For three days at the end of September, the Capitol Skyline Hotel in the Southwest region of Washington, D.C. was taken over by young artists, contemporary galleries, and curious dealers. The cement building with its modish architecture was aesthetically an ideal site for the (e)merge art fair to trumpet the rise of unrepresented artists, an unusual practice in the art fair circuit, and galleries exhibiting new artists.
Practically, however, the fair was not so flawless. The second and third floors housed the gallery’s booths; the rooms were small and dealers had to work with the décor of the hotel by moving furniture and, in some cases, covering the walls. Along with the tight corridors and low ceilings, there was little breathing room. Downstairs in the garage and by the pool, where the independent artists and local art schools were located, the conditions were more spacious. Given that this is the first year for a fair that is trying to succeed where several others, most recently ArtDC, have come up short, we can hope that these concerns will be short-lived. If (e)merge wants to put itself on the same level as fairs in New York or Miami, it will need a space that feels professional and encourages buying.
Location aside, that goal of being counted as a main player in the art fair circuit is not terribly far away. The idea for the fair is quite insightful, it was well organized and took advantage of D.C.’s wealth of cultural capital and grassroots enthusiasm for local, contemporary artists. Best of all, it seems to have come at the right time. On Saturday, a panel discussion titled "Collecting for the Future" (peculiar, as it was primarily concerned with collecting in the present) included Mera Rubell, a member of the fair’s vetting committee whose family owns the Capitol Skyline Hotel, and Heather Podesta, both prominent local collectors. Each spoke enthusiastically about their hope that D.C. can become a center for contemporary art by taking advantage of the existing resources and encouraging more people from every economic level to find the value in collecting even a few small pieces by local artists. These comments were answered with cheers and applause from the crowd, made up of artists, dealers, students and collectors based in D.C.
That enthusiasm for the development of a stronger local art scene pervaded the entire fair, from the exhibitors to the visitors, and it was the intention of the co-organizers, Leigh Conner, Jamie Smith and Helen Allen to capture some of that energy. Conner and Smith own and run Conner Contemporary Arts on Florida Avenue; Allen founded the Pulse Art Fair in Miami and New York. Works at the fair covered all mediums, from paintings and prints to video and performance art and then some. The quality of the pieces varied: some were great, many mediocre, but enough of the works were memorable for a fair in its first year. All of these facts are pointing to the arrival of a new staple in the D.C. art world, one that might be able to make a place for itself in the global art world as well.
The (e)merge art fair was held from September 23-25 at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Washington, D.C.