TAKING QUALITY ART TO THE PUBLIC
Special Interview with Eric Smith, CEO, Redwood Media Group
Eric Smith, one of the strongest figures in the contemporary art world today!
As CEO, Eric Smith oversees all creative aspects and the production of the Redwood Media Group, which operates more than six shows in different cities in the US, including Artexpo New York, SPECTRUM Miami, Art San Diego, Red Dot Miami , [SOLO], and [FOTO SOLO].
Under Smith’s direction, Artexpo New York will continue as the leading trade show of the popular and fine art industries, offering industry professionals access to thousands of wholesale works from artists and publishers from all over the globe under one roof.
We are most honored to have an exclusive interview with one of the most important figures in the art industry!
Eric Smith, CEO Redwood Media Group speaks with Art Market Magazine about the 2018 Art fairs, with a special focus on Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami.
Art Market: Thank you for speaking with us again. Miami seems to have become an increasingly important center for art and we would like to hear from you about that, especially in comparison with other cities where you hold art fairs.
Eric Smith: Due to the uprise in popularity and recognition of Art Basel Miami Beach on the international art stage over the last decade, Miami Art Week has become the most competitive week for the art world. No other city has such an abundance of world-class art fairs taking place in a single week – each of them vying for the most prestigious artists, galleries and collectors. Many fairs concentrate on exhibiting only the most established names, whereas our pride and loyalty lies with showcasing some of the most progressive and emerging talents that have grown with us to become world recognized over the years.
Artexpo New York has a 40-year history and a heritage that is unarguably more established than our shows in Miami or elsewhere for that matter. This brings a more seasoned group of artists and galleries that are heavily concentrated around the north east, while at the same time attracting a considerable number of exhibitors from overseas and around the U.S as well.
Some of our fairs are regional in nature and cater towards the local market – Art Santa Fe or Art San Diego for example. These fairs speak to the more conservative art buyer who may have a more traditional outlook on art, based on the geography and the predominantly American audience. Artexpo New York as well as Spectrum Miami and Red Dot Miami attract a wider, more international clientele. The common thread throughout all of our shows is variety. Range and depth is key and allows for the fair as a whole to appeal to a broader market and multiple generations of art enthusiast.
AM: Have you seen an increase of visitor numbers to the fairs over the years?
ES: Certainly. There are more private planes in Miami during that time of the year than any other time of the year, and the quality of visitors and attendees is very good. We have seen an increase of visitors in both of our shows in Miami. Attendees get to directly talk with the artists, unlike many other shows where artists are represented by galleries and the artists may not even be present. We find that attendees really like that, and this is a big advantage for us.
AM: How do you see the balance between business savviness (foreseeing trends, following them) and being a leader by setting trends in art?
ES: On the business side, you have to be business savvy and economically successful in order to continue in your business.
Even a Nonprofit organization needs to make money to survive. We are therefore constantly looking for ways to balance being fair to our exhibitors, based on the pricing of doing business in Miami, while at the same time bringing an artistic excellence to the show. We also seek to give back to the community: the art-labs, Launchpad and art talks – we bring together various activities that are non-revenue riding but they make things very interesting for both the artists and the attendees.
I think that manage to strike a good balance. Next year we are moving to a new and fantastic venue. We are going to move to Mana Contemporary – it’s a spacious facility, perfect for an art fair – everything is already built, the infrastructure is ideal. There is also enough room to do some installation, and a proper restaurant and valet parking; a proper convention center.
AM: Tell us more about the social investments which are not revenue driving, such as the Launchpad and art labs.
ES: We want to bring back into the community. You ought to create interesting things for your visitors to see. You cannot just have an art fair; you have to create an event. For instance, this year when you walk into our entrance in Miami, above you would be thousands of flowers hanging from the ceiling,
AM: Like the hanging gardens of Babylon
ES: Yes. We have these hanging flowers; we called it “the walk in the clouds”. And we created it to offer interest for the viewers, engage them in unique and interesting experiences.
AM: We have noticed you put a lot of energy in adding extra value entertainment into the Miami art fairs, how do you feel about combining entertainment and art? Perhaps you could also say something broader about the connection between the so-called serious art and the softer, commercially appealing attractions.
ES: We put on an event, and it has to include excellent art for those people who are interested in the art we present. But for the people who are more visual we have the walk in the clouds, some installations and other activities. We want to appeal to a large variety of visitors, and then we have parties and we stay open late. The other shows close at seven or eight O’clock and we stay open till ten O’clock on Friday night.
AM: In our previous interview, you mentioned a game you played with your daughters in the Museums you visited, which made art more accessible to them. It sounds like you are making an effort to appeal not only to avid art lovers, but also to people who might not be the obvious art-loving crowds. Creating bridges and growing clientele.
ES: When I started in the gallery business I worked for Martin Blinder at the Martin Lawrence Galleries. We were selling Andy Warhol and Keith Haring and James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann in high traffic areas including shopping malls. Martin spoke of taking quality art to the public instead of waiting for the public to come to us, a gallery in Soho New York. So we had a gallery in New Port Beach in the mall, in Lahaina in Maui and in downtown San Francisco and it attracted a lot of attention and contributed to the company’s success. Maybe that’s where I am coming from.
AM: Does it draw criticism from art people who wish to separate themselves from the entertainment business?
ES: Sure, but that’s always going to be part of the art business. It’s always going to get a little bloody for the first guy to blast through the wall. However, we stick to our values and to the mission statement of the company – we give some of these emerging artists an opportunity to show their work (in Spectrum), and then in Red Dot we also have some young galleries alongside the more established ones. Although we do present some Blue Chip art, like Botero patinings and Tom Wesselmann, we also want to show a broader spectrum of contemporary artists and galleries. Most of what we show is primary work which has been created in the last couple of years.
AM: Pretend that you are a prospective buyer or collector, how do you visit your fairs?
ES: First, you walk through and you wait for something to catch your eye. Once you are drawn to something, you begin to interact with either the gallery owner or the artists, and then I would just ask many questions. That’s the beauty of both Spectrum and Red Dot – you are talking with people who are familiar with the art and are invested in it. Questions like: How long have you been painting? How long does it take you to finish a piece? What inspires you? Is this drawn from anything in your personal history? What other shows have you done? Are you represented by a gallery? All these questions help create value in the piece. A $3000 artwork requires you to create a $3000 value before someone will buy it. We are not simply going to Christies and seeing what’s the last Warhol is going for and trying to get it for a better price.
We have some interesting art and interesting galleries coming. Here’s a good example: There’s a gallery named Gebhardt Gallery, owned by a Kris and Angela Gebhardt. They have been with us for five years. At first they took a very small space, now they have a pretty good sized space and over the past five years they have learned to use social media, engage with collectors, do home shows. For instance, last year they took two or three paintings to a few clients’ homes and sold them, because they have a truck and they can deliver this art to these condos around Miami. And they do that at night after the show, and they have been very successful. It’s rewarding to see them create a solid business.
AM: Speaking of scope for development, can you tell us the rate of returning artists to Spectrum and Red Dot?
ES: In Spectrum it’s about 55%, in Red Dot 65%.
AM: It means both galleries and artists consider this a very useful avenue for exposure and sales.
ES: You need to remember that the bigger exhibitors return every year, absorbing the most space. They are professionals. While a Launchpad artist will get a chance to succeed, it takes a while to do so and it is not easy. You need to have a marketing plan and you have to hustle; it’s a business.
AM: What are your expectations from this year’s fairs?
ES: Our advanced ticket sales are already 23% better than last year. About 40% of our tickets are sold in advance. We have already sold about 9200 tickets. People are planning their art Miami week. There are about 38,000-40,000 people attending the show. If out of those people 2,500 will purchase something that would be really great. Our price points are between $3000-20000. Prices in Art Basel, for instance, are a lot higher.
AM: Can you point us to any interesting artists we should look out for?
ES: Sure, here are some examples: Ricardo Cardenas “El Juego de las Fridas” (mixed media on concrete, 72”x72”) which is art on concrete salvaged from the Mexican earthquake. Other works to look out for include James Paterson’s sculpture “Can You Envision Such a Windblown Silence (Steel Wire and Mixed media, 24”x19”x5”), Revolving Embrace, a textile sculpture by Erin Bassett, En Ling Qing’s photography (Still in Motion VII), We Are All Minature by Alexy Poutrel (photography print on metal) and Robert Peterson’s portraits.
AM: We wanted to conclude with a few personal questions. You are investing your working life in the field of art, what’ important for you in what you do?
ES: What’s important for me is being the liaison between the artist and the collector. Our job in RedWood is to continually educate collectors on how to collect, the reasons for collecting, introducing new collectors. And on the artist side, creating tools for them to use to continue their creativity: sales, opportunity, proper pricing, proper hanging, and all the tools that they need in order to be a better business person than they are. This is how I see our mission.
AM: A bridge.
ES: Yes, whether that bridge has to do with education, or events or electronic media or sales, or all of these things combined. You need these in order to be a successful artist.