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Alexis Hubsman - A Conversation with the Founder of Scope-Art, Inc.


By M. Brendon MacInnis

Alexis Hubsman, whose Scope-Art, Inc. made the leap from an alternative hotel art fair to a major booth fair this year, drawing some 14,000 visitors to its Scope New York edition, stopped by the M round table for a chat. We talked about the history of Scope, how the company is run and plans for the
future. This is that conversation.


M: Do you have a system in place to guarantee a turnover of new galleries each year?

Alexis: You mean like the Liste fair in Basel, where they limit participation to three years?

M: Yes, something like that.

Alexis: No, because that doesn't work. Even the Liste is now having to pitch a tent to accommodate more galleries. We have a kind of hierarchy, which we built around price points that can be negotiated to bring everyone in. For example, we have the Breeder section, where we take a hard look at investing in young galleries, to bring them up through the ranks. For example, our normal price quote is from $6,000 to $12,000 for a booth, and it goes upwards. We have some that go up to $18,000 for a booth. They're starting to get more expensive this year, as they get bigger.

M: The booths are getting bigger?

Alexis: Yes. It's a scale of square feet for dollars. For the Breeders, we offer a 150 square-foot booth, and the charge is $4000 and $5,000 depending on the situation. And there are occasions where grants are given that let some people in pretty cheap. It depends on if they are really interesting for us. It's more often people you may not know, like for example a gallery called White Trash from Hamburg. I don't know if you know them.

M: I haven't been to Hamburg in a long time, but I remember there were these interesting pockets in the city where you had this radical edge.

Alexis: Absolutely. A lot of interesting stuff going on, Germany sets precedents. But aside from all that, White Trash is an example where we gave them a space for $2,500 because they're new, they're young, they're special. What's your relationship with museums? We have great relationships with museums. In New York, we work with Guggenheim and The New Museums.

M: You mean in a fund raising role?

Alexis: It's all varied. In the Hamptons, we're in a fund raising posture, whether it's Guild Hall; Parrish; Watermill. We don't just drop down our circus tent, and then do nothing for the community. We had to work on a permit application, and send them a list of the organizations that we have benefited in the past, and it's like two pages. We benefit a lot of nonprofits, we're really proud of that.



Alexis Hubsman

M: In the beginning, when you were starting Scope-Art, what was your model? Did you look at, for example, Peter Blau's "Young Art Fair" in Basel?

Alexis: No. It was The Armory Show, the Armory gets full hand credit. But they all do; I mean the idea that there can be an alternative fair. I can have a congenial relationship. A lot of people thought this would be a parasitic fair. I can appreciate that. I mean, there is an element of that being financially, realistically true. There's no way we could've done this with nothing else going on.

M: How is your relationship with The Armory Show now?

Alexis: It's great. In fact, we're the first fair they called out to when they switched their dates, to see if we would switch with them. They're like our big brother, especially when Tim Smith was there. There was a particularly tight relationship between all of us. Then it changed a little bit, the dynamic hasn't, but that closeness ‹ because I'm quite good friends with Tim, and he's no longer, of course, there.

M: So with Tim gone, who is your contact now at The Armory Show? Katelijne De Backer, or perhaps, Paul Morris?

Alexis: Not so much Paul, but mostly Katelijne. I see. So it's been comfortable for us. It's been, you know, it legitimizes them too. They have to deal with Art Basel coming down to Miami, and then you have Frieze in London.

M: How are things with Frieze?

Alexis: Frieze has not been friendly. We kept trying to be near them, but then we saw no benefit to it. This time we're taking a 30,000 square foot space in London's East End, right near White Cube. So we'll be right near Hutchins Square, near all of the galleries. It's sort of like how it is in Wynwood in a way. In Miami, we'll be in Wynwood.

M: In Wynwood? So you won't be at the Townhouse Hotel in South Beach?

Alexis: No, we've outgrown the hotel fairs. We'll keep the Townhouse as a networking center, but the fair will be in Wynwood. What we're doing is we're inviting the heads of museums, curators, artists, as well as probably about thirty or forty of our exhibitors to stay there. There will be a place where you go with VIP cards, or press cards; not too exclusive. Just somewhere you can come in, you know, go to your room or for a free drink, while waiting for the shuttle to different things.

M: Is it a done deal now, with your new space in Wynwood? I'm flying down there tomorrow, we have several options; it's pretty exciting. I mean we've been in Miami five years, let's see, four, this will be our fifth year, and I've generated a lot of relationships down there.

Alexis: Are you purchasing property there? I don't want to divulge that now, what we're doing exactly. I will say that, regardless of what we do there, we're looking at that time frame as kind of like the World's Fair of art. I'm looking at it like the Olympics of the art world. So, instead of just pitching a tent or getting a hotel, I'm building a villa. We're working with an architect to do a really significant space. Our intention is to really take advantage of this time frame, and also respect it for what it is. We don't want to be just another, you know, art fair that's trying to latch on. So we're building quite a big building, a prefab space, like one of those pavilions, as it were, at the Worlds Fair.

M: How big is the space?

Alexis: The plot of land? It's about 50,000 square feet. So it's pretty significant. Can you divulge the address? It will be two or three blocks from the Rubells.

M: Looking ahead to December, what are you doing in Wynwood?

Alexis: Right now, I'm playing with the pavilion idea. Our intention is not just to find the space, put up a tent, and do our thing. It's really to put our roots down. We haven't even solicited galleries, and we already have 200 applications for Scope-Miami, which is pretty phenomenal.

M: It looks like you'll be in the same neighborhood where Helen Allen lauched her tent fair, Pulse. Are you working with them? We're just working, not necessarily with them.

M: How about Art Basel? I've heard they aren't so open to other art fairs doing business in Miami.

Alexis: Yeah, I mean, I can be specifically honest about that. You know, there's one thing that's said to you and there's another thing that's done behind your back. To be frank, you know Sam Keller had been very friendly early on. In fact, he was one of the reasons I got, with Rare, into the first Miami Basel fair. There was a friendship there, or at least a reasonable respect. And, but ultimately, I think, yeah, it steals a bit of thunder. You know, and at a certain point, if your collectors are not at your place, spending money, and they're elsewhere, it can only beŠ

M: The pie is only so big.

Alexis: It's only so big. Although what's interesting is that this year, people thought there would be so many fairs, that there would be dropouts for a lot of them. But we did bigger sales than we've ever done. Pulse did very well, Aqua did very well. I mean everybody did very well. So it's clear that there's room for it. And I think, frankly, when you look at the thing ‹ like Pulse, Scope and NADA being in Wynwood now ‹ you start to get galleries of the same scale as Art Basel's. Ultimately you get the emerging market.

M: Was there a turning point in your relationship with Sam?

Alexis: Not really. I mean, frankly, the more you try to do things, the more you find he has a moratorium on things.

M: Oh really? You means

Alexis: Yes, he's got a lot of control down there. I mean frankly, Lorenzo Rudolf is the guy that brain-stormed this whole thing, (Art Basel Miami Beach) and Sam has been lucky to be on the receiving end. He carried the ball down court.

M: Yeah, I know the history.

Alexis: I mean, to be fair, Sam's amazing for what he's done; he's added a jewel-like quality to the art fair mentality. It's no longer just a few fairs, it's really opened the door.

M: What's an example of a moratorium?

Alexis: Advertising. Where you can put up billboards. Where you can do another fair. In South Beach, for example, there's a whole area, of plots of land, that are marked off as sort of no-fly zones for art fairs as well as advertising.

M: So, who would Sam talk with down there to get that done?

Alexis: Well, I mean, I know the names, but it's probably not appropriate for me to
throw them out. I can tell you off the record, if you like.

M: So that's that. What's next for Scope?

Alexis: How many Scopes are there now? Right now we have four; I mean of the ones that are generating revenue, that are working. We have London, New York, Miami and the Hamptons.

M: Aren't you doing something in Palm Beach?

Alexis: We're playing with the idea; there's a few secondary markets we're looking at. Palm Beach. L A. I don't know if I should really call it secondary, but that's what it is for us now. Then there's Basel, St. Moritz and Monaco; these are part of the European push, Scope-Europe.

M: Monaco sounds interesting.

Alexis: Yeah, well, you know, we learned a lesson from the Hamptons; people said we were crazy; why are you going there? They said nobody wants to look at art in the summer, that it's all about antiques. We did a very modest first show
last year, and it was very successful.


The second edition of Scope-Hamptons takes place this summer, July 14-16 at East Hamptons Studios. For more information, see news, www.TheNewYorkArtWorld.com, or visit:
www.scope-art.com
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