Alexis Hubshman founded Scope, his international contemporary art fair company, in 2002. He brought it to the Hamptons three years later and now he’s back for his fifth show on Long Island July 22-25. This time the giant fair takes place on 33 acres on Snake Hollow Road, off Route 27 in Bridgehampton. Along with 50 galleries, there’ll be film screenings, music, children’s programs and more. Hubshman, 39, also runs fairs in Miami, Basel, New York and London. He travels about half the year, he said in a phone conversation, in which he also discussed his invention for in-line skates and East End art collecting.
What’s new and different about Scope Hamptons this year? We’ve moved from where we’ve been the last three years, the East Hampton Studios, to the town of Southampton. Silas Marder and his family will be hosting us on his property. They grow incredible trees and exotic plants. It’s a landscaping company, but they’re really artists.
// Why did you move? I loved East Hampton, but we were hidden away. I finally spent the summer in the Hamptons last year. I’m kind of a city mouse and I don’t come from much money. I was staying in Southampton and I realized how difficult the property we had was to get to. We decided to move super front and central. We will build an incredible pavilion on Marder’s property, over 20,000 square feet, which will allow us to have more dealers and they’ll have bigger booths.
// What brought you to the Hamptons? All your other fairs are in big cities. The Hamptons have a great artistic history to start with. Also, five or six years ago, galleries would just shut down during the summer. So it occurred to me, hey, two hours away, a history of art, clearly a beautiful locale and a concentration of a lot of collector friends who were suggesting, ‘hey, why don’t you do something out here, a dinner or an event?’ It’s sort of like Scope goes on vacation. That doesn’t mean we work less hard, but it does mean we do more children’s programming. In 2008, we dug a huge pond, with sailboats on it, and we had the Shinnecock Nation there. We had all these wonderful events with teachers, with building kites. It had a different kind of energy.
// Will you be doing the same kind of thing this year? Definitely. We’re working with the Children’s Museum of the East End and with the Southampton Cultural Center, and we’re doing musical workshops, and learning about plants, because of our locale.
// How did you come upon this locale? Silas is a friend. He hosted barbeques and closing events for us on his property. My first business was landscaping, so when I saw his work I was really knocked out. All of a sudden, a bell went off in my head, and I don’t know what took me so long.
// How did you get into this business? I read that you started as an artist, and you just mentioned landscaping. Straight out of college, some friends and I stole a bunch of equipment from our college and drove up to Cape Cod and built a pretty successful landscaping company. That was sort of a fun after-school special, I call it. Then I made an invention for roller blades. I needed a quick job, and I was a messenger, and I roller bladed. I couldn’t go into buildings, I was getting turned away, so I made a skate cover so I could walk in. Before I knew it, I found an investor and we started a company and got a utility patent for the product.
// How did skate covers lead to art fairs? One of my investors, his son was a collector. In those days, there were not many galleries that focused on emerging artists. So we would go into galleries and go to their back rooms. It wasn’t that easy to find. And so we said, let’s open a gallery dedicated to emerging artists, and we did that, in the meatpacking district in ‘96 or ‘97. Then, as a young emerging art gallery, we couldn’t get into these bigger fairs. So I said, let’s open a fair that focuses on young galleries.
// What came next? I couldn’t afford to rent a convention hall, so we got a hotel interested, and the New Museum came on as a sponsor, and we got 27 galleries, all major galleries now but at that time all very young, at this fair in New York City, and all the dealers and collectors came by, and the New York Times wrote a big story about it. It had a lot of camaraderie and young energy. Some of the dealers were from different cities and they said, ‘Why don’t you come to LA?’ So I went to LA and ‘Why don’t you come to London?’ So I went to London, and then I went down to Miami, and it just grew organically. Then we took over whole hotels and then it got too big. I rented a warehouse near where the Armory is now and we had this immense programming. We’re always playing with how to have fun.
// What programs are you planning for the Hamptons? We’ll be doing a big music program. We have artists doing installations and our children’s programs.
// Are you doing a film component, too? Film is important for us. The film program in Basel was significant this year. We may do some of it in the Hamptons, too. We work with a local company to give cameras to local teenagers, and they shoot a movie over three days, and then we show it.
// Tell me about your early life. I was born in San Francisco, but I moved to New York City when I was about 10 years old. I went to private school a little, and then public school and boarding school, and then I went to Bard College. I went to the Glasgow School of Art and started studying architecture for a little while, but I ended up painting mostly there. And then I came back and graduated from Bard.
// Do you still paint? Yes, but I’m open to sculpture and other things. I’m making art.
// Do you consider yourself an artist primarily, and this is your day job? I consider myself an artist and the way I approach these fairs, the buildings we build, the performances we have, the way we light them, it’s all an artistic endeavor.
// Do people buy different kinds of art in the Hamptons compared to the city? The first year we did it, a lot of dealers tried to anticipate the crowds and brought a lot of those sunsets and similar things. And they didn’t do very well. We have a sophisticated collectorship there, and they almost laughed at us.
// What’s the price range? It could be as cheap as $500, or a couple of hundred thousand dollars. The average would be $5,000-$15,000.
// How is the art market right now? We didn’t do the fair last year, because even people who did have money were feeling uncomfortable about spending it. But this year has been great.