Victor and Jamie Ellin Forbes of Sunstorm Fine Art share their photographs and memories of the world’s largest art fair as the show’s silver anniversary approaches

International Artexpo New York … looking back at 25 years: Victor and Jamie Ellin Forbes of Sunstorm Fine Art share their photographs and memories of the world’s largest art fair as the show’s silver anniversary approaches

Victor Forbes

When an entrepreneurial man took a chance and rented the only space in New York City large enough to host perhaps 100 exhibitors–the New York Coliseum on Columbus Cirde at the southern tip of Central Park–the art world as we know it today did not exist. During the first years of the show, you could find a modest international gathering of gallerists, painters and sculptors bridging the gap from Abstract Expressionism to Pop to the posters that rocked the late 1960s to the latter days of the New York School of printmakers who cut their teeth at the Art Students League, around the corner from the Coliseum on West 57th Street.

In those salad days, the silkscreen print was known primarily as an advertising vehicle, with Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana and Roy Lichtenstein just beginning to use it for the purpose of multiples, even as their predecessors in turn-of-the-century Paris (Toulouse Lautrec and Alfonse Mucha, et al) earned rent money by creating stone plate lithographs extolling the virtues of Absinthe and Job cigarette papers. I doubt if even Warhol imagined his primitive six-color silkscreens, pulled at his Factory overlooking Union Square would spawn an industry that in its heyday cranked out 72-inch prints in editions of 300 with up to 200 individual screens.

Bigger was indeed better, and as Artexpo graduated from the friendly confines of the Coliseum to the Javits Center, the event grew to astronomical proportions. Artists and dealers, who at one time were happy to make a few dollars per print to cover the cost of a summer foray in Europe, now saw the American public was developing an interest in collecting beyond the traditional Dali, Miro, Chagall, Picasso, Rockwell, Soyer and Neiman lithographs. Laws changed, and investors who funded the limited editions of an ever-expanding roster of artists from Wil Barnet to Romare Bearden to reap tax-sheltered benefits were now forced to find ways to actually sell what they produced. Artexpo was a perfect forum, and there was a time when fringe artists of the great movements became superstars through Artexpo.

The mid-1980s, some would say, were the heyday of Artexpo. I can tell you that the opening bell on Thursday morning caused nothing short of a feeding frenzy of legitimate dealers from the four corners of the earth besieging their favorite booths. They had to rush to avoid getting closed out of limited editions that were selling out as quickly as they were produced, and in some cases, even before they were produced. There are many beautiful homes and estates in Hawaii, Connecticut, California and Florida that have been paid for in full from the proceeds of those halcyon days. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of artists, and millions, if not tens of millions of dollars have passed through the velvet gates of Artexpo. Styles have changed, home decor has changed, love has bloomed and evaporated, exhibitors have prospered and been incarcerated; fortunes were made, lost and sometimes reclaimed. Good and bad, up and down, Artexpo has secured an integral part in the history of popular art. Paint on!

AB Makk, Dorothy Ebsen, Buddy Ebsen and George Link at the Makk Studios booth in 1989. Ebsen, who is best known for portraying Jed Clampett in the “Beverly Hillbillies” TV series, was overjoyed to be starting a second career as an artist in the mid-1980s.

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Linda Worrell with the artist Sonya Fe in 1986

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Renowned Pop artist Peter Max has held a prominent place in the history of Artexpo and is still an annual exhibitor at the show.

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Artists Amado Pena (l) and Marlo Cespedes (r) meet with publisher Elliott Blinder in 1989.

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Artist David Dodsworth with the late Piers Johnston of London Contemporary Art

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Yacoov Agam signing books in 1990

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Alex Echo stands before his “LOVE LIFE LIVE SAFE” poster. The poster was excerpted from an ABSOLUT Billboard over Sunset Boulevard that Chalk & Vermilion’s David Rogath discovered on a trip to Los Angeles.

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Crash, who began his career painting on the subways in the Bronx, showed his work at Artexpo in 1990, fresh off his triumphant series of exhibitions with the legendary Sidney Janis, whose gallery is now on 57th Street in Manhattan.

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Mitchell Beja, Erik Freyman and Maurice Hayot in 1988 when Freman’s airbrush paintings and posters were the hottest thing since sliced bread.

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Isola Jones, Metropolitan Opera star of Carmen and Samson et Delila, with artist Lidia Kirov in 1988

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Guy Begin, who has become known internationally as the “Painter of Perfumes,” in 1992.

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Donna Summer added some glitz and some good paintings to Artexpo when she exhibited with Circle Fine Art in 1989.

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Guilaume Azoulay, then the youngest artist in the collection of the Louvre, making his mark at Artexpo 1986.

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Maura Haverley, Artexpo Show Director, 1985

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Harris Shapiro, who led Dyansen Galleries in its heyday, stands next to an Ann Froman sculpture.

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Art dealers John Glade and Felix Abada have been selling original French Impressionist oil paintings at Artexpo since 1981.

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Paul Wegner has sculpted everything from nuclear submarines (a commission from the U.S. Navy) to WC Handy, for which he was cited by the Blues Foundation for his artistic contribution towards “keeping the blues alive.” Here he is at Artexpo, circa 1988.

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Markus Pierson burst on the scene in 1987 with his wily dawgs, actually, deep-thinking coyotes. His paintings, prints and sculpture are still in high demand from the Chase Group in Chicago.

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The legendary Pascal, center, works in a variety of media and is internationally acclaimed and collected. Here, she is signing a print flanked by her daughter and granddaughter in 1990.

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In 1992, a printmaker proudly displays an Artexpo New York poster.

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Renee and Joel Meisner of Meisner Publishing were at Artexpo almost from day one. Their company was instrumental in the casting of Erte’s first bronzes and in presenting the sculpture of Michael Wilkinson.

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Phil Coffaro, who founded Artexpo 25 years ago, is pictured with an artist he represented and published, Mary Vickers.

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A power couple if there ever was one, Thomas and Renate McKnight.

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Pop Art master Robert Indiana lectured at Artexpo in 1997, the year of the “All You Need is LOVE” theme.

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Rita Asfour, pictured in 1992, has been a longtime exhibitor at Artexpo.

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Ron Paolillo, better known as Horschak on TV’s “Welcome Back Cotter,” also paints. He brought a great sense of humor to Artexpo.

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Steve and Judy Romm have been mainstays of Artexpo for more than two decades with their poster company. Her recent passing from lung cancer leaves a sad void in our art community.

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Sheila and Mark Schachner of AJ Fine Arts in 1991. AJ is known primarily as the U.S. dealer of Erte gouaches, but the real Artexpoites always stop by their booth for a sandwich from Mark’s Mil Basin Kosher Deli on Avenue Tin Brooklyn.

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From Armenia, Yuroz gained almost instant fame here with a silkscreen print, “The Kiss,” taken from his painting in 1987. He makes a tradition of painting the clothes of everyone who has the patience to wait in long lines for their turn. Here he is in 1991.

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Howard Behrens, in 1991, is now represented by Somerset House.

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Helen Dunn, publisher of People, Places and Parties, at a pre-expo pow-wow with Henry Fonda at the Manhattan headquarters of Artexpo. Fonda’s paintings and prints went on view at Artexpo later that year.

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Eleonor Ettinger always added a touch of class and authenticity to Artexpo. Here she is pictured with a flatbed press in 1983.

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Jamie Ellin (l), publisher of Sunstorm/Fine magazine, with Lady Lori Churchill Spencer, who was exhibiting her paintings at Artexpo in 1986.

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Ken Keely signs his book Is It Real at Artexpo in 1992. He is as well known for his collectors, among them Malcom Forbes, and his subject matter, like Trump Towers, as he is for his accurate renditions of news-stands and New York scenes.

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Southwestern artist Darryl Howard (r) used her environment in every aspect of her art, from the landscape visions to mixing ink from the red desert dirt. Here she is pictured at Artexpo 1985 with a collector.

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From painting on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum to international art superstardom, artist James Rizzi, pictured here in 1990, never lost his sense of humor.

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Marjorie Tomchuk has built a strong following from her many years of showing her handmade works on handmade paper at Artexpo. Here she is in 1989.

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