A Tale of Two Art Shows

Artists often seem to weigh the positives and negatives of SURTEX versus Licensing Expo as if they are similar opportunities, with the main difference being their respective locations in New York and Las Vegas. And it is true that there is some crossover between the two when it comes to the artists exhibiting.

But a walk through the SURTEX show at New York’s Javits Center earlier this week reaffirmed that each has, over the years, developed a unique positioning.

SURTEX remains firmly rooted in the world of surface design. By a very conservative count, approximately 113 exhibitors were wholly or almost wholly focused on offering patterns for surface design. This is the equivalent of about 51% of the exhibitors (excluding the 41 agents and art collectives).

The count includes the two aisles of studio resources (68 exhibitors) that specialize in the creation of art specifically for surface design, which they sell outright rather than entering into licensing deals. It also includes the artists in the “art and brand licensing” area, which accounts for the bulk of the show’s acreage. This group tends to lean toward licensing, although many of the artists are open to selling their designs outright as well.

The artists who were not entirely focused on surface-design patterns included a handful who were positioned as lifestyle brands as well as a significant number who were offering a mix of characters, illustrations, and fine art of the sort that might lend itself to products beyond stationery, home goods, and other traditional surface design categories. Many of the latter also highlighted surface-design patterns as part of their mix.

The Art Pavilion at Licensing Expo, in contrast, is a bit more eclectic but leans toward characters, fine art, and illustration (e.g. anime-inspired figures, cute robots, and retro-style graphics, to name a few). In other words, the artists offer imagery that lends itself to the wider variety of potential licensees that frequent the Expo. The show is also centered squarely on licensing, as would be expected, with fewer exhibitors as open to selling outright.

The location and nature of the shows play a role in the differences between the two, of course. With SURTEX’s New York base and the fact that it runs alongside the National Stationery Show and International Contemporary Furniture Fair, it follows that the attendees are weighted toward home décor, textiles, tableware, and greeting cards. Conversely, Licensing Expo’s proximity to the West Coast and heavy emphasis on entertainment/character and trademark/brand licensing result in attendees being more likely to come from those worlds and seek artists whose work lends itself to entertainment, toys, lifestyle/fashion, and the like.

The point is that the shows are not interchangeable, as some artists believe. Potential attendees and exhibitors should consider each show’s unique DNA as they weigh their options.

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