Art schools are places of innovation and expression, of studio skills and critical analysis. But for many young artists, the transition to professional practice can be fraught. How do you start building a career?
“In some ways, every artist forges their own unique path,” said Carmon Colangelo, the Ralph J. Nagel Dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. “But for recent graduates, a big question is, what’s the next step? What opportunities are available for career development? How does one get their work seen by wider audiences?
“As educators, we’re always looking for ways to better support those goals and to connect our graduates with curators, gallerists, collectors and other art professionals.”
This fall, master of fine arts in visual arts candidates from the Sam Fox School’s Graduate School of Art will bring their work to lower Manhattan for an audience of gallerists, curators, collectors and fellow artists as part of The MFA Fair. Organized by Art Market Productions, a Brooklyn-based company that also produces Art Market San Francisco and the Seattle Art Fair, The MFA Fair will present its inaugural edition Nov. 14-17 at Pier 36, a storied venue that also hosts Art on Paper and NADA New York.
“Art schools the world over are rich with new talent and innovative ideas that are independent of market hierarchies,” fair director James Salomon told Artforum magazine. “With The MFA Fair, our goal is simple: to increase visibility for the next generation of artists, exposing graduate work to prospective students and the greater art world.”
The Sam Fox School was among the first university programs recruited for the fair. Other participants will include Columbia University’s School of the Arts; the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan; the Maryland Institute College of Art; the New York Academy of Art; the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University; and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts.
“Like galleries and museums, art fairs have become an important part of the art world ecosystem,” said Patricia Olynyk, the Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art and director of the Graduate School of Art. “Participating in events like The MFA Fair helps young and emerging artists to better understand the social, cultural and economic factors that shape how contemporary art is produced and disseminated. It’s good experience that will serve them well.”
Colangelo points out that the Sam Fox School’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum — which hosts the annual MFA Thesis Exhibition — represents another way in which students are able to interact with curators and gain experience in professional practice. And Island Press, the school’s collaborative printmaking studio, regularly participates in art fairs such as EXPO Chicago and UNTITLED in Miami Beach.
“Art fairs are exciting places to be,” said Lisa Bulawsky, the director of Island Press. “There are lots of layers to exhibiting in a fair — things that go way beyond just sales. Attendees can make new connections and forge new relationships. Just as importantly, they’re able to engage in conversation and hear fresh responses to the work.”
Amy Hauft, the incoming director of the College & Graduate School of Art, points out that in addition to the display of arts, fairs typically feature a wide range of accompanying salons, where artists, curators and gallerists discuss their own work as well as issues crucial to the field.
“This is an opportunity for our young alumni to experience the commercial art market,” Hauft said, “to help them consider strategies for how one goes about building an artist’s life. The marketplace, considered alongside other models, better equips our alumni to move into their post-education art lives.”