The third annual Echo Art Fair got off to a subdued but jovial start on Saturday as art fans made their way through the drizzle and into the art-filled second floor of the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library on Lafayette Square.
Exhibitors and visitors alike were abuzz about the fair’s comfortable new location in an area of the library that once housed books and computers. The library’s location and its roomy, raw second-floor space, was in stark contrast to last year’s fair in the stifling surroundings of the Larkin Center for Commerce and the inaugural version in the picturesque but out-of-the-way Central Terminal.
Outside the library, visitors will find an alluring wheat-pasted banner by Max Collins advertising the fair hanging on a wall opposite a low-lying sculpture made of wooden palettes fanned out like a deck of cards by artist Scott Bye. A serpentine art installation called “Book Wurm,” by Tara Sasiadek, made from hundreds of folded pieces of paper and other bits of ephemera, follows visitors as they ride up the escalators, pausing for a glance at a series of lovely shaped-wood sculptures by Jeremy Holmes.
Once visitors reach the second floor, they’ll encounter a group of what appear to be lab techs dressed in white coats and sunglasses, surrounded by metal racks brimming over with wrinkled receipts. It’s part of a guided, tongue-in-cheek shopping experience devised by artist Liz Rywelski that has to do with the strange way American culture has tried to formalize and systematize human desires.
That is actually a perfect lead-in to the fair, which was designed by its founder E. Frits Abell in part to encourage more people to think of art as a commodity and to whip out their wallets to purchase it.
Though red dots on the walls – the sign that an artwork has sold – were not exactly easy to spot, the mood of artists and gallerists at the fair was generally positive and optimistic.
“So far so good,” said Adam Charles Greenberger, a Buffalo-born gallerist who runs the Judith Charles Gallery in New York City with partner Gina Fraone. “Looking at the artist booths this year versus last year, whether people have stepped it up as well as some of the curatorial vision of the committee, the quality of the individual artists is really phenomenal, really impressive. These artists could show anywhere.”
The work on view in the dozens of white booths, some dedicated to one or two artists and some to galleries representing several artists, ranged widely from modern to contemporary, sculpture and painting to installation work.
Dana Tillou, a local art dealer who owns Dana Tillou Fine Arts in Allentown, was selling work originally collected by legendary Albright-Knox Art Gallery patron Seymour H. Knox that was part of the HSBC Bank’s local art collection, which it is now divesting. Elsewhere, in a booth run by independent curator Claire Schneider, artist Chris Barr was sitting down with visitors as part of a unique art project in which people can barter for his artwork rather than purchase it with cash.
Elsewhere, photographer J-M Reed showed a series of photographs and two illuminated QR codes, which, when scanned, point your smartphones to some X-rated images. Nearby were the much tamer squiggle drawings of Katherine Sehr, a series of fine oil paintings based on trees by Mark Lavatelli, the creeping, crawling ceramic sculptures of Bethany Krull, and Jody Hanson’s meditative paintings made from crystallized salt solutions.
Despite the shortage of red dots, participants said they were hopeful that Sunday’s free admission and better weather would loosen a few would-be collectors’ purse strings before the two-day affair ends.
The fair also featured a series of panels, including a well-attended discussion between art blogger Paddy Johnson and Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén. The pair talked about the role of collectors in Buffalo, the idea of making museum admission free and the changing role of a museum like the Albright-Knox in a rapidly changing art world.
Sirén told the audience that the Albright-Knox’s plan for growth, which it commissioned from the architecture firm Snohetta nearly a year ago, has been completed. He also hinted at plans for ambitious new construction.
“Change is not easy,” Sirén said. “We have almost a natural resistance to change as humans. Then you’ve got some crazy people who want to build museums and do stuff like that. Sometimes it works and the results are marvelous. And sometimes it doesn’t. But if you never take the leap of faith and you never look to the future’s barometer, or at the compass, then we just end up drilling a long and deep hole...
“I think Buffalo should do that,” he added, referring to taking a leap of faith. “I think we should be brave.”
The fair continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.