Goodbye, Big Art Fairs, Hello, Cool New Venue

A new boutique art fair will open soon in Amagansett
The exterior of the old Amagansett Applied Arts building, which will host the Upstairs Art Fair in July

Small is beautiful, even in the overheated atmosphere of a long South Fork summer. While two large tented art fairs have recently withdrawn from the summer social and commerce scene, a new, organically formed, and super-concentrated group of galleries is taking over the old Amagansett Applied Arts building’s top floor to mount its rendition of a Hamptons art fair‚ with just a dozen participants as of this writing. 

Taking place from July 14 to 16, the Upstairs Art Fair will have a salon feeling and include galleries from here or downtown New York City. All of the principals are friends or friendly, making it almost a family event. Although it will open on a Friday night from 6 to 10, with a V.I.P. preview from 4 to 6, no waiters will be pushing carts of Ruinart Champagne down the aisles or passing trays of catered canapes. The mood and style will be casual.

Harper Levine, who is organizing the fair with his friend Bill Powers from the Half Gallery in Manhattan, said the original intention was to serve as a satellite or alternative fair to the big tents. “We want to be a fair for the sake of the art, not a fair for the sake of a fair.”

Seeing the competition fall away was a surprise. “We didn’t plan it that way, but it’s interesting that we will now be the only one that weekend.”

But no one can be too surprised that the summer crowd had little time (aside from the opening night party) for the large but lackluster annual fairs that kept trying to separate billionaires and multimillionaires from their money. Still they persisted, until suddenly they just gave up. Art Hamptons cried uncle first, in February, and Art Southampton went public with its intention to dial it back just in the last few weeks.

Of the three fairs that battled it out in recent years, only one remains, Market Art + Design (originally known as ArtMRKT Hamptons). It will be open from July 6 to 9 on the Bridgehampton Museum grounds. Some 60 galleries and dealers are participating.

Mr. Levine said last week that he and Mr. Powers have been planning this for only a few months. “We were going to take the whole space, but it wasn’t practical, given our cost constraints. Then we thought it was interesting to use only the upstairs, and that gave us the name.”

They kept it small and between friends because of the intimate space. “It’s a beautiful old barn, once a center for ceramics, photography, printmaking, and other art.” The barn, on Indian Wells Highway, is rustic, and they want to keep that feeling. “There may be some minimal buildout to provide walls, but we want to maintain its original charm. The goal is to make it not look like the average art fair in a conventional hall or tent.”

The local galleries involved are Mr. Levine’s own Harper’s Books, the Rental Gallery and Halsey Mckay Gallery, his neighbors on Newtown Lane; and KARMA, with locations in Amagansett and New York. The other galleries include Ceysson Benetiere, Half Gallery, James Fuentas, Magenta Plains, New Release, Rachel Uffner Gallery, and Yours, Mine, and Ours gallery.

There is no curatorial theme, unlike some smaller (and even very large) fairs. “We don’t know what they’re bringing, but we are confident in the program of all of the galleries exhibiting. They may have different aesthetics, but all of them are more about the art and the artist than anything else,” Mr. Levine said. 

He expects that sales prices will vary from affordable to less so. “We very specifically tried to have low group rates for the galleries. It’s not a giant investment. The connoisseurship will be high, as well as the accessibility.” The fair should offer buying opportunities for the seasoned collector to the art fair neophyte, he said, and to people who appreciate art for what it is, not merely as decoration.

There will be no luxury cars or expensive jewelry on display and no related talks or other events. The fair will consist of anywhere from 100 to 200 pieces of art shown in a space with a “block party feel to it — fun, casual, approachable.”

Admission will be free and visitors will be welcomed to come browse straight from the beach or however else they wish to  present themselves. If the fair is successful, the partners will continue, but it is not likely they will ever be interested in corporate sponsors, marquee-name food partners (“They can always bicycle into Amagansett and get a dosa,” said Mr. Levine), or a crowd of white suits. They just want “a cool venue, good galleries, and interesting art.”

The fair, which will take place on the top floor of the buiding, was organized by Harper Levine and Bill Powers, who is seen above right in the interior.Harper Levine
Magenta Plains, one of the fair’s exhibitors, will bring Bill Saylor’s “Night Warp,” a painting from this year.Magenta Plains and the artist