The CURRENT Art Fair runs Oct. 20-23 at Hohman Design in Scott's Addition. The event, dubbed "Richmond's first contemporary art fair," is produced through the collaborative effort of several local galleries, including ADA Gallery, Candela Books + Gallery, Glave Kocen Gallery, Page Bond Gallery, Reynolds Gallery, Quirk Gallery, and 1708 Gallery. (Illustration by Shepard Fairey)
Richmond’s getting noticed more and more lately. Why, just recently, the Grey Lady gave its assessment of “36 Hours In Richmond," including a shout-out to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Having written these kind of travel pieces, I know how challenging it can be to try and fit in everything you might think is neat about a place. And while new Broad Street shops received deserved mention, none of the art galleries that spurred the recent revival along that commercial corridor made the cut. Supper – home to some mighty fine eatin’ – got its picture in the paper, but its location was left unmentioned: Scott’s Addition.
When I wrote the linked piece above in 2009, plenty of Richmonders couldn’t locate this corner of the city. Kenneth Woodcock, who grew up tough there in the 1940s and '50s, in his memoir “Scott’s Addition,” describes the gritty neighborhood he called “Scott’s A” as “diamond shaped.” Today, the community, brought out, dusted off and polished, displays a gem stone shine in the sudden glare of attention.
The proximity of interstate connections and central location make the neighborhood now, as it was when a light industrial and rail hub, a good location for enterprise. Tom Hohman, who came from Charlotte, North Carolina, four years ago, spent the first two in Manchester and the past two in Scott’s Addition. He expresses surprise that the discovery of the neighborhood didn’t happen sooner. “It’s not like there’s a natural barrier, like the river for Manchester, or on the other side of Dabney Road, where the interstate cuts through," he says. "It’s just right here, across from the Museum District.”
Scott’s Addition is now more than discovered; it’s happening, and industrial designer Hohman is part of the movement. His 5,000-square-foot production space is the location of CURRENT, the first-ever Richmond-centric art fair, Thurs., Oct. 20, through Sun., Oct. 23. The event is a major contribution to CultureWorks "Artober" series, an effort to get people out to experience arts and culture.
Hohman offered his space at 3409 W. Leigh St. when CURRENT organizers approached him due to his experience in commercial and film production and special event planning. “They wanted to know if I could put up walls for the gallery booths,” he says. Absolutely. “If I was asked to create an art fair set for a commercial, or film, and install walls, hang lights, paint and dress it out complete with art, and with my team, we could knock it out in a week. Three months out wasn’t a problem.” He’s installing 75 modular wall units to form the booths for seven participating galleries.
CURRENT charges out after more than year of preparation and involves the ADA Gallery, Candela Books + Gallery, Glave Kocen Gallery, Page Bond Gallery, Reynolds Gallery, Quirk Gallery, and 1708 Gallery. The exhibition is free and open to the public. You can get more information about the exhibitors and ancillary activities here.
Looming 843 feet over Scott’s Addition is the WTVR-6 broadcast tower. Artist Shepard Fairey – he of the “Obey” giant and the much imitated “Hope” poster – chose the tower to represent CURRENT. Fairey undertook the commission by art collectors, advocates and CURRENT advisory board members Bill and Pam Royall to create the distinctive logo with the name, which conveys the present time, broadcast waves and electricity and also, the James River.
Shepard served as Honorary Chair of 1708 Gallery’s 23rd Annual Art Auction in 2013 and is in the collection of the VMFA. Pam Kiecker Royall says, “As an internationally acclaimed street artist ... Shepard had the perfect artistic voice to reflect the excitement surrounding CURRENT.”
Representatives of many of these galleries have often traveled great distances, at some expense, to participate in other art fairs both the United States and abroad.
When discussions began last summer between city gallery operators about the best way to introduce themselves to Richmonders generally and younger collectors specifically, outside of the First Friday or gallery setting, an art fair came up as a natural evolution.
In the Mid-Atlantic region, there isn’t one. Washington, D.C.’s contemporary art fair, termed (e)merge, brought more than 80 exhibitors into the Morris Lepidus-designed Capitol Skyline Hotel (owned by collectors Don and Mera Rubell) for a fall weekend during 2011-2014.
(e)merge claimed inspiration from the Gramercy International Art Fair (dubbed the Armory Show after 1997) and the Times Square Show, which brought established and rising artists to an appreciating and sometimes buying public.
And even if the fair-goer buys nothing this time, looking is free, and certainly a way to see what “The Now” looks like as interpreted by artists represented by these galleries.
When the group formed last summer, a number of ideas were pitched, but nothing that sounded refreshing. “Oh, we thought about a brown-bag lunch series,” says 1708’s director, Emily Smith. “But this grew into a critical mass of interest to do something else – even though we, in the beginning, didn’t know what that something else might be." Says Alice Reynolds Livingston of Reynolds, “Not gallery talks or auctions. What could we do [differently] that would be exciting, make galleries more accessible – not only by having them under one roof?”
Candela’s Gordon Stettinius recalls, “We almost uncorked it last year, but we wanted more time and preparation, rather than winging it in an overnight fashion. The first and best thing we did was call Caroline Wright, a highly capable coordinator, and then, the first phase is us getting on the same page and figuring out who’d be involved.”
Wright, whose background includes directing exhibition programming at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, united the gallery operators. Her job then became handling the fair’s considerable logistics and recruiting able assistants to help assemble the moving parts.
“We know there are more people in town who are curious, who want to know more about the growing art scene in Richmond,” says Wright. “[There are] people who’d likely become art collectors – in a wide range of ways, of course – if given a little help with that first step. An art fair, located in a state/region that doesn't really have them, seemed to be a good experiment in effort to show visitors the wide range, and exceptional quality, of art available in Richmond.”
Smith observes that bringing together these contemporary presenters proved a great motivation. “We all have a stake, and there’s enough to go around, and if we work as a group to continue to nurture a contemporary base, everybody benefits.”
Candela’s Ashby Nickerson says, “The best part of this is that we’re all working on a project and bringing the highlights from a year’s worth of programming. We want to earn some new eyes for great work.”
Where 1708 and Reynolds, for example, are established institutions of their kind, Candela, an art photographic gallery and publishing house, is just five years old. Despite events and books, there are people who don’t know about the space who might want to. Nickerson says, “There are people who’ve just not heard of us yet, and they can see us at [CURRENT] and then actually come see our physical space on Broad Street.”
The fair will feature the work by around 50 artists, including local favorites, Brooke Inman and Ed Trask, in addition to widely exhibited and acclaimed artists such as Cynthia Henebry, Chris McCaw and Sally Mann. The fair offers opportunities for collectors of all levels, from new to seasoned, including special access to many of the region’s gallery operators and curators.
Tickets to the preview reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thurs., Oct. 20, featuring drinks, light hors d'oeuvres and live music, are $50 each, and are available online and at the door.
A mural walking tour, led by artist Mikael Broth, is also planned for 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Studio Two Three hosts an art fair after party from 9 to midnight on Sat., Oct. 22, with live music and general revelry.
After all this, who will come, and in what numbers, is still something of an unknown. But, if Richmond, its art scene, and the city’s recent propensity for gatherings are any guide, this could be the start of something big.
CURRENT’s hours are Thursday (preview party), Oct. 20, 6 to 9 p.m.; Friday Oct. 21, noon to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 22, noon to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 23, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
CURRENT is sponsored by Markel, Pam and Bill Royall, Rick’s Custom Frame + Gallery, McKinnon and Harris, and Fultz and Singh Architects.