Photo by Stephen Smith. Courtesy of NADA.
The American Association of Retired Persons offers its members 15 percent off at Denny’s. Members of AAA, the automotive group, get roadside assistance. Until recently, National Rifle Association members got discounts on Delta flights. Members of NADA, the New Art Dealers Alliance, get special rates on hotels, among other benefits—plus a whole lot of intangibles that matter more than ever for small, new, and mid-tier galleries operating in a challenging economic environment.
On Thursday’s opening day of NADA’s seventh New York art fair, multiple dealers cited NADA’s feeling of being a part of a “community” as a key reason why they participate, even as some dealers eschew fairs altogether or search for alternative models. Founded in 2002 as a non-profit industry group for emerging galleries, as well as curators, artists, and other art world professionals, NADA has been staging fairs in Miami since 2003 and in New York since 2012, always with an eye towards helping its dealers thrive.
“We do the fairs we do as long as they’re good for the people participating,” said Heather Hubbs, the executive director of NADA. “The reason NADA started doing a fair in Miami was because there was a demand for it. It’s because the galleries want it.”
(The fair accepts applications from NADA member galleries, who number about 110, and is open to non-members. Being a NADA member does not guarantee acceptance to the fair.)
To make it viable, she and her staff have worked towards maintaining consistent booth pricing. Hubbs pointed to the wide range of booth sizes the fair offers to allow for broader participation—even for project spaces, nonprofits, and galleries that only operate on the weekend.
“We have enough options that if someone really wants to be a part of it, they can find something they feel comfortable with,” Hubbs said.
She is also trying to help her members with other aspects of the art business. Members have, for example, asked about help with consolidated shipping for fairs or exhibitions and deals on framing. Her personal goal, although she acknowledged it’s “a really tough one to figure out,” is to one day be able to offer access to health insurance through NADA for galleries and individual members, since providing health insurance to employees can be prohibitively expensive (as well as administratively burdensome) for small businesses. And while NADA does educational programming throughout the year, the fair remains its biggest event, and a key opportunity for new galleries.
Sara Maria Salamone of the 18-month-old Mrs. gallery in Maspeth, Queens, credited NADA’s fairs with helping her young gallery get off the ground. In the short period of time since she opened the gallery with her husband, she’s participated in three NADA fairs, two in New York and one in Miami.
“Our business has grown so much just because of it,” Salamone said. “It’s opened up so many doors. That’s what I feel like NADA is able to do. As a small gallery, we’ve seen so much growth in 18 months. I can’t [attribute] it to hard work only, because we have to be supported by other people. It takes a network to build something, and we’ve been fully supported by NADA.”
Work by Genesis Belanger at Mrs.’s booth. Photo by @___mrs.___, via Instagram.
This year, her cozy, curtained project booth with nearly 30 works by Genesis Belanger sold out on the fair’s opening day, a combination of preview sales and many on the spot. The porcelain and stoneware works, most of them in millennial pink and other gentle pastel hues, ranged from $50 for small renditions of pills to $9,200 for a pair of lamps shaped like a woman’s torso.
Helena Anrather’s gallery is less than a year old, but already felt welcomed by her peer galleries at NADA (“If I can aspire to” calling them my peers, she said humbly, referring to her status as a brand-new gallery). She noted that NADA had such confidence in her proposal, a selection of month-old photographs from the United Arab Emirates-based artist Farah Al Qasimi, they accepted her in before the work was even produced.
“I feel like I’m showing in a gallery community,” Anrather said, noting that the artists represented amongst the participating galleries were also in a community, too. “There are a lot of interconnective relationships among the artists at the fair, so it’s a really perfect context.”
She got an extra warm welcome from the fair when Al Qasimi won the NADA Artadia Award, an unrestricted grant of $5,000. Anrather said several of the works in the booth, which ranged in price from $1,000 to $2,500, had already sold as of Thursday afternoon.
It is notable that NADA has retained much of its warmth and fuzziness even as it has grown and evolved in the years since its first Miami iteration launched. The fair has moved sites, changed its spot on the calendar (from coinciding with Frieze New York in May to a March date timed with The Armory Show), gone from free and open to the public to ticketed, and eventually launched a VIP program. It’s now building on that VIP program by offering a “Friends of NADA” membership, which, for $1,000 a year, allows supporters access to series of invitation-only events, such as curator-led tours, gallery-hosted dinners, and studio visits.
Installation view of September Gallery’s booth at NADA. Photo by Stephen Smith. Courtesy of NADA.
“It seems like a natural extension to engage with a collector base that wants to engage deeper with [the NADA] community, and maybe wants to do it in a more social way,” Hubbs said, adding that capturing data on its high-net worth visitors was also important for attracting corporate sponsors to support the fair.
She noted somewhat wistfully that the ticketing policy, which began in 2015, contributed to a definite “shift in energy” at NADA from when it had an open-door policy and no one had to flash a card or credential to enter.
But the Friends of NADA program is also a recognition that collectors are a viable and legitimate source of revenue for NADA, which, for now, is run on member dues, fair fees, sponsor participation, and ticket sales, especially in an economic and policy climate in which the wealthy are growing ever-wealthier.
“[NADA hasn’t] really had that collector support before, it was mostly dealers supporting dealers,” said Nicelle Beauchene, founder of Nicelle Beauchene Gallery on the Lower East Side and a NADA board member. “I think that’s an interesting expansion for the organization.”
Beauchene, whose gallery turns 10 years old in April, said the collaborative spirit NADA had fostered among galleries was starting to trickle out into the wider art world.
“The art market for years was very adversarial, and the idea that galleries could bring collectors to each other” is catching on, she said, citing a project she worked on with the much larger gallery Blum & Poe with the artist Alexander Tovborg. “The level of support they’ve given is pretty phenomenal…there is part of the market that is turning around and not being so cannibalistic.”
Photo by Stephen Smith. Courtesy of NADA.
But the organization’s main benefit she cited was “knowing there’s this larger network,” especially on the Lower East Side, where she and other local galleries are “always offering basic support” to each other—even things like borrowing plinths from one another to exhibit sculptures. Her gallery is in the same building as that of Jack Hanley Gallery, and the two swap out the ground floor space with each show, to share the amount of exposure and foot traffic.
International members such as Carbon 12, a Dubai-based gallery that has been a member for two years and has shown at NADA New York for four, don’t get to enjoy all the local perks of membership, such as panels, studio visits, and neighborly camaraderie. But Nadine Knotzer, one of Carbon 12’s directors, said she still feels she is part of “a very strong community.”
“It’s sad we do not get to go to a lot of the events,” Knotzer said. But, she added, “there’s a lot of information exchanged, all the way from insurance to suppliers…and even when it is not NADA organizing the dinners, if we’re in the same city [for a fair], it’s like, ‘Hey, there’s a couple other NADA members in town, let’s do a dinner,’” which allows galleries to court their collectors while sharing the costs of an expensive dinner party.
Hubbs is still working through how to provide more support to international members at a time when the art market is ever-more global, but she said NADA’s work has become more evenly allocated between producing the fair and putting on year-round programming and events, especially as her full-time staff has grown to seven, from four a few years ago. And even as she acknowledged the ever-increasing role of fairs in the art market, she encouraged art lovers to continue to visit galleries and see the exhibits they work so hard to produce.
“I would never want to think that fairs—or the Internet, actually—would replace people going to galleries,” Hubbs said. “Galleries are so important, and the people that run them and the artists in them, they all work so hard, and provide something that’s so valuable, to everybody, to the world—for free, when you think about it.”