Champagne flows when Frieze, Art Basel and other high-end international art fairs open their doors. Bubbly is also promised for Wednesday’s opening of the first D.C. edition of the Superfine art fair at Union Market. But it will be served in glasses topped with cotton candy and offered alongside “big kid” trick-or-treat bags.
Two days after that Halloween event, Superfine founders Alex Mitow and James Miille are throwing an ice cream social for young collectors. It’s all part of their goal to make the art fair more inviting to under-40s and to convert at least some of the “big kid” attendees from partygoers into buyers.
Like its more grown-up-oriented competitors, Superfine is a lively, glamorous bazaar that exists to sell art offered by galleries, dealers and artists. Mitow says he brought the fair to Washington because of its large population of young, high-income residents, as well as its booming real estate market and location between Miami and New York, the first two Superfine cities.
“There’s a rift in the art market. It’s the only industry that has historically tried to keep customers out,” Mitow says over coffee at Union Market on a scouting trip to Washington. “I want people to be able to see themselves as collectors.”
Most of Superfine will be staged in Union Market’s Dock 5, the space above the Northeast Washington food hall, although sculpture displays and some activities will be outdoors. Union Market itself is being touted as part of the draw, Mitow says — Superfine thrives in neighborhoods with trendy food options.
Indeed, Mitow was running a gourmet hot-dog restaurant in Manhattan when he met Miille, a photographer who is now his romantic as well as art-fair partner. Mitow had lived in Miami, where he became familiar with that city’s many fairs, including Art Basel.
The first Superfine was in Miami in 2015, followed by New York in 2017. An L.A. show is planned for early next year. In all of its locations, the fair concentrates on emerging artists whose work is relatively inexpensive. Prices must be displayed — “we actually print all the price labels,” Mitow says — and in Washington, 75 percent of the pieces will cost under $5,000.
At the more upscale fairs, haggling is accepted, work by art-world superstars is on offer, and prices can go much higher. During the 2018 edition of Art Basel in its Swiss hometown, multiple artworks were priced above $10 million, and a Joan Mitchell painting sold for $14 million.
In addition to cultivating a younger crowd, Mitow and Miille are highlighting work by female, African American and LGBTQ artists.
The D.C. fair will feature 70 exhibitors, with three groupings of galleries and an artist pavilion with work by 45 individuals (26 of them local) without full-time gallery representation.
Superfine will also showcase performance art, following the model of (e)merge, a locally organized art fair that ran from 2011 to 2014 at Southwest’s Capitol Skyline Hotel. Saturday’s “Unsettled” program will spotlight local artists Hoesy Corona, Rex Delafkaran, Maps Glover, Kunj and Tsedaye Makonnen. Among the other special events are an LGBT Art Shorts film program and an American Sign Language-guided tour with Miille and Gallaudet University students and faculty.
“I’m really feeling good about D.C.,” Mitow says. “Being the only game in town is exciting.”
Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE.
Dates: Wednesday-Nov. 4. superfine.world/washington-dc.
Admission: $12 Thursday and Friday; $15 Saturday and Sunday. All-access pass is $55.