Editor’s note: This column is one of two comparing and contrasting the experiences of buying art at a gallery versus buying it from an art fair.
Let us present two scenarios, two entirely different ways to shop. In one, if it is nice out, it is beautiful. The bustle, the color and the here-today, gone-tomorrow mentality all combine for a great deal of excitement. If the weather turns, watch out. Even the smallest breeze can cause items to dangle dangerously in the wind, clinging perilously to the fabric on which they hang. Viewers cram into tight spaces to get a good glimpse of the wares. In a day or three, it will all be gone, perhaps moved to another town.
Scenario two places us indoors, surrounded by color, light, elegance, comfort and education. There is a feeling of permanence. Things seem to slow down. The hustle and bustle is replaced by a willingness to spend an hour or more chatting about the items on display and the place in which they are shown. The businesses are truly local, hemmed in by the four walls in which they have carved their little niches.
These shopping experiences detail the sensation of an art fair and the tradition of an art gallery. While viewing art is fun, intriguing and hopefully engaging in any and every circumstance, the art world has found these two options for shopping at odds for years now. Nearly every town faces the same conundrum: Do we try to drive visitation through the festive atmosphere created by an art fair, or do we stand by our local businesses and bring in only events that do not offer the shopping option, thereby pushing the art fair to another town? Breckenridge is not left out in the woods in this scenario. The wondrous mountain town opts to have four art fairs nearly every summer. The gallery scene has watched its numbers drop from a healthy 20-plus a few years ago to a surprisingly low total of eight galleries today.
The art fair brings a lot of unique businesses to a town. It provides art viewers with the opportunity to meet a large assemblage of artists. The overwhelming majority of artists are self-employed, small-business owners. To call those participating in art fairs locals would be incorrect. Artists travel from all over the country, and sometimes the world, to participate in art fairs. Even at the Meet the Artists show in Breckenridge held the last weekend of June, which prides itself on bringing only Colorado artists, Summit County residents manned only three of the booths. Local gallery owners put together all three of the Summit County-based booths. Take a look around the art fair this weekend and note the locations listed for each artist. You are sure to find an impressive array of folks from all over the United States, all hoping you will stop in their booth and purchase a piece of art.
At the same time, eight Breckenridge-based fine art galleries will be hoping for the same thing. Nearly all of them will have fresh shows on display, with artists in residence offering demonstrations to view along with their newest works. The people who own these galleries love, live and work in Summit County. They are ready to work through the off-season, knowing that this holiday weekend may be the last big uptick in visitation to Breckenridge for some time. Winter’s beauty and big crowds will not be coming for a couple more months.
While the art fairs have the loveliness that is the outdoors to spread out in, the art galleries are constrained by the walls that they have chosen to call their homes. As a result, wall space in a gallery is extremely precious. The work is juried with great care, and the artists selected have built impressive careers, often highlighted by their international reputations and museum credits.
“We continue to elevate the level of our work to attract locals, visitors and second-home owners, and we believe the integrity of the gallery experience and the knowledge of our staff is reason to collect from us year-round,” said Gary Freese, owner of the Breckenridge Gallery.
The gallery owners and their staffs are sure to provide an exciting tour of their collections this weekend, offering their years of expertise and knowledge to seasoned and brand-new collectors alike. With the gallery’s artists on hand to help walk viewers through their creative process, this is one of the best weekends of the year to scope out the Breckenridge gallery scene.
It is an interesting time in the art industry. Art fairs, galleries and online outlets all are vying for the attention of every potential patron. How, when and where art buyers spend their money will always be a fluid, ever-changing process. When it comes to shopping local and finding the finest art, however, art galleries will always remain the place to go. Their permanence offers a year-round cultural destination in every town that is lucky enough to have a gallery scene. Art fairs quickly come and go.
Am I biased? I grew up visiting as many galleries in as many places as possible. It was a wonderful gift from my parents and a tradition I hope to keep alive. To that end, stop by Main Street in Breckenridge this weekend, chat up the local gallery owners and their staffs, have a seat on their couches, watch their artists work and truly take in this town’s culture.
Brian Raitman is the owner of the Art on a Whim galleries in Breckenridge and Vail. The flagship Breckenridge gallery was opened in 2007.