February 22nd, 2008 5:33 pm | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Jupiter Art Fair’s future in flux

AffairJupiter07On the heels of this week's announcement that the Affair at the Jupiter Hotel art fair is being indefinitely canceled, the Jupiter's owners have announced their intention to create another art fair at the hotel that would take the Affair's place.

Co-owners Kelsey Bunker and Tod Breslau are in discussions with local art-world figures, discussing options for mounting a new fair, which would not be affiliated with Affair co-directors Stuart Horodner and Laurel Gitlen. Former Portland Art Center director Gavin Shettler was among those who met with Bunker and Breslau, although according to Shettler, he let it be known that his experience was in the realm of non-profit enterprises, not commercial art fairs. While he pledged to be a sounding board for the owners, he took himself out of consideration for a leadership position with any new fair that might replace the Affair.

Breslau says he and Bunker are looking not so much to replace the Affair as create something bigger and better: “We loved the Affair, we loved the energy that it brought to the property and the city, and we're committed to continuing that energy with a fair that brings more galleries and more performance opportunities.”

“We're not talking about keeping the Affair alive. We only have interest in creating something far more fabulous," Bunker adds. "I want to add some different components, so it's not just going to rooms, looking at art.” The two are aiming to partner with with Portland Art Dealers Association (PADA), as well as with the Portland Art Museum, local collectors, performance artists, and others who can incorporate the city's music and culinary scenes into the context of a contemporary art fair. “This could be a setting where all the elements coalesce into something dynamic and passionate, something that will really excite the community,” Bunker says.

The owners' brainstorming sessions with local gallery owners, curators, and other cultural figures are the latest in a whiplash-inducing series of developments that began earlier this week, when Horodner divulged that there would be no 2008 version of the Affair, which from 2004 to 2007 was a highlight of the city's visual arts calendar, a lively interchange of art, ideas, and personalities centered around the Jupiter's two-story courtyard. The rationale for the decision, according to Horodner, was that the Affair couldn't compete with the preponderance of other fairs around the country, particularly in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. “Many of the Affair's participating galleries are doing multiple fairs at great expense, often choosing not to do the Affair because they need to focus on more international access and major collectors.”

The news was greeted with a sense of dread among some Northwest artists, but others found it anticlimactic, given grumblings that the Affair had underperformed in terms of sales. (Read my live review of last year's Affair here.) of last year's “I'm not surprised,” Seattle gallery owner Greg Kucera told WW. “I think the writing was on the wall in terms of how little dealers were able to motivate the collecting clientele in Portland, and how few people were willing to travel to see the show... In the end, at least among the dealers, the Schnitzer family was the singular supporting family of the event... You've got to have more than that.” As a concrete example of his gallery's poor showing, he pointed to last year's Affair, in which “we had one of the best locations in the fair, and we mounted a really fine exhibition including five of the brightest artists we work with—and nothing happened. We sold exactly one object the entire time, to a collector we already knew and had already sold material to before.”

Jupiter - courtyard

Horodner deflects part of the blame for slow sales back onto the galleries themselves: “Some people hoped for more major collectors traveling to Portland. That is something that the galleries need to work on: cultivating contacts. I know that James Harris Gallery in Seattle worked hard to get national collectors to the fair, and they came, and they bought a lot of art.”

Mark Woolley
, whose eponymous gallery participated in two of the fair's four years, says that although his gallery turned a profit at the event, he believes it was poor planning for the Affair's organizers to have scheduled the 2007 event during the same week as PICA's TBA Festival, diverting the attention of art lovers and collectors. “Strategically, it was not necessarily a wise thing to do,” he says. He also found that the tent covering the Jupiter's courtyard (see photo above), which was not a fixture in earlier shows, to be a detriment: “With that cover, it felt like you were inside a mall. It changed the feel of the space, the flow, and made it feel more separated and cold.”

Other problems that detracted from the Affair's overall success included its less-than-aggressive advertising and publicity in 2007 and the fact that its official website was not updated with current information until one month before the show. In addition, unlike in previous years, there was no blowout opening party to generate excitement in the community at large, only a subdued opening-night preview that, at $50 a head, was too expensive for most working artists to attend. Despite the problems, Horodner maintains that “feedback did not affect our decision at all—it was a personal decision about the need for the fair to continue. We achieved what we set out to achieve. We were not building a legacy.”

News of the plan to create a new art fair to take the Affair's place has buoyed the spirit of local artists dismayed not only by the Affair's closure but also by last month's closure of the Portland Art Center due to financial troubles and internal bickering. Painter and filmmaker Daniel Kaven, who had an artistically and financially successful show with Gallery 500 in the 2004 Affair, says PAC's and the Affair's foundering constitute “a one-two punch to the city... I'm worried this is really going to spiral out of control, and it's because, ultimately, people in Portland are simply not willing to spend money on art," he says. "If we keep failing at these venues, we're not going to ever attract an international collector base.”

Bunker asks anyone with ideas for creating a fresher, more successful art fair to email her at art@jupiterhotel.com. She and Breslau are continuing their meetings Friday and next week, and are endeavoring to temper their enthusiasm with a measure of judiciousness. Says Bunker, “I don't want to force something. As eager as I am to get this thing nailed down, I really want to see who's out there and who's really committed to this.”
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