A Vetting (Or Vexing) Problem at the American International Fine Art Fair

Mark Lovett Spring in Fall

Photo Credit: Mark Lovett
This past month we participated in the American International Fine Art Fair; one of the best in the U.S. Setup was a rather long, tedious and an almost deadly endeavor — I added deadly because at one point the workers were installing a ceiling in our booth and dropped a 10 foot long 2x4 that grazed my wife’s back; another inch or two and it would have been all over! Thankfully she was only a little shaken up.

On Friday morning we finally finished hanging the paintings and posted the cataloging cards on the walls, then along came the vetting committee which was comprised of three museum curators — I will not reveal their names here, but you can always click on the following link I never had the “pleasure” of meeting them before so I introduced myself and let them go about their business.

The three spent about 10 minutes going over the works in our booth, thanked us and walked away; this was what I had expected since I knew that the condition of all the works was outstanding and there would be no issues regarding authenticity. A few minutes later a woman came back into our booth with a sheet of paper from the committee and I expected it to say “Passed” — was I wrong. 

Written on the paper were the instructions that I remove Mark Lovett’s paintings. The reason: They were not "show worthy." I was shocked, to say the least. I stood in front of Mark’s paintings (which were hanging next to paintings by Holly Banks, Sally Swatland, Ben Bauer and Gregory Harris, and I just could not figure out why on earth they were not show worthy? I started getting aggravated and wrote across the paper, APPEAL. I then found a member of the show promoter’s staff and handed it to them and said, “this is a bunch of bull…!”

A short while later the woman who originally handed me the paper walked back into my booth and stated that the vetting committee would like to see me. I was asked to follow her to a meeting room at the front of the show.  I walked in and seated around the table were the three committee members. I sat across from them and they asked, "You are appealing?" I stated I was and asked, "What made the works not ‘show worthy?’" The three seemed perplexed by this question and began by telling me that the work was decorative and somewhat commercial. In addition, it brought down the other works in the room where it was hanging. I was shocked and continued to press the issue. 

They then went on to tell me (in a somewhat annoyed tone) that one particular painting Spring into Fall was salacious, bordered on child pornography and brought down the look of our entire booth. In addition, it was their job to make sure that works like those are not displayed since many visitors would see them, be offended and complain to the owners of the show. I must tell you I was more than shocked; I was actually disgusted and sickened by this.

I left the room in total amazement and wondering how anyone could look at Mark’s paintings that way — the only thought racing through my mind was, "What sort of people were these vetters?" After returning to my booth I took the paintings off the wall and placed them in the closet as the opening was fast approaching. Throughout the opening event all I could think about was the vetting issue and by the end my blood was boiling.

The next morning I composed and sent the following email to the promoter:

The vetting issue that arose yesterday afternoon has left me with a horrible taste in my mouth. How, on earth, can any NORMAL person look at the Mark Lovett painting (above) and think that it is anything more than a wonderful depiction of youth and innocence? The fact that YOUR committee decided, in their minds, that it is salacious and borders on child pornography is preposterous and makes me wonder what issues they may have..

What I decide to show is my decision and I will NOT be dictated to by a few museum curators whose opinions, I now, do not respect. So, as of today I will be hanging the painting. I will say that they were probably right in stating that the painting was not right for the room it was in, so I will be hanging it on the FRONT wall of my booth.

If YOU have an issue with this I will talk with YOU and only YOU. In the future, I will abide by your vetting committee’s decisions when it relates to the authenticity or condition of a work I am showing; I will NOT listen to their personal opinions on the 'Show Worthiness' of a painting I am displaying. I have one of the best reputations in the business and have been in the art world for far too long to be edited by YOUR committee. -Howard P.S. I will also insist that YOUR committee not return to my booth during the course of this show. They are not welcome in my space.

When I returned to the show that morning I rearranged the paintings in my booth and hung Mark’s Spring in Fall on the front wall. I will add that throughout the remaining 10 days of the show not one person had a negative comment about the work; everyone admired it. In addition, while I saw the various members of the vetting committee walking through the show they never came near our booth again (as far as we know).I should add that later that day the show promoter spoke with me and stated that there were other issues with the vetting and he was rethinking the whole idea.

I knew that Mark Lovett would find this whole story of interest so I posted it on Facebook and Twitter. There were many reposting and dozens upon dozens of people were as equally shocked and disgusted by the committee’s thoughts. Below are just a few of the replies we received:

  • D.C.: see this is what I hate about the way people impose their distorted thinking upon an image and thereby restrict the public from seeing a beautiful and original piece. As an artist I find this appalling. I think it gets in the way of actually DOING of art. I really think that we are entering an age of where art will become less and less original and more constricted by distorted concepts like this. So now if you paint a piece where children or young people are the subject you could be hauled off for painting porn. Unbelievable.

  • K.S.: Wow, they have warped minds. How are we supposed to represent our children? Is it safer just to paint children like benign smiling objects or is it important we paint as they are. It's human nature to find children beautiful and appealing — it's the warped world we live in that takes this beyond a natural response which should be just to "nurture."

  • B.W.: LOL LOL! I don’t know if you knew this...Renoirs little girl on a sofa was not permitted in an important Salon show for the exact same reason… maybe it’s a good sign!

    In general, vetting, when done right, is an important element of a show since it helps protect the general public from buying a work that is either in poor condition or is just not right. However, when people begin to impose their own personal opinions of the meaning of a work, and then try to force those thoughts on others, that is when the line has been crossed; and in my opinion, in this instance that line was CROSSED!

    Howard L. Rehs

    After graduating from New York University in 1981, with a degree in Art History, I moved to London for a year to study and buy 19th century British Victorian art for our gallery. Since then my interests have included all schools of art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, I am considered one of the leading art dealers in 19th century French Academic and Realist painting and the world's exp...(Read More)

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