But Smith, who founded (e)merge in 2011 with Leigh Conner, her partner in Connersmith Gallery, admits that things have changed a bit since 1480. For one thing, although individual artists are spotlighted throughout the hotel — in hallways, conference rooms, even the parking garage — art dealers make up a substantial chunk of the fair, transforming an entire floor of bedrooms into makeshift galleries, in some cases displaying art in bathrooms and inside dresser drawers.
To be sure, the marketing aspects of (e)merge can’t be denied. Seasoned collectors attend, as do first-time buyers looking to get their feet wet. But there’s a third category you’ll see in even greater numbers: the gawker. Conner says a core part of the fair’s mission is to present a “snapshot of what’s out there,” so even if you don’t bring your checkbook, you should definitely bring your curiosity and your camera. (The Washington Post is a sponsor of the event.)
The fair has two main parts. There’s what Conner and Smith call the gallery platform, which takes place on one of the hotel’s upper floors. There you’ll find a wide variety of exhibitors, from traditional commercial galleries to alternative nonprofit spaces that specialize in edgy art. The only criterion is that the artist not have had a solo museum show.
Then there’s the artist platform. This is work scattered throughout the building and poolside by individual artists and performers, hand-picked by a vetting committee, and typically not represented by a gallery. Throughout the fair, many of the artists will be on hand to talk about their art.
It’s less intimidating than it sounds, and kind of fun. Just bring an open mind as well as this guide to some of the fair’s multifarious faces.
A ‘Shining’ example
Andrew Wodzianski is a mighty fine painter, specializing in the fringes of pop culture, represented by Mexican wrestlers, B-movie weirdos and other outre subjects. But you’d never know that from his appearances at (e)merge, where both last year and this year his participation falls under the category of performance art.
It started in 2009, when, during the opening of Wodzianski’s horror-movie-themed solo painting show at Flashpoint Gallery, he spent the entire reception inside a closed coffin. That was followed by a 2010 stunt in which he lived for two weeks inside a vacant U Street storefront, his fishbowllike habitat visible from the street. At last year’s (e)merge, the artist, 38, mimicked the fate of “Moby-Dick” narrator Ishmael by floating for 36 straight hours on a coffin in the middle of the hotel’s pool, subsisting only on energy gel. (In case you’re wondering, he used suppositories beforehand to avoid bathroom emergencies; holding his bladder was simply a matter of willpower.)