Art Market SF: Reading the Trends


I just went to my second ever visit to Art Market San Francisco. I’ve been to Bonnaroo and I still find art fairs more exhausting than three days under the Tennessee sun. At least after a weekend of too much sweat and too little showers I’ve sacrificed my well-being for four hours of Paul McCartney. At the end of four hours in Art Market, I just stumble out into the breezy Marina to contemplate if I saw anything of worth.

That’s not to say there aren’t pieces selling for insanely high prices; or even that there aren’t beautiful, important works of art… I just get so overwhelmed in that environment, that I wouldn’t know if I was looking at the masterpiece of 2015 even if I was sipping gourmet coffee in front of it for 10 minutes. To be fair (sorry), they aren’t promoting this event incorrectly. It’s exactly what it promises to be, which is a warehouse full of galleries showing their most enticing merchandise.

When I attended last year, it proved to be a treasure trove of artists who I could feature on a popular art tumblr I was interning for. The trends in the art market and factors that go towards making a Tumblr post go viral aren’t too different. They both often depend on the initial, gut reaction the viewer has upon seeing it. The content cannot rely on subtle historical references or slight variations on what was “hot” a year ago. It must be extreme in volume, size, and hue (landing on either side of the spectrums). They often contain all colors of the rainbow.

This doesn’t make the art bad. Not at all. One main component of good art is if it creates a reaction within the viewer. There’s obviously a reason people are reacting. The artwork may be beautiful, it may match their current #aesthetic, or it may just embody what they view as their “personal brand”.

A person’s art collection is always, in some ways, a physical manifestation of their curated ego. Jay Z doesn’t just have Basquiat chillin’ in his kitchen for his own personal fulfillment whenever he’s making Bey and Blue grilled cheese. It’s also to show off when Kanye visits and to show off when he dedicates an entire song to art.

Now, most of the collectors at Art Market who I accidentally bumped into while I was busy tweeting don’t have the same talents that Jay does. So in addition to the “important” feminist, textile sculpture they’re buying, they’ll also buy that GATS original print to hang above their home beer brewing corner without thinking about the work much further than it being definitively cool.

Art has long been a status symbol of wealth and that’s neither surprising nor negative. It is interesting how fairs like Art Market can show the buyer’s taste for hyperaware art without they themselves being hyperaware of their purchases.

In my two hour loop around the fair, I found no less than four artists with works that focus on the portrayal of bookshelves. Watching the amount of selfies being taken in front of these massive pieces is a perfect representation of th- oh god- here it comes- the duality between the artist’s message and the viewer’s response. I’m so sorry I’ll clean that up immediately.

Max-Steven Grossman’s “Bookscapes” photography series (seen at top of this post) is printed to be slightly larger than scale. You immediately are drawn towards specific shelves or stacks and can visualize them sitting in your living room as the ideal coffee table centerpiece. The shelves are blatantly aware that you are looking to them as a fulfillment of your personal taste.


Phil Shaw’s hyperrealistic prints creates shelves that are organized by color and intellectual themes. They draw you in to read all of the spines and you start to realize the titles are all referencing one another which starts to make you think “how much do we really have to say about this”? It’s like a stylized twitter feed asking if we really needed 100 different books on Piet Mondrian.


Brighton Smith’s creates portraits of the art history undergrad girl’s dream. A perfectly feminine, yet funky designer shoe placed atop a pedestal of generic art books. He is literally putting high fashion and fine art in the same image to show that they share the same audience and potentially the same trends. However, I have a suspicion that most of the buyers are not ironically getting these for their teenage daughter’s Kate Spade bedroom. Smith isn’t criticizing the similarities between the two worlds, only highlighting them.


Pancho Luna’s “Invisible Literature” sculptures were the only ones that didn’t rely on playing with the reduction of book’s spines to create an image in itself. Actually they still did but pushed the viewer’s reliance on the spines for context literally to the back of the space (I understand I used literally incorrectly but we’re talking about books and I’m a twentysomething). The “books” are created by placing images of what would be a book’s spine against the back of a clear rectangle. The piece is undeniably creating a bookshelf that asks the question “If these were real books, would it make a difference to you?”

All of these artists seem to be playing with the idea that it didn’t matter if Jay Gatsby ever cut his books pages or not. In the new age of constant internet access, physical books have become even more of an antiquated yet elevated status symbol.

It’s curious that these pieces are exploring the very concepts they’re benefiting from and I wonder if the buyers acknowledge this as well. I’m sure they do since they’re all very smart (and pay very smart people to tell them what to be smart about). Also, I’m sure they’ll all look great next to the actual coffee-table book shelves. #meta

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