(e)merge art fair: An Insider’s View

studio visit emerge art fair eric hope washington dc on east city art

Bed as a makeshift display system. Photo Copyright East City Art.

Ever wondered what it was like to actually work a room at an art fair?  Well here’s the inside scoop!

This weekend I’ve taken off my East City Art reporter cap and am working at the (e)merge art fair representing The Studio Visit.  The Studio Visit is not a traditional brick-and-mortar gallery; rather, it is an online arts journal (much like the one you’re presently reading) headquartered in Washington, DC.

While VIP opening nights and press previews are glamorous affairs (lots of clinking champagne flutes and air kissing) the hours leading up to them are anything but.  I received a panicked call today at noon that ran something like this: “..the art’s not up, we need help with lighting and we can’t decide where to place the video. Can you drop everything and COME RIGHT NOW???!!!!”  Luckily, I could.

Arriving at the room at an hour later, there is controlled chaos.  We’re a non-profit on a budget, and the exhibition rate doesn’t include removing hotel-room furniture (Welcome to the world of a la carte pricing.  Want the 70’s dresser moved?  That’ll cost ya.), so we are using the bed as display space for the flat-file of artists and have covered dressers and nightstands in swaths of neutral fabrics.  The bed’s headboard has been removed as well as every possible knick-knack  (tip, check out what’s behind the shower curtain, but don’t even think of opening the closet doors lest you start an avalanche).  Now the fun begins….

We’ve removed those bland bouquet prints (remember, don’t open the closet!) and can use the hooks for our own framed photography by Ding Ren, but nailholes are strictly verboten.  Its now 2pm and we’re cutting strip after strip of artists’ tape for hanging works on paper.  Others are busy setting up an interactive multimedia piece by Emily Biondo in the bathroom appropriately entitled Lift the Seat.  Meanwhile there’s still the website screen and projector to set up (to display the online journal component).  We discuss for an hour about which to piece to hang where, which goes something along the lines of:  “should the nipples be displayed on the wall next to the Amsterdam series or flat on the bed next to the jousting wizards?”

studio visit emerge art fair eric hope washington dc on east city art

"Please lift the seat!" One of The Studio Visit's installation pieces. Photo Copyright East City Art.

It’s now a bit after 4pm and we’re in the midst of lighting when we catch word that ‘the press’ has begun to arrive.  Surely they can’t be, but according to Jamie Smith of Connor Contemporary (and an event sponsor), that’s par for the course.  Now we’re frantically ironing dress shirts and applying makeup (the ladies anyway) while simultaneously screwing in lightbulbs for the clamp lights.  I keep thinking I’m on an HGTV make-over show and fellow contestants are yelling “30 minutes! 30 minutes!”

At approximately 4:58pm it all comes together with only a minor wardrobe malfunction (someone left her party heels at home….) and we’re open for business!  The press preview and opening gala are quickly a blur as we repeat over and over (and over and over) our 20 second rehearsed spiel of our organization’s mission.  My feet hurt (reminder:  tomorrow put in Dr. Scholl’s inserts) and I’m parched.   Unfortunately the waiters floating around with trays of comp champagne don’t make it upstairs and we have elected not to order from the hotel’s catering department.   Emily’s installation piece seems to confound viewers who don’t understand the title, Lift the Seat, is also an instruction, so we rig up a quick instruction sheet, after which the laughter starts flowing.  And if someone bumps the doorstop one more time I’m going to loose it!

9pm quickly rolls around and the party moves out to the pool deck with dancing and concerts.  I’m too pooped to party and opt instead to head home for leftover pizza, a cold beer and a much-needed sit on the couch.  Twelve hours later, I’ll be back at it again!

The (e)merge art fair runs through Sunday, Sept. 25th at the Capitol Skyline Hotel.  For complete details and tickets, visit East City Art’s continuously updated (e)merge art fair page. Don’t forget to stop by room 320 and lift the seat!





Authored by: Eric Hope

Eric Hope is a curator and writer based in Brookland. He moved to Washington DC in 1997 and a twist of fate found him a volunteer marketing job at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. In 2009, after ten years of marketing work at large museums in DC he moved into the realm of curating, staging a variety of solo, duo and small-group shows for the Evolve Urban Arts Project. He currently freelances as a curator and writes about local artists and the DC arts scene for a variety of online publications. Originally from Missouri, Hope holds degrees in International Relations and Public Service Administration from DePaul University in Chicago.