Welcome to Superfine, the world’s most diverse art fair, which focuses on contemporary art and prides itself on its diversity, with a large representation of artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, and female artists.
Three parallel art fairs featuring 130 artists will share the space of a complete city block in midtown Manhattan for five days under the Superfine banner. It’s the largest incarnation of the six-year-old fair to date, with 80 artists in Superfine (Wo)man, Superfine Magick, representing LGBTQ+ artists, and Superfine Myth, dedicated to surreal art (one of their top-selling genres).
Superfine has produced more than $9 million in sales across events in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, and Seattle since its debut at Art Basel Miami in 2015.
Alex Mitow and James Miille founded Superfine to solve what they viewed as structural flaws in art fairs, drawing on their respective backgrounds in hospitality and art. They first saw the “shady back end” of art fairs shortly after they started dating in 2014.
“There was no single true price for dealers exhibiting at the shows,” Mitow explains, “so some galleries might get a discount if they’re friends with the fair director.” “This is reflected in how art is sold to fairgoers – there is no real price, and most people don’t use price tags.
It’s a different price for this person than it is for that person, resulting in racial and gender discrimination. It had infiltrated the entire system. It was like being in a guys’ club, or working in a firm where things happened behind closed doors.”
Superfine arose from a desire to provide a more equitable platform for all parties involved, with complete transparency on everything from booth fees to artwork prices and ticket prices. “An artist’s ability to exhibit in Superfine is very clear-cut,” Miille points out.
“There is only one price, no hidden fees, and no backroom deals where it’s all about relationships. We want to keep the price as low as possible so that as many artists as possible can participate.”
Lower booth pricing — between $2,000 and $5,000, compared to $20,000 to $100,000 at other fairs — lead to more inexpensive artwork, which he refers to as “a nice trickle-down effect.” The majority of the artwork is priced between $100 and $2,500, which is ideal for their target demographic of 26 to 45 years old; prices at other art fairs start at $2,500 and climb into the tens of thousands of dollars.
And every work must have a price displayed – something many galleries are still hesitant to do, despite evidence that it benefits all parties involved. It has also been proven to result in sales: approximately 25% of Superfine visitors find artwork to take home.
Mitow has witnessed a shift in the market since Covid, with prices rising in the direction of the fair. “We’re seeing younger people buying art, which was already something we’d bet on years ago,” he adds, adding that artists are making their goods more price accessible.
“A collector isn’t always a billionaire who walks into a gallery and spends $30,000 on a piece of art. You become an artist who they will have on their walls for the rest of their lives for that individual who buys a $100 print – maybe you develop a relationship and they become lifelong collectors.”
Other comparable art shows (Art Basel, Frieze, the Armory) have galleries representing artists; Superfine was one of the first to do so. Miille explains, “You have this direct connection between the artists who are exhibiting and the people who come in excited to buy art.” “Getting to meet the artists directly, rather than going through a gallery or seeing artwork at a museum, is one of the things that our audience loves the most.
They can speak with the artist and learn why they created their work and what motivates them to do so. That’s an experience you don’t get in most places where you go to see art.”
The fair also sets itself apart by emphasizing the promotion of independent artists. Ken Goshen, Elisa Valenti, and Mikael B. are among the notable Superfine artists who have participated in previous fairs.) “We’re giving artists who might be waiting for a gallery to pick them up the chance to really get their career started,” Miille explains.
A business-advice podcast and a blog, both targeted at training artists, are also included.
Their efforts to make the fair more inclusive have almost unintentionally resulted in diversity—roughly a third of artists at Superfine fairs identify as LGBTQ+, a quarter are artists of color, and 60% are female. “Making it more democratic, making it an experience that more artists can benefit from, it just naturally leads to more artists in these minority categories.”
Superfine has a distinct personality that sets it apart from other art events. First and foremost, there are no super-bright overhead lights. Instead, more dramatic stage lighting with a warmer, but deeper, melancholy ambiance is used. Also, there’s music: “It’s taboo in the art world, but we don’t get it because it makes people feel more at ease and allows them to have a good time,” says Mitow, a DJ who has made special playlists for each of the fairs this week.
“Everyone expects art fairs to be cold, stuffy affairs, but we say, ‘No, we can make this warm, comfortable, and welcoming.’”
However, no matter how hard they try, there may be a limit to preventing bias. Mitow is especially thrilled about a number of artists at the fair, including Chris Minard, Celine Gabrielle, Aidan Lincoln Fowler, and Albert Leon Sultan: “Shameless bias here, but he’s my favorite.”