Having an art fair in a hotel is not a new idea, but it is a good one. Hotel rooms are a weird blend of public and private space, which, according to Spring1883 co-founder Kate Barber, is what makes them great places for viewing and selling contemporary art.
“As a venue I think the hotel works precisely because it is domestically-scaled and prospective clients can get a good sense of how works might look in their own spaces. A hotel room is also quite a charged environment, with a condition of anonymity, and that frisson is also what makes it a good backdrop for sometimes challenging contemporary artworks,” Barber explains. “And hotel rooms are transactional places, for business people and for other transactions of course, and so what better place to put on an art fair.
As an art fair, Spring1883 (which launched in 2014) was inspired by an initiative at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, a short-lived event that quickly became part of art world mythology. Barber and her fellow co-founders Geoff Newton, Vikki McInnes and Vasili Kaliman never attended, but she says “From what I’ve read and heard from people who did go there was an incredible atmosphere; part anarchy and part revelation. It was inspirational to us because it was established by gallerists, and it was a very DIY approach.”
The Gramercy Park event began in 1994 and by 1999 it had morphed into the much larger Armory Show, but Spring 1883 is about to present its sixth iteration and is still going strong. Barber cites keeping it small as part of their ongoing success. The art fair alternates each year between The Hotel Windsor in Melbourne and The Establishment in Sydney, and only around 25 galleries are invited each time.
Of course there are challenges to presenting artworks in hotel rooms, but for Barber the advantages more than make up for the difficulties. For a start there is room service. In addition to being co-founders of Spring1883, Barber and Vikki McInnes are directors of Sarah Scout Presents and they attend each fair as exhibiting gallerists. “Last time in Sydney we were both skipping meals during the fair as it gets so busy that you can’t leave your room,” Barber recalls. “Around day two we remembered we were in a hotel and could call room service!”
In fact most of the out-of-town gallerists stay in the rooms, which cuts their costs, but it also adds to the voyeuristic thrill of visiting the fair. Artworks tend to be displayed all over the hotel suites: on the bed, in the closet and in the bathroom. So peek behind a closed door and you’ll often find the gallerist’s toiletries, clothes or luggage sharing an intimate space with an artwork. The private is made public.
This year Sarah Scout Presents is showing a tightly curated selection of paintings by Bryan Spier, sculptures by Simone Slee, and photographs by Hoda Afshar. “I’m always trying to add more work in at the last minute,” Barber admits. “I rely on Vikki to be the voice of reason and restraint.”
Unlike in the traditional pristine white cube, or even in an inner city ARI, exhibitors at Spring1883 can’t pin, drill or nail into the walls; there’s no opportunity to patch it up later. But as Barber points out, these restrictions just force gallerists to get creative. “It’s always fascinating to see how other galleries and their artists transform the spaces,” she says. “And an increasing number of galleries are presenting very ambitious site-specific or site-responsive works.”
The Establishment Hotel
(5 Bridge Lane, Sydney, NSW)