Welcome to perhaps the world’s most diverse art fair: Superfine, which focuses on contemporary art and prides itself on its inclusivity, boasting an outsized representation of artists of color and LGBTQ+ and female artists.
Under the Superfine umbrella, three concurrent art fairs featuring 130 artists will for five days share the space of a full city block in midtown Manhattan. Comprising Superfine (Wo)man, the largest women’s-only fair with 80 artists; Superfine Magick, representing LGBTQ+ artists; and Superfine Myth, dedicated to surreal art (one of their top-selling genres), it’s the largest iteration of the six-year-old fair to date. Since launching at Art Basel Miami in 2015, Superfine has generated more than $9m in sales across events in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, and Seattle.
Drawing on respective careers in hospitality and art, founders Alex Mitow and James Miille started Superfine to address what they saw as systemic problems in art fairs. Shortly after they began dating in 2014, they encountered what they call the “shady back end” of art fairs. “There was no one true price for dealers exhibiting at the shows, so some galleries may get a discount if they’re friends with the fair director,” notes Mitow. “That translates to how the art is marketed to visitors at the fairs – there’s no real price, most people don’t use price tags. It’s a different price for this or that person, and you end up with racial and gender discrimination. It pervaded the whole system. It was like a boys’ club, a business where things happened behind closed doors.”
Superfine was born of a desire to create a fairer platform all around, with transparency about everything from booth fees to artwork prices and ticket costs. “The way that an artist is able to exhibit in Superfine is very clear-cut,” Miille notes. “There’s one price, no hidden fees, and not this kind of under-the-table deal where it’s all about relationships. We make that price as fair as possible so it’s accessible for as many artists as possible.”
That leads to what he calls “a nice trickle-down effect” where lower booth prices — between $2,000 and $5,000, compared to $20,000 to $100,000 at other fairs – lead to more affordable artwork. Most artwork is priced between $100 and $2,500, perfect for their 26-to-45 target demographic; prices at other art fairs begin at $2,500 and soar into the tens and even thousands of dollars. And every piece must have a listed price – something that many galleries are still loathe to do even though research has suggested that it benefits all parties involved. And it’s been shown to lead to sales: about 25% of Superfine visitors find artwork to take home.
Since Covid, Mitow has noticed a change in the market, with prices growing in the fair’s direction. “A lot of people purchased homes during the pandemic because of low interest rates, so we’re seeing younger people buying art, which was already something we’d bet on years ago,” he says, adding that artists are likewise making their offerings more price accessible. “A collector is not necessarily the billionaire who walks in and drops 30 grand on a piece of art. For that person who buys a $100 print, you become an artist that they have on their walls for the rest of their life – maybe you nurture a relationship and they become lifelong collectors.”
Superfine was one of the first to spotlight those making the works; at other comparable art fairs (Art Basel, Frieze, the Armory), galleries represent artists. “You have this direct connection between the artists who are exhibiting and the people coming in excited to buy art,” Miille says. “That’s actually one of the things that our audience loves the most – getting to meet the artists directly versus going through a gallery or seeing artwork at a museum. They can talk to the artist and see why they made their work, what they’re passionate about it. That’s an experience you really don’t get in most settings where you’re seeing art.”
And the fair distinguishes itself with an emphasis on supporting independent artists. (Notable Superfine artists have from previous fairs include Ken Goshen, Elisa Valenti, and Mikael B.) “We’re giving an opportunity for artists who might be waiting for a gallery to decide to pick them up to have their career really get started,” Miille says. That also includes a business-advice podcast and a blog, both aimed at educating artists.
Their efforts to make the fair egalitarian have resulted in diversity almost naturally—about a third of artists at Superfine fairs identify as LGBTQ+, about a quarter are artists of color, and 60% are female. “Making it more democratic, making it this experience that more artists can take advantage of, just organically leads to there being more artists in these minority categories.”
The vibe of Superfine is markedly different from other art fairs. First: no super-bright overhead lights. Instead, more theatrical stage lighting, with a warmer but darker, moody ambiance. Also music: “It’s taboo in the art world, but we don’t really get that because it makes people more comfortable and have a good time,” says Mitow, a DJ who has created custom playlists for each fair this week. “Everyone’s used to art fairs being these cold, stuffy kind of affairs, and we’re like, ‘No, we can make this warm and comfortable and welcoming.’”
However, try as they might, there’s perhaps a limit to curbing favoritism. Among a list of artists at the fair that Mitow is most excited about (including Chris Minard, Celine Gabrielle, Aidan Lincoln Fowler, Albert Leon Sultan) is Miille himself: “Shameless bias here, but he’s my favorite.”