Parallax Art Fair, New York City

This past weekend I drove to Manhattan with fellow artist and friend Monique Kendikian Sarkessian to take part in our first NYC art fair - Parallax Art Fair.

I had first heard about Parallax when they contacted me from a link they found online of my work. I liked the concept of the fair and thought I would give it a trial. The venue was at a historic old hotel (The Prince George Hotel), beautifully restored, and in a nice area of the city.

So after much packing, framing, drilling and debating, Monique and I went off to the Big Apple in her mini van. Her GPS led us into the exact same address in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, but other than this initial misstep, we got to the venue in fairly good time.

Unloading was a nightmare though. Neither the venue nor Parallax had not reserved any loading spaces for the convenience of the large number of artists involved in the international fair. The immediate space around the venue was taken up by trailers for the crew of a television show being filmed nearby. The results were over 100 artists spread out over several city blocks, double parking, and darting in and out amongst busy traffic with large loads of artwork in tow trying to get into the Prince George.

The venue itself was as pictured - a beautiful old hotel with amazing architectural details.

The gorgeous ceiling of the Prince George

Decorative elements on a column at the Prince George

Once inside, we descended on our panels to start drilling screws into them to hang our work. Some of the panels had not been finished being painted / prepped by the Art Fair crew so earlier artist vendors had the unhappy task of having to finish painting their panels before they could hang their work. Overhead the electricians were still trying to accommodate the lighting the artists had rented from Parallax. Sadly, this lighting was never to be - the lighting components ordered by Parallax were incomplete and could not work with the venue, thus leaving the majority of the artists' work in the shadows. Parallax tried to cover for their mistake with pen lights they hastily bought at a drug store, but these were ineffective.

My booth space after set up

Not knowing all of these details at the time, Monique got on with our hang, which took us about three hours to hang both of our booths. We left in the late afternoon to grab a bite at a lovely Afghan restaurant and check out a couple of museum exhibits before the reception, which started at 7 PM.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt

In the foyer of the Neue Galerie

First we took in the Neue Galerie, which houses one of my all time favorite artist, Gustav Klimt. We saw his masterpiece "Adele Bloch-Bauer I", one of my favorites from him, as well as some others of his work, as well as other Viennese and German expressionist artists. The difference between seeing a print of Klimt's work and the real painting is like tasting food as opposed to just watching the cooking channel on TV. The Neue Galerie is a small museum but well worth the visit for those in town.

Next we ran to the Guggenheim, which was located a couple of blocks away. They were showcasing 100 black and white Picassos. We only had half an hour before close so Monique and I quickly made our way from piece to piece along the famed spiral staircase of the Guggenheim. I wish we could have stayed longer but we had to run to the reception back at the Prince George.

Monique in front of the Guggenheim

At the Guggenheim

Once there, we saw a long line of people waiting to get in, which was positive. Monique was able to squeeze in and get inside to check out how the finalized space looked before the crowd was left in. She told me later they were still clearing up from setup. Finally, they let everyone in and this was when I realized that we had no lights on in our booths. Some enterprising artists had run out to Home Depot and bought clip light to shine on their work, but the rest of us had to deal with the lighting situation. Another artist had bought extra lights and put one on Monique's booth which was in particularly shadowy area. My booth was lighter but it was still not good to discern fine details.

However, there was a decent crowd at the reception, though they appeared to be mostly friends and family of the artists as Parallax did no discernible marketing for the event that I could tell. (I saw no listings in any of the major NYC papers at all). Still, the show looked mostly good, with a variety of artwork - not all to my taste, and some at various ability levels - but overall it was a really nice slice of different artwork styles. I particularly enjoyed work by a Chinese artist who made mixed media paintings on paper (I need to go through my business cards to find her name as her work was exquisite), as well as scultpure by American artist Stuart Williamson.

Some photos of the reception. Please click on an image to enlarge.

Me looking dopey in front of my booth after too little sleep the  night before!

The always lovely artist Monique Kendikian Sarkessian
with friends

I took a video of the reception, which you can see here. Lighting was adjusted on camera so the show does not look too dark here.

And here is another video from the following day that gives more of an overview of the venue and surrounding area:

Afterwords we stayed with some friends of mine and then came back to the venue the following morning.

A really cool sculpture by a house near our Friday night host's house in Norther NJ.

Before we went to Parallax, however, we stopped for an hour and half at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I could spend all day in here, but time was limited so I mostly went to check out their collection of Klimts as well as their Spanish decorative arts, Ancient Art, Egyptian Art and Byzantine Art sections. I also picked up some nice books on Islamic design patterns, Arabic miniature painting and a "Book of Beasts", which was a translation of  a 12th century Latin text and illustrations on various animals - both real and mythological.

At the Met (click to enlarge photos).

I totally want to draw this lion

Got my eye on you..... eyes from a Greek statue

Klimt and I. Photo by Monique Kendikian Sarkessian

I totally want to draw this too....

Back at The Prince George, I ran into the exhibition manager to ask about what was going to be done about the lighting situation - most artists were still in the dark. She basically told me that the pen lights they hooked up was all that they were prepared to do for the artists. I asked about a refund for the lighting we rented and she said to email her about it after the show. I will see how this goes. (Though another enterprising artist started a petition to make sure that Parallax follows through with refunds - I will see if they do indeed pay us back).

The morning was mostly dead, so many artists used the time to run to the Home Depot to buy clip on lights. Why Parallax did not do this, I don't know, but by mid afternoon Saturday, most artists had pooled together enough lights to light up their booths, with the exception of various mail in artists, who were not there to oversee their work.

Let there be light! Booth finally has it's lights on:

In general, I found Parallax Art Fair to be poorly organized. There were no helpers to make sure people interested in purchasing work were able to get the contact info of the artists (the show has been billed as one that you could ship  your work to, and that fair staff would oversee getting interested parties in touch with the artists about artwork purchases). In my view of the show, if you were not at it to personally oversee your work, nobody else was going to facilitate a sale.  This did not seem to matter very much though as most of the show was not well attended except for two and half hours at the end of the show each day. However, most of these people did not seem interested in buying (many of them I think were friends and family of the artists). Sunday had better attendance in the afternoon, and I saw a few sparse sales at the show, though mostly of smaller, inexpensive works or prints. I had many comments on my work but no inquiries for prices. However, since I had pre-sold one of my artworks to a collector just before I left for NYC, my expenses had been covered for the show, so I am too upset about this. Sometimes the conditions are just not right for sales, and as an artist you have to take the long view on things whenever possible.

"Between Earth and Sky" - pre-sold to a collector before the show.
Still I had fun. Saturday  we met with another artist friend of mine and we ended up staying at her son's apartment in the city for the night, as well as had some excellent Japanese cuisine for dinner.

Sunday morning we found a nice 24 hour French cafe and restaurant for breakfast and then went Christmas shopping at sci fi / fantasy / comic book store Forbidden Planet. This is a mecca for sci fi / comic fans and I found some cool stuff for my husband for Christmas. Let's just say it involves a certain British cult TV show. I also picked up an Ugly Doll for my 3-year-old niece's birthday.

Some photos from around town:

We also snagged street parking in front of the venue that morning so we were able to keep our van in a good location for the breakdown at the end of the day. As I said, I thought the afternoon crowd was better on Sunday as their seemed to be more visitors who were not related in some way to the artists at the show. I got to talk to various people about my art and met some other artists coming in to scope out the show so I enjoyed myself even if I did not end up selling any work. I did hand out a bunch of business cards and made a few interesting contacts so we'll see if anything pans out with that.

Then we packed up and drove home. I ended up getting an email from someone interested in buying some work that they saw online. As well as an offer for an exhibition at another gallery in December and January. Which was a nice way to end the day.

UPDATE (11/24/12): The head of the fair, Dr. Chris Barlow, emailed me personally a short while ago to say he wanted to address the concerns I mentioned in my post. I found him to be pretty sympathetic (although also nervous that I might post a bad review of the show) and he's going to look into the matter personally. So it's nice to know the that the organizers are hopefully looking into  some of the issues that the artists experienced at the fair....

UPDATE (12/05/12): Still waiting to hear back from the NYC exhibition manager about refunds for lighting at the show. I'll post again if I ever get the money refunded but as of right now have gotten no response from her after I sent two emails to her (she had said to email her after the show with refund requests).

UPDATE (1.10.13): I still have not heard back about a refund for the lighting and I've heard from other artists at the show who say the same. Though Dr. Chris Barlow told me everyone told him how positive the experience was for them, the other artists I spoke with said they had contacted him regarding refunds. So far nobody has been refunded or responded to that I know of. Many artists have contacted me after I wrote this blog post to ask if I think they should participate in another Parallax. Every one needs to weigh up that decision for themselves, but in my opinion, until the organization behind Parallax can take responsibility for mistakes, and learn from them, as well as prove that they can do a better job in the future, I would not take the risk of doing business with them. The show was poorly organized and under promoted. Until those two things change, it does not make business sense for an artist to invest their time and money in the fair.

I don't normally like to post negative reviews of any art show or event publicly, as many times people put their blood sweat and tears into a show and things happen through no one's fault. But there is a difference between a gallery organizing a show where their incentive to do well hinges on an artist selling work as they get a percentage of the sale as opposed to an art fair which gets paid by the artists for space at that fair and has no incentive to develop relationships with those artists. A mutually beneficial exchange of services would be that the fair provides the venue, booth display and publicity / marketing / promotion of the event and the artist brings the artwork to attract the crowds and pays rent to the fair for the opportunity. If both sides do their job, then it's a win-win situation. But if one side of the equation does not add up, it is not a good opportunity. And other artists need to know about this so they can make an informed decision of their own.

If I hear from Parallax or get any updates I'll post them up here.

UPDATE (3.19.13): Still no refund and have been hearing complains from other artists as well. Many artists have contacted me to ask if I think they should do the show as they found my blog post while researching Parallax online. What I told them, which is what I am posting here, is that based off my experiences with the organization, to not do it. The show is poorly run and the promotion and marketing of  the show does not seem to be what was advertised to the artists (i.e. it's non-existent). Chris Barlow has contacted me a few times now after the fact, but he has yet to return my lighting fees, and he has seems more concerned about getting bad reviews off of social media than actually addressing my concerns.If I get any more updates I'll post them here.

heading home


Anonymous said…
What you've described is unacceptable and unprofessional. It has all the hallmarks of a vanity gallery situation, regardless of the organizers calling it an 'art fair.' Google 'vanity galleries' so that you and your friend are informed about the warning signs. Stay away from vanity gallery arrangements, period. The are predatory situations and can even be damaging to your reputation because those who are legitimate gallerists and dealers know the difference if they read that you've participated in this kind of thing on your resume or bio. Art marketing and exhibiting is a numbers game, and if nothing has been invested in marketing it is a waste of your time and money. There are other more productive ways to exhibit and market your work, and it sounds like you are already doing nicely without this kind of hassle.
Hi Anonymous. Thanks for your comment. I agree with your assessment mostly. I have always been against vanity galleries and doing that type of thing though I don't know if this is exactly the same as you always have to pay to exhibit in an art fair to rent the space. it's not a gallery situation where they only get paid if they sell your work. THAT being said, the art fairs are still supposed to do marketing and promoting of the event so that people show up to the event, and the event should not be a disorganized mess, which, unfortunately was not the case here. To be fair, I believe the lighting situation we had here, was not a problem at other venues that the fair has been in. They really needed someone with more experience actually at the show running things and taking care of issues as they arose but there but that was just not the case.

Well, I guess you live and learn. I have just chalked up this event to experience and hopefully others will read my post and not make the same mistake.
Anonymous said…
My wife had a piece last year at the show which she shipped. She had a pleasant experience, even though the piece could not be sold (due to the lack of a NYGRT app), but her piece did arrive back safely and intact. Based on her positive experience, I am submitting a piece to the show. Very sorry to hear about your experience, it take alot to prep/ship for a show, and that can be quite a let down if itis run poorly. I hope they have corrected the situation. I have dealt with "Chris", and he seems to be on top of things. We'll see.
Anonymous said…
Here are some other artist opinions of Parallax Art Fair:

And the general concensus fits what Ms. Shelley has said above.
Hi, to the poster above whose wife shipped to the show last year. Am I correct in assuming you did not actually attend the show in person then? While I am glad your work was returned to you safely, if you had seen what I had seen by going to the show in person, you would have realized how worthless and a waste of money it was to to ship your work.

First of all, the artists that were AT the show, were able to salvage the bad lighting on their booths by running out and buying lights during the show. People who were not at the fair had their booths sit in the dark all weekend. Secondly, while the fair advertises that fair staff will be on hand to assist with sales, this is not really the case. There was nobody manning the floor to assist with any sales inquiries. There were a couple of interns near the front entrance who I believe had a CC processing machine but unless you happened to notice them, you'd have to leave the main exhibit area and find them to buy anything. In other words, unless you were physically in your booth to assist with helping the customer get sales info, then your work was not sold. So if you were not at the show, you had no chance at selling anything. The interns who were at the show did not know anything whenever I had a question for them. I once asked one of them for a red dot to denote a pre-sold piece I had at the show and they didn't even know what a red dot was. Which shows how much sales experience they had (i.e. none as a red dot is pretty much the universal signifier at an art show when something has sold and the fact that these interns did not know what it was shows their lack of experience at any previous art event). The exhibition manager was seen on the floor at times throughout the show, but no customer would have known who she was to ask her for help. She's also the same person who said she couldn't help when I asked her what was to be done about lighting. She also told me to email about refunds when I got home from the fair. When I asked her would the money be refunded, she would not answer me definitively.

THIRDLY, it's a moot point on whether it was easy or difficult to buy an artwork from a customer point of view, because hardly anybody showed up to the fair beyond friends and relatives as the show was not marketed or publicized very well. I asked Chris Barlow about this and he blamed the hurricane from two weeks previously as having affected the PR company they were using. Firstly, if you are only STARTING to market an international art fair two weeks before the actual date, then you have already doomed your event's promotion. Most major magazines and newspapers would have assigned any coverage of such an event well before this time, so even if the hurricane affected the PR company, they SHOULD HAVE put out most of their major promotion before this point. So I just don't believe this to be completely accurate.

Anyway, whatever you decide to do, good luck. I just don't have any faith in this particular fair.

Anonymous said…
Can I just jump in with a few comments about shows/fairs/gallery’s etc. with all these comments flying about nobody seems to have any experience to back up what they are saying.

Ok so some of you have paid £100-1000 for a space at a show.
I have paid in excess of £10,000 in the past for a show.

You had bad lighting at a show of which you paid £25 a light.
I have paid £150 each for ten lights in the past, just to turn up and the organizers not to have enough for the show. And the lighting crews to be on lunch break for what seems to be the entire day. (Got to love unions)

You turned up and some of your booth was not finished painting.
I have turned up and the booth had still yet to be built.

You all seem pretty fast to trash the fair but how much work did you really put in to make it work. If each exhibitor can get just 5 clients and there cheque book to turn up x60 exhibitors that’s a potential of 300 sales lets say only 50% purchase a piece AT the show. That means each artist still makes 2-3 sales. At a three-day show with it costing a MAX of £1000 to partake. That’s pretty damn good going. If your work is £2500 you see where Im going with this.

Ok so there was not much publication about the show... well if you pay him £5000 he might just be able to get 1/16 page ad in say the FT or Guardian. Advertising doesn’t come free.

Lets take the gallery option. In one week you may be lucky to get 70 people come through the doors to see your gallery show. At an art fair (almost any art fair) you will get this every hour from the moment the doors open to the moment the doors close.

Anyways rant over. £1000 is peanuts for a show space if you want to play in the big league art world your still going to have all the same issues but trust me £1000 booth fee wont get you through the front door.
sandra flood said…
Love the "anonymous" comments. I was sent an email from Dr. Barlow and will not be taking part. This is unacceptable and all of you should get your money back for the lights.These type of organizations know that artists don't have the money to pursue a screw up like this. And to "anonymous" who paid over $15,000. dollars US to do a show and had these problems or worse, that's your problem. Quite frankly you want a gallery to do the big Art Fairs and rep you. You don't want to put out the money to do it yourself because 9 times out of 10 you are screwed.