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Unpacking Echo Art Fair

Kayla Philo, left, and Jared Barto of Elmira look at “Enchanted Forest 2,” a mixed media piece by Nancy Belfer, at the third annual Echo Art Fair at the Central Library on Saturday. Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News


Just want to to share a couple of reactions to the weekend's Echo Art Fair, which I found to be the best-organized and most successful of the event's three-year history.

The first is this writeup by the prolific Paddy Johnson of Art F City, who, unlike nearly everyone to whom I spoke to at the fair for my brief event story in Sunday's paper, thought the quality of the work was substandard.

The second is a letter from local artist Paul Lloyd Sargent protesting the fair's consumerist raison d'être, which I will post after the jump. That letter carries echoes -- no pun indended -- of last year's somewhat more widespread dissatisfaction about the fair from a group of local artists and others upset with its being run on a for-profit basis and other issues.

Though some other assignments prevented me from delving as deeply as I'd have liked into the kaleidoscopic offerings and installations or Echo's attempts to build a local art market, it seems to me as if fair founder E. Frits Abell has hit his stride with the event and seems well poised to expand upon its success year by year. I disagree with Johnson about the quality of the artwork, which like many visitors I found to be a great deal better than in past years and on par with much art one might find at larger and glitzier fairs.

My overall experience at Echo, including an often intruging Q&A between Johnson and Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén, was lovely.

--Colin Dabkowski

Here is Paul Lloyd Sargent's letter:

A Love Letter to Buffalo Art and Artists

Hey Boo! I know we’re all drunk on the Buffalove spilling out from this weekend’s Echo Art Fair but, still, may I please ask some important relationship questions before our hangover kicks in? Like, can we have a scene-wide tough love sesh about these drugs we’ve been taking together? I just wanna be able to say "Hey city, I've really fallen in love with you! But if I go out with you again tonight, partying from the cup of cultural Capital euphoria, we'll both be making a terrible decision that we'll regret in the morning!” and have you know that I still love you, Buffalo.  

How ‘bout, instead, let’s cuddle and joke and talk politics and about our love for that smell of Cheerios and of fish fries and the complex history of our grain silos, but also about how this art fair model pits our Echo Fair against NY's Armory, and Basel, and Miami, and so on.  Let’s hash out how this implicates us in a global, competitive economy of exploitation undermining alternative possibilities that embrace mutual support between different cities, like Chevy in the Hole, in Flint, MI, or Chicago’s InCUBATE, or Brooklyn’s F.E.A.S.T., or even our own Sunday Soups. Let’s wrestle with who wins and who loses when a for-profit company, enmeshed in a wider profit-driven economic model, solicits free labor from students and young, emerging artists, already drowning in debt, through “internships” and “volunteerism,” especially when they replace the possible paid jobs those same folks were hoping to get with their education and hard work? ‘Cuz I love you, you big lug, and I don't wanna see that happen to any of us!  

I gotta huge crush on you, Buffalo, and have ever since I first swung through here years ago and saw your Big Orbit, and your Squeaky Wheel, and your Hallwalls, and your Sugar City, and the dozens of little off-the-map, and even off-the-grid, grassroots, artist-run spaces of autonomous cultural production, all fostering a kind of enthusiasm, love, and energy almost impossible to sustain over in NYC or out in LA or down in Miami. You may take your lumps, Buffalo, but what makes you so amazing is that you AREN’T NYC or LA or those other art scenes, so drunk off of the short-term buzz of neoliberal conspicuous consumption and speculative career-making that tosses the bodies of all but a few lucky stiffs into the gutters and flophouses of discard Capitalism. Let's remember together our water, land, and air that still suffer from the last time the speculators and venture vultures wooed us into thinking they would love us forever after only a few nights of too-good-to-be-true brew. And this time, let’s be stronger than that, together.

So can we do this? Express our love and respect for each other and get drunk on a very different kind of elixir, one of healthy love that says that art workers won't take the short end of the stick from nobody anymore? Can we do that and still know that I'll hold your hand when you're sick and kiss you even when you've made bad choices? That you won’t take it personally or think that I'm just being judgmental and controlling? ‘Cuz I’m not. I love you, Buffalo, and I think we can do this. Together.

Paul Lloyd Sargent


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