Art San Diego aims to be West Coast’s top contemporary art fair

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Labor Day weekend is not just the end of summer. It’s time for art-lovers of all ages to celebrate the arts at a four-day extravaganza called Art San Diego. Back in 1970, a trio of Swiss gallerists started Art Basel, an annual international art fair that came to be known as “the Olympics of the art world.” In 2002, Miami jumped in with its own version, drawing more than 60,000 visitors last year. In 2009, two Del Martians, Ann Berchtold and Julie Schraeger, decided to put our region on the art map by creating Art San Diego. Their goal: to become the No. 1 contemporary art fair on the West Coast.

Berchtold has some 15 years of experience in what she calls “cultural philanthropy,” which includes the founding committee of San Diego Visual Artists Network, founding a children’s program called Inspire Art Kids, directing the L Street Gallery at the Omni Hotel, and co-creating the San Diego Art Prize. Schraeger comes from a corporate background, with development and marketing skills.

“We’re a good team,” Berchtold said. “I’m kind of the creative one, she’s the operational. We want to turn San Diego into a mecca for cultural tourism. Our model is Comic-Con, for a different demographic.”

In 2009, they staged their inaugural event at the Grand Del Mar. Last year, they moved to the Hilton Bayfront, attracting 6,000 attendees. This year, they’re back at the Hilton, with more than 50 galleries participating, from cities like Montreal, New York, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Shanghai, side by side with La Jolla notables Joseph Bellows and Mark Quint.

Besides all the international exhibits, the Fair offers themed Art Labs featuring a range of regional artists showing light sculpture, video, music and performance art at various locations, and a host of activities for children, including mask- and puppet-making, a giant puppet parade and a mass picnic on “San Diego’s largest picnic blanket.”

Look for works by UCSD faculty members Ruben Ortiz-Torres and Jay S. Johnson, winners of this year’s Art Prize, awarded by San Diego Visual Arts Network (SDVAN) to “encourage dialogue, reflection and social interaction about San Diego’s artistic and cultural life.” And don’t miss the inventive furniture design from Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., including a selection of pieces by SDSU students and alumni.

“The first year of the fair was marvelous, the second was more international — very dynamic, with lots going on, and a lot of great art — and I think this year will be just as terrific,” said Robin Lipman, Membership Chair of the Contemporary Arts Committee of The San Diego Museum of Art, which (along with the Museum of Contemporary Art and other area museums) is one of ASD’s local partners.

With partners like these, and sponsors like UBS (a global wealth-management firm with offices in La Jolla), the Fair is well on its way. As Ann Berchtold pointed out: “It took Art Miami four years to build their attendance; now they bring in a half-billion dollars in Fair-related revenues to the city. We’re only in year number three.”

For something really special, join the VIPs for a splashy opening night reception and after-pool-party. And if you want to turn your Fair-going into a Labor Day weekend staycation, the Hilton is offering discounted Art Fair rates on rooms, with VIP event tickets included.

If you go

What: Art San Diego 2011: Contemporary Art Fair

When: From Noon, Sept 1-4

Tickets: $15-$75, free events, too

Where: Hilton San Diego Bayfront; other locations

Contact: (858) 254-3031


Hotel reservations: (619) 564-3344