When it started in 2002, art fair Scope New York was a new kid on the block. Billed as an "alternative" fair, it was housed in the Gershwin Hotel, where 28 booths of emerging art galleries and artists squeezed together in raucous proximity.
But, in the years since, Scope has grown up and out.
"Five or six years ago, when we put our rubber to the road, we were one of the first alternatives to those art fairs that were large and wonderful, but that young galleries could not afford, didn't have the press, didn't have the connections, all the various components that are part of the art world," the president and founder of Scope, Alexis Hubshman, said. "The little fair that could has become the big fair that can."
This year, for the second year in a row, Scope is being held in a tent in Damrosch Park, at Lincoln Center, beginning Thursday. There are 50 booths, set up across 30,000 square feet. While Scope remains committed to "cutting-edge" programming, the choice of Lincoln Center as a venue is not accidental, Mr. Hubshman said. The change in scenery, from downtown hotel to the classic, elegant modernism of Lincoln Center, is similar to the fair's evolution.
Scope began as an upstart, outside the gates of larger art fairs. In 2002, it was the first and only "satellite" fair at Art Basel Miami Beach. Today, it is a fixture on the art-fair circuit, with fairs in Basel, Switzerland; Miami; the Hamptons, and London. Of its five locations, the fair in New York is the lowest profile.
The fair is only a short cab ride from Pier 94, where the Armory Show opens to the public on Thursday, the same day Scope does. With 160 galleries, the Armory Show is New York's largest contemporary art fair, so large that it has encouraged a half-dozen satellite fairs like Scope to catch the crowds of dealers, collectors, artists, art professionals, and visitors as they spill over.
Among the fairs in New York, including the largest, the Armory Show, Scope has a reputation as a place to seize up trends and catch galleries and artists as they emerge. Unlike the Armory, it's entirely a primary market. "I think a lot of collectors make it a point to go and see Scope, to check out what's the new and hot thing," the director of the Brooklyn-based Creative Thriftshop gallery, Lynn del Sol, said. Creative Thriftshop has shown previously at Scope's Miami fair, and will show the work of Jack Balas, Ivana Brenner, Juan Doe, and Cuba-born artists Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz, who work together under the name Guerra de la Paz, in New York this year. For the fair, the two are installing "Under the Banyan Tree," an installation of old T-shirts and assorted junk fashioned into a forest canopy. Like much of the art in the fair, "Under the Banyan Tree" is a mixture of handcrafted and dime-store materials.
It is also big and eye-grabbing, like another installation, Johnston Foster's "What the Flock?!" presented by the Rare Gallery. The installation consists of 95 scrap wood and vinyl-sided seagulls, some of which are exploding in mid-flight. Messy and rough around the edges, "What the Flock?!" is nonetheless compelling in its energy. In this, it seems representative of the atmosphere of previous Scope fairs.
The fair's performance program, however, is more tenderhearted than wild. For Carissa Carman's "A.T.T. Vegetable Oil Taxi," the artist will barter with fair visitors for rides in her alternative-energy vehicle, while Venuz White's "Kiss Collector" has the artist asking visitors to write down a "piece of wisdom" and launch it in a balloon.
But, overall, the vibe at Scope New York tends to be relatively subdued, at least compared to the scenes at Basel or Miami Beach. "New York is not about razzledazzle," Andrea Pollan, the director of Curator's Office, a Washington, D.C., gallery that is showing at Scope New York, said. "I'd like to think there's a little more contemplation going on in New York, a more thoughtful process to collecting."
That may be accompanied by a maturing — or cooling — of the market. Asked if he thought that the growth — explosion, really — in art fairs could continue, Mr. Hubshman said that the next five years would be telling: "There aren't that many industries that can expand that fast. I think a lot of that was fire-fueled by the belief that water raises all ships. I think you'll start to see the number of galleries and fairs start to shrink. But I know we'll still be there."