The Hotel Del Sol Can’t Contain the stARTup Art Fair

This year, it's got more performances piece than ever, plus 53 hotel rooms full of striking visual art

Over the past few years, art fairs have proliferated almost to the same extent as music festivals. But unlike those three-day riots in which 20-somethings pulverize the grass on a polo field, art fairs tend to attract yachts, billionaire philanthropists, and part-time residents of Miami — and they frequently balloon outside manageable proportions.

Not so for the stARTup Art Fair (April 28-30), says founder Ray Beldner. Managed growth simply means a more selective jury process for the “record number of applications,” and a fuller use of the Hotel Del Sol on Webster Street.

“This was the first year we got almost every single room,” Beldner says. “There are 57, and we used 45 in the past. But we’re using 53 this year.”

Of the remaining four, one will be used to “house the video guy,” while two function as public restrooms. Space allocation is significant not only because stARTup has attracted the attention of a record number of artists this year, but because the fair will spill out into the streets of Cow Hollow with public art, sculpture, performance pieces, “social-practice pieces,” and “art conversations.”

“We have eight panel discussions going on Saturday and Sunday,” Beldner says, ranging from how to build and care for a collection to a panel devoted to the collector and arts patron Rene di Rosa, who died a few years ago. There are also discussions devoted to women in art, and to the reasons working artists move to the Bay Area (and what keeps them here). The performances, though, are what might exert the strongest gravitational tug. Hunter Franks — whose Instagram feed consists largely of poetic, hand-drawn lists with titles like “Things You Have Control Over Even If Seems You Don’t” and “Proposed New Street Names” — will stage a social-practice piece called Fear Doctor. He’ll put together a booth like Lucy’s “The Doctor Is In” set-up in Peanuts, in which people will tell him their phobias, and night-terrors and he’ll prescribe the appropriate remedy.

And if you haven’t yet been able to see Doug Aitken’s mirrored house in the Southern California desert, you’ll get a chance to see something similar: a “hyper-truncated cubeoctahedron.” Titled Marvin, and created by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu (who work under the name HYBYCOZO), it’s composed of 144 reflective stainless steel sheets that made its debut at last year’s Burning Man.

But perhaps the best asset is the Hotel Del Sol itself. If you’ve ever been to P.S. 1 —the MOMA-affiliated venue in Queens, N.Y., that’s housed in a former school — you know that in a formal museum setting, small chambers with natural light can be preferable to oversized, windowless galleries. This goes double for art fairs.

The stARTup Fair is “artist-focused,” Beldner says. “It’s not a gallery fair.” He admits that the trend is “growing away from gallery fairs and toward independent-artist fairs,” but notes that this approach made stARTup unique when it started. The artists who show their work benefit 100 percent from their sales, both in San Francisco and at the other stARTup, held at Los Angeles’ Highland Gardens Hotel.

“Those big booth fairs are really annoying,” Beldner continues. “I’ve gone to many of them, but they’re conducive to ‘walking by art’ rather than ‘sitting with art.’ Sometimes, you don’t want to have to talk to the dealer sitting in the booth, and sometimes there’s so many things going on in one booth you can’t focus on anything.”

Filing through rooms one at a time, fair-goers will notice how the close proximity with artists and their work grants an unusual level of intimacy. That’s a good atmosphere to view Argentine artist Pilar Agüero-Esparza’s Crayola Multicultural Crayons, which looks at race in America through eight colors in various skin tones, like the human emoji whose hues you can set (and subtly referring to the dubious phase in coloring-book history when the “peach” crayon was called “flesh”). Ponder the intense level of detail in Jesse Wiedel’s Gas Grass and Ass, a deceptively soft image of a man with exposed buttocks peeing behind a building while two figures converse on a couch outside a run-down trailer, and a propane tank sits in a wheelchair. Or check out Leo van Munching’s images of San Francisco at its most noirish, unpeopled chiaroscuro cityscapes full of fog and shadow.

Great care has been taken to maintain a specific ambience, Beldner says. Professional curators handle the loading and installations, advising the artists on how to hang work in their respective rooms.

“One of the things we’re trying to avoid is an unprofessional look or a ‘craft-fair look,’ ” he says. “We want it to look like a tightly curated exhibition.”

And the jury has grown more selective since last year. While stARTup isn’t entirely averse to two artists sharing a space, permission isn’t pro forma, either. When asked to submit proposals, one artist whose work was “fantastic” (and whom Beldner declines to name) paired up with someone whose work was comparatively weak.

“Consequently, the jurors rejected them,” Beldner says, with a mixture of pride and regret. “But that’s what makes our fair strong.

“We really think of the whole experience,” he adds. “It’s not just art on the wall.”

stARTup Art Fair, Friday – Sunday, April 28-30, at the Hotel Del Sol, 3100 Webster St., $10-$100,

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