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Q&A: Eric Smith, show director for Red Dot and Spectrum Art Fair

December 05, 2017
Omar De Windt
Vice President of Corporate Communication

Art buyers today are increasingly purchasing work for their high-end homes, and South Florida is the epicenter for both luxury real estate and luxury art. This makes December’s Art Basel Miami Beach – and the surrounding events of Miami Art Week – a particularly special time in Miami.

2017 is all the more memorable for our firm, as an exclusive lifestyle partnership with Red Dot and Spectrum Miami Art Fair marks the first affiliation by Cervera with a major art show during Miami Art Week.

I sat down with Eric Smith, show director for Spectrum and Red Dot Miami and CEO of Redwood Media Group (which also oversees Artepxo New York) for a Cervera Newsroom exclusive interview on the eve of the show.  We discussed the difference between the art worlds of New York and Miami, the biggest trends governing art buying, whether or not art takes a back seat to glamour in Miami, and what not to miss at the 2017 show.

Eric Smith, Redwood Media Group CEO

Here’s what Eric had to say.  

1. At the helm of a company that oversees successful fairs in various cities of the US, what do you think makes a Miami fair different from those in other cities, especially New York? In what ways is your experience of Artexpo decidedly different from the Miami fairs? Is there a difference in buying proclivities too at both the cities?

As you will undoubtedly hear from the region’s art aficionados throughout South Florida and across the country, Miami is its own unique market that is incomparable to any other in North America. Due to the uprise in popularity and recognition of Art Basel Miami Beach on the international art stage over the last decade, Miami Art Week has become the most competitive week for the art world.  No other city has such an abundance of world-class art fairs taking place in a single week – each of them vying for the most prestigious artists, galleries and collectors. This fiercely competitive landscape is healthy in many ways, as it raises the standard and level of fair and production, whereby only the strongest and most cunning survive.

With Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami, we like to capture a corner of the market that has significant growth – the emerging artist and gallery, sharing the same room as the more established artist or gallery. Many fairs concentrate on exhibiting only the most established names, whereas our pride and loyalty lies with showcasing some of the most progressive and emerging talents that have grown with us to become world recognized over the years. Collectors that attend Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami expect to see the premium exhibitors they recognize, as well as new and unrepresented talent that is fresh and surprisingly strong. Miami also has a very cosmopolitan attraction. Artists, galleries and collectors or buyers from all over the world like to spend a week out of the cold to enjoy a very captive audience in a pleasant climate and within a city that is exciting and electrifying. 

Miami also enjoys a South American culture, by its very nature and location, and that attracts the Latin art world considerably more than any other city. I’m sure that many of the other owners of independent fairs during Miami Art Week will agree that a large part of the attendance in December can be attributed to those who are simply out for a night of fun and curiosity, rather than to build upon their collection or artist portfolio. 

Artexpo New York has a 40-year history and a heritage that is unarguably more established than our shows in Miami or elsewhere for that matter. This brings a more seasoned group of artists and galleries that are heavily concentrated around the north east, while at the same time attracting a considerable number of exhibitors from overseas and around the U.S as well.  Many of the exhibitors at Artexpo New York have stayed with the show for a great number of years and have continued to do profitable business for decades. Our Miami shows bring a broader cross section of foreign exhibitors and visitors, particularly from Latin America and Europe.  The collector and buying audience who attends the fair in New York is a lot more serious and the concentration of stringent purchases is noticeably higher.  Artexpo New York is the ultimate destination for the avid buyer and collector. There is a difference in buying proclivities too at both the cities. While sales are substantial at both shows, New York with its 40 year history has a more established collector base.  Many collectors have established a relationship with "returning exhibitors" and they look forward to seeing and collecting the new work represented by those exhibitors.  

2. Given the tremendous amount of art available in Miami during the Miami Art Week and the fair-hopping that visitors will be doing, what would you advise your guests to not miss seeing at any cost at your fairs?

Where do I begin!?  We have an incredible line-up of programming for both Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami this year, which is probably going to make our fairs the most popular we’ve seen.  The diversity we have among our chosen Art Labs, Spotlight Artists and Spotlight Galleries is quite unique and we anticipate the word-of-mouth to be unprecedented.  Not to miss exhibits this year will include a special Art Lab installation being presented upon entering the fairs, that will be sure to astound, with an unforgettable display of almost 2000 freshly cut flowers of multiple colors that will form a circular structure suspended from the ceiling, allowing guests to be completely immersed. 

Another favorite of mine is our 2017 LaunchPad Artist, Alicia Rodriguez, an emerging glass sculptor who has been selected to create a special exhibition at Spectrum Miami, with her incredible creations in fused glass, made to emulate water.  

Robert Peterson, “Rhianna” Oil on canvas (artist’s own booth)

Robert Peterson, “Rhianna” Oil on canvas

One of our Spectrum Miami Spotlight Artists, Robert Peterson, is someone I recently discovered, who has an amazing story and who has only been painting for four years.  His celebrity portraits are quite incredible and are in the collections of Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lil Wayne, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus, among many others.

Ricardo Cardenas, “Juedo de Frida” Oil on steel and concrete (from Mexican earthquake - Contemporary Art Projects).

Ricardo Cardenas, “Juedo de Frida” Oil on steel and concrete (from Mexican earthquake - Contemporary Art Projects)

In Red Dot Miami, we also offer the opportunity to meet Ricardo Cárdenas, a successful emerging Mexican artist whose popularity is growing by leaps and bounds. From his time as a construction engineer, Cárdenas expresses his past experience through his work with steel and concrete. Ricardo will be exhibiting a unique piece of art on concrete salvaged from the recent earthquake in Mexico. 

Another great talent being shown by Arte Collective in Red Dot that I think will prove to be incredibly popular is the exhibit by the German artist, Sabrina Rupprecht, who is a newcomer to Miami Art Week. Sabrina is inspired by the incomparable beauty and lifestyle of South Africa, where she has been residing in the city of Cape Town since 2006. Her wildlife art is a vibrant and vivid reflection of her personal experiences.  She is a self-taught artist showing her “Pink Safari” collection for the first time. 

Sabrina Rupprecht, “Pink Leopard” Acrylic on canvas (Arte Collective booth).

Sabrina Rupprecht, “Pink Leopard” Acrylic on canvas (Arte Collective booth)

Last, but certainly not least, is Marielle Plaisir from France, who will be showing a quite remarkable collection of her acrylic painting on tapestries–considered to be the first of its kind for Miami Art Week.  The list goes on!

3. What are the biggest trends governing art buying currently? How do your fairs integrate these changing trends in their roster year-after-year?

Amidst the current political turmoil and economic uncertainty, the art market has become an island of stability and the global outlook for 2017 was positive as far as art buying is concerned, when compared to last year, and especially in the U.S, which is still the largest art market by value. There remains a deeply emotional aspect to buying art, which is mostly a discretionary purchase.  The buyer needs to feel comfortable with their economic outlook when it comes to buying art.  The current low-interest rate environment makes a non-interest-bearing asset like art more attractive to own.

There seems to be a greater optimism towards the more accessible segment of the art market, with pieces priced below $10,000 being increasingly popular for 2017. Many people are looking to fill the walls of a newly bought property or as part of a renovation project.   These “nesters” live in a world where they’re aware of art and they want to own a meaningful collection, such as a print or work by an emerging artist.  Few existing art buyers are buying to build an art collection. Many are purchasing work for their high-end homes or second homes.  Art priced at seven figures is less in demand than at lower price points and collectors are moving back to pieces in the middle of the market by emerging artists.

Contemporary pop art from Malcolm Smith Art.

Over the years, galleries have offered one style of art, but today, those who are offering a variety seem to be selling the best, and sales increases are seen by galleries that specialize in a variety of contemporary styles.  There's no one style that outranks others - people choose and develop their own personal taste while taking less notice or advice from the experts. The beauty seems to be in the eye of the purchaser, not the seller.  Traditional artists have a better chance of selling when their work is shown along with contemporary work.

A sleeker look in frames is dominating the new market - even for realistic, traditional or impressionistic works. Some buyers still like wide gold frames. Younger buyers in their thirties and forties like thin dark frames or gallery wrap, especially on larger works, so that the frame doesn’t dominate the image.

The colorful works at Imagine-Art.

4. There is an increasing belief that art has taken a back seat in Miami despite the plethora of fairs, and handed over the front seat to glamour. Do you agree? If yes, could you elaborate? If no, could you elaborate this as well?

This is somewhat true, and can be completely understood as a natural occurrence for Miami – the glamour capital of the world.  As I mentioned before, people flock to Miami in December to see the fairs, conduct business, but to also have a good time.  Every art fair has the underlying goal to prosper in business and conduct sales for its exhibitors, and we even see a rise in demand each year for exhibitors wanting to take a booth at Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami.  This world-renowned week in December remains as popular as ever for the art world in business, but because it’s Miami, it will always be advantageous for fairs to add an extra layer of appeal for the audience, who like to relax in the Magic City after conducting business.  This is why we feel it’s important to bring “entertainment” in to the mix as part of the brand building process for Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami. 

Our exhibitors and collectors return to the fairs each year because of the connection they have on a social level ‘after-hours,’ so we ensure they are fully entertained with additional cultural attractions as part of our programming, such as fashion and music.  The feedback has been excellent and they seem to want more.

5. For quite sometime, Miami has definitely developed into one of the most important art capitals, not just of the US and the Americas, but of the world. Have you set your sights on helping other cities (where you may or may not have a fair) develop their art quotient? Is there some specific city you have in mind where you would like to see a fair, or be a part of its art regeneration? Could you share the details, if any?

We have expanded in to markets in which we see art as an underdeveloped business with true potential.  No one would necessarily view San Diego or Santa Fe as growth markets for the art world, yet the enthusiasm and results we have seen in these markets prove quite the opposite.  There is a huge appetite for art in these smaller cities across America, and some of the best talent I have seen over the years has come from areas that feed in to the major cities. Our decision to establish a show in Las Vegas was an obvious one, because people love to spend money in Nevada and there hasn’t been a dominant player in the Las Vegas art market since it became a luxury destination.  We see Las Vegas as a growth market for Redwood Media Group on a scale comparable to Miami and New York over the years to come. Redwood Media Group is always looking to expand as long as it makes sense for our exhibitor base and the city in which we're expanding to.  For example, Las Vegas World Market has invited us to produce a "Fine Art Show" alongside their already successful market in January.  This makes sense, with over 40,000 attendees including designers, architects, hospitality and design professionals, etc. The buying power is immense.  For those exhibitors looking to expand into the designer and hospitality market, it's a nice fit.  We are now looking to 2019 and have focused on a large Midwest city that we believe can use an affordable fair for younger collectors.  

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