

The idea of being an Art Collector (notice those caps!) feels remote to most people because we’ve become used to thinking that buying art means snooty, exclusive galleries and price tags in the stratosphere. But there is another way to collect art. Superfine! sets out to help regular people become passionate art collectors and to give emerging artists the opportunity to sell their work for fair prices and to meet and cultivate new collectors. The commitment to affordable art is built into Superfine!’s DNA: The directors curate a fair where all prices are transparently posted and 70 percent of all the artwork costs less than $5,000; additionally, every exhibitor must feature some work under $1,000 and around 25 percent of the work throughout Superfine! is priced between $100 and $1,000.

A fair for people who genuinely love art and artists, and who want to own artwork that speaks to them, has to come down to specifics. Consider Sophie Gamand’s photographs of the most exquisitely soulful, rescued pit bulls wearing elaborate flower crowns that look straight out of Dutch baroque still-lifes. Superfine! is not where you’ll find the same art and artists you see at all the other fairs — or boring, generic work that serves as a financial instrument more than an inspiration of love.

Story continues below.

(Click to enlarge.)
A modestly sized collector of one of Naoaki Funayama’s modestly sized paintings.

And given that Superfine! is all about the art, Mitow and Miille are very serious when it comes to selecting exhibitors. Some artists and galleries contact them about participating, but, as Miille explains, “The Superfine! team researches and hand-selects galleries and individual artists from around the globe to create a cohesive and compelling roster of exhibitors.” They work closely with that roster to help the artists and galleries present their work to best effect, guiding them to show a variety of sizes and prices and even weighing in on the layout of each booth’s installation. Miille continues: “[We] drive them to think critically about how they are curating their exhibition and ensure that all of the artwork in the fair reflects the Superfine! ethos and pricing structure we are committed to.” A good example is Brooklyn-based Japanese painter Naoaki Funayama, a Superfine! regular whose playfully unscientific images of dinosaurs and other paleontological beasts (and people) lend themselves to a variety of dimensions and prices while beautifully holding together as a coherent, fun installation. Many exhibitors are artists showing their own work. This allows and encourages visitors to have direct conversations with artists they find interesting, to the benefit of both, and it advances the mission of Superfine! to educate and support new collectors.

The masterminds of Superfine!: James Miille (left) and Alex Mitow.

Cleverly, Superfine! also presents an integrated program of parties, performances and educational events, from a twilight vernissage (private preview!) with “cotton-candy-clad champagne, wild performance art and ethereal rhythms” to tours, talks, artist demonstrations and an art-wine happy hour. The fair makes a specific commitment to female artists: More than 70 percent of 2018 exhibitors, both individual artists and gallery projects, are women. They have partnered with the Lower East Side Girls Club to organize a Girls Night Out (For Art) and there will be an XX Perspectives female art summit. Superfine! rounds out the fair weekend with a Dim Sum Dinner Party and the “Young” Collectors: Ice Cream and Cocktails Social.

Story continues below.

Even beyond the fair, Superfine! aims to work with and support its collectors. They maintain a helpful blog with tips on collecting, including a helpful primer specifically on what to expect and how to buy art at an art fair. The Collector’s Society is a community of art lovers who want a deeper relationship with Superfine!’s team and artists, plus access to special events throughout the year.

I asked Mitow what’s next for Superfine!, and, characteristically, he was almost overflowing with ideas, plans and excitement, all true to the Superfine! spirit: There are new editions of Superfine! scheduled for Washington, DC, and LA in the next year. The team is reevaluating Miami — planning to separate that edition from the giddy chaos Art Basel: “We can still reach that core supportive audience, but do so at a time when everyone is a lot more relaxed,” he said.