Fine Art Print Fair a boon for first-time collectors, ends with record sales

By Angela Oliver

 

“This just feels right,” Melody McLaurin said Saturday as she and Jordan McKinley perused stacks of prints in the Black Art in America Gallery.

The Atlanta westsiders — buddies since high school — just reconnected this year after losing touch. It was only right, said McKinley, 24, to bring McLaurin, 25, to a place where she could find some inspiration.

“I’m not an artist,” McKinley said. “But she is, so I love to take her to places like this, hear her thought process and see what comes from it.”

The pair were among hundreds who attended BAIA’s Fine Art Print Fair — an endeavor so well received that the organization extended it across four weekends from its initial run on Aug. 11-12.

The works of more than 50 artists — leading late greats like Mildred Thompson and Romare Bearden, familiar favorites like Rashaun Rucker and Robin Holder, and up-and-coming creators like Chloe Alexander and Khaleif Thompson — were featured throughout the weekends, which brought nearly 1,500 people to the gallery. Attendees ranged from local residents to visitors from New York Maryland, Miami, Paris and South Africa.

“It shows us that there’s excitement about work by Black artists, and how many new people are looking to collect art,” said Faron Manual, BAIA Foundation director who also manages gallery programs. “By putting this focus on printmakers and giving them an outlet to share their work, BAIA is making another legitimate contribution to the art landscape.” 

A national call for printmakers drew several of the featured artists, including social surrealist Traci Mims, who is now BAIA’s latest signed artist. The organization will represent her in sales and will provide business and marketing infrastructure so that she can focus on her creativity.

“We were enamored by the work she presented,” BAIA founder-director Najee Dorsey said of the St. Petersburg, Florida-born, Atlanta-based artist. “We could tell she not only spends a lot of time on her craft, but also developing her work narratively.”

Mims’ works are deliberate and evocative. They don’t shy away from truth or confrontation. Themes of Black identity — particularly navigating today’s cultural and political climate as a Black woman — define Mims’ work, from her graphite drawings to paintings, quilts, and mixed media collages.

Her array of work will be featured in Give Us the Sun, Mims’ first solo exhibition in Atlanta that is also part of her 3-year agreement with BAIA. It will be on view at BAIA from Oct. 6 to Nov. 18.

“Traci is a phenomenal printmaker and her versatility makes her stand out,” Dorsey said. “We’re excited to represent her work and put the whole machine behind her that includes articles, podcast interviews, keeping her in the fore when we have exhibits, and thinking of how we can advance her career.”

BAIA’s print fair was also grounds for other firsts.

“We had a lot of young, first-time collectors in their 20s and 30s,” Manuel said. “It’s great to see people find a connection to a piece, see themselves reflected in it, then get in the habit of collecting more.”

The range of prices that started at about $125 for some artworks opened the door for many first-timers, he said.

The fair was also BAIA’s try at producing Atlanta’s first major art fair, a void that needed to be filled to cement the city’s place as a fine art destination. The organization was already planning to continue the fair annually. The positive response to the event — when a cell phone doubles as a flashlight, not even an hour-long power outage due to storms during the opening weekend could stop visitors from enjoying the gallery — was just confirmation.

“I have been producing events since 2012,” said Dorsey. “I’ve done shows all around the country and hadn’t seen this level of engagement and frenzy from an audience that’s hungry to learn about art.” 

 

Such interest comes in waves and can depend on increased education about art, the efforts of organizations like the National Black Arts Festival, and even art exposure in popular culture like the enthusiastic expression of collecting by the likes of Swizz Beats, or the art seen on TV shows such as Empire, which was the first thing Manuel wrote about when he began as a writer for BAIA’s quarterly publication years ago.

“It ebbs and flows, but people begin to see the power of art and that’s it’s worth collecting,” said Dorsey.


The print fair was, by far, BAIA’s most successful in terms of attendance and sales. It yielded significantly more than six figures in sales, including the special acquisition of Chloe Alexander’s Grasping for Comfort by the Petrucci Family Foundation collection.

“We had seasoned collectors, as well, but the sheer number of new collectors is what’s gonna grow the art community — that’s when you know you’ve got something special,” Dorsey said. “They’re gonna grow by going to more galleries, getting more engaged. That’s how you build the system.”

Rob and Lee Jakson, who visited BAIA for the first time from College Park, also enjoyed the fair’s closing weekend. The couple strolled through the gallery, hand in hand, tapping along to the jazz and soul music coming through the speakers.

“I didn’t realize there was a Black art museum in East Point. It’s fascinating and I love that the owners felt enough to invest in being on this side of town, especially so young people can see our past and our future represented.”

The couple plan to keep visiting BAIA and noted their interest in its mix of historical and contemporary art. 

It’s a sentiment shared by McLaurin, who said BAIA’s gallery gave her just the push she needed for starting her graphic design and illustration journey as a SCAD student later this month. One of her commissioned works was featured in the FX hit TV show Atlanta. It depicts Soulja Boy — the animated and loquacious rapper never hesitates to remind people of his pioneering ideas in the dawn of digital streaming — as one of America’s founding fathers. 

“Her work is current, but also historical. It shows real people in unfamiliar environments and I love seeing her interpretations,” McKinley said.

That piece now hangs in the rapper’s home. So she’s gotten a foot in the door already. But attending BAIA’s print fair is helping her “get back to the root of it all,” as an artist, she said. 

“Just seeing the culture, seeing the history, feeling the representation here is opening my mind to more and I want to come back,” she said. “I think about going to the Atlanta art museum and it’s huge, but it’s kinda stuffy there. Here, I feel at home.”


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Second Annual Atlanta Fine Art Print Fair

Aug 9th - 11th