Q & A with Michael Plummer & Jeff Rabin, Directors of “Spring Masters New York”
by Beatrice Chassepot
May 8 – 12, 2015
Park Avenue Armory, New York City
bAM: In our columns, we decided as a statement to enhance a selection of art in the exclusive field of contemporary art. When I received an email from Spring Masters New York with these words: “The International Art and Design Fair, takes place at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory from May 8-12. It will feature a range of works presented by approximately 50 US and European galleries—from a rare tapestry by Calder to jewelry by Louise Nevelson to bronze sculptures by Degas—all presented in a unique, hexagonal booth layout by architect Rafael Viñoly,” I was about to delete it. This was not our field.
But then, when it was brought to my attention there was a little bit of contemporary art in the fair I should consider, it moved the lines in the comprehension of “what and how to show contemporary art.” Why do we have to separate eras and genres? In most art collectors’ interiors is a mix of contemporary art with African art with antique furniture and contemporary design.
Even more, as your art fair “Spring Masters New York” has a little bit of everything, it has to be extremely demanding in each category to show the most of design, antiques and be contemporary. How do you proceed in selecting galleries?
Michael Plummer & Jeff Rabin:
Gallery selection is critical. We are looking for the right balance of top galleries/dealers representing the best from their respective areas of focus. We want not only balance across the collecting categories but also balance regarding the location of those exhibitors within the radical new Rafael Viñoly floor plan for the Park Avenue Armory Drill Hall.
bAM: In an era dominated by Contemporary Art, your bet two years ago was to show from Antiquity through the 21st Century. It was pretty audacious. What was the founding idea?
MP & JR:
As Michael headed marketing at Sotheby’s New York in the mid-90s, he had been observing the generational shift away from traditional towards Contemporary art and design grow over the last two decades. Since 2009, while monitoring the recovery of the various art market sectors here at Artvest, we saw this pattern had become exacerbated to the point of creating a real slump in traditional art, while Contemporary art was booming. By 2013, when we acquired the fair that became Spring Masters, many of these categories had still not yet fully recovered from the 2008 crash.
We also knew that this pattern was an anomaly in the context of the history of art collecting because the most experienced collectors and connoisseurs have more comprehensive tastes as a general rule, and prefer to live with a variety of art from different periods.
We came to the conclusion that this was a marketing and positioning problem for the traditional art market, and that especially here in the US, more of an investment needed to be made particularly into the fair segment to breath new life into traditional art.
Thus we came up with the idea of asking Rafael for a new fair design, and of creating a new fair energy by showing the old with the new, to bring a younger generation of collectors into a fair like this. Though we thought it a good, even obvious idea, we were still pleasantly surprised at how well it has worked.
bAM: This is your second edition.
What did you learn from the first edition?
MP & JR:
The visitor response was extremely positive and the Viñoly design was an enormous success. The reality of the build actually exceeded all of our expectations. The hexagonal design enabled the collector to see numerous art categories in juxtaposition simultaneously and see how well they worked with each other. The vistas created a dialogue across categories that are rarely seen in a commercial setting.
The second edition will build on all that success and this year we have brought in the New York-based interior designer Jamie Drake to present a specially curated booth consistingof objects and artwork drawn from the fair’s exhibitors.
bAM: Michael Plummer and Jeff Rabin, you are Principals and Co-Founders of Artvest* Partners LLC, an art advisory firm. Share a bit more about yourselves for our “contemporary” readers.
MP & JR:
We met at Christie’s overseeing Financial Services in New York and then formed Artvest in 2009 to counsel private clients, museums, foundations, and Fortune 500 companies on valuations, market projections, acquisitions, dispositions, and business strategies related to art. We have decades of experience in art and finance and understand the business side of the art market while maintaining a steadfast belief that connoisseur-ship is paramount. We have worked on numerous transactions and been engaged by major institutions for analysis and strategic guidance. For example, we were engaged by Citibank Research to advise on their coverage of Sotheby’s stock and in April 2013 we presented a 13-year analysis of Sotheby’s and their market position to some of their top clients that led to the activist positions in the firm. We were also engaged by the City of Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts to provide a valuation analysis of their entire collection and Michael acted as an expert witness on their behalf in the bankruptcy proceedings.
bAM: Would you like to expand the art fair in the US?
MP & JR:
We have significant plans for the future and look forward to building on the success of Spring Masters New York and Artvest. Stay tuned…
Los Angeles & NY City, April 1st, 2015