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‘Superfine!’ art fair is shaking up the market

Where ‘regular people’ can connect directly with artists

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Superfine, gay news, Washington Blade

A work by Scott Froschauer on display at Superfine!

The Superfine! Art Fair, which returns to Los Angeles this weekend for the second year in a row, isn’t the stuffy gallery experience that comes to most people’s mind when they think about shopping for an original work of art.

The brainchild of partners Alex Mitow and James Miile, Superfine! was launched as part of Miami Art Week five years ago, after the couple had grown frustrated trying to navigate the conventional art world, Miile as an emerging photographer, and Mitow as a collector.

The pair were convinced that the traditional assumptions about buying and selling art were shutting out enormous numbers of potential buyers; they believed that by providing an atmosphere where “regular people” could connect directly with artists – and where they could take home work they loved no matter what their budget – that they could inspire would-be collectors with the joy and excitement of what Mitow calls “the art of collecting art.”

Superfine! was the result – a sort of “pop-up” marketplace bringing together a diverse array of exhibitors and collectors in an unpretentious environment, and which has evolved into a major annual event in an ever-growing list of cities around the country. Since making its Miami debut, it’s added editions in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles – where it returns from February 6-9 at The Reef in DTLA.

The Blade checked in with Mitow ahead of this year’s LA show, to discuss where the festival is coming from and where he sees it going. Our conversation is below.

Los Angeles Blade: Superfine started out with an intention to disrupt the traditional art marketplace. Is that still what you’re trying to do?

Alex Mitow: Definitely that’s still our ethos, for sure.

We’ve done a lot of data gathering over the last year – 75% of our visitors say that their favorite aspect of coming to the fair is meeting and connecting with the artists, meeting them and buying from them person-to-person. We’ve polled the last three fairs, and they all come up with that statistic.

That undermines the conventional art wisdom that if you’re an artist you need a gallery to sell your work. I mean, we kind of knew it already, but it’s great to find out that the numbers are backing it up. It’s not just something that we thought, it’s actually true.

Blade: How much do you think the fair’s success has to do with your efforts to make it so diverse?

Mitow: It’s not so much that we go out and engineer our fair to be as LGBTQ and as female as it is, it’s more of an organic outgrowth of how we run it, and how we run the business. It’s very very transparent, everyone gets the same deal – and that plays exceptionally well to our communities of artists because they typically aren’t getting the exposure that some straight, male artists are getting. Our fairness really speaks to these underrepresented communities, so we get a lot of artists from them.

It transfers to the collectors as well. The typical idea of a collector is older, white people – in a gallery, you can see the sellers all perk up when an older white couple walks in. But we’ve really shown that art collectors are just as diverse as he artists. We have all ages, college students buying their first work of art and young nesting families, but also Latino and black collectors – all different communities and demographics. And when you’re an artist and you see people who are more like you wanting your art, or if you’re someone who maybe hasn’t been viewed as a collector before and you come to a show with such a diverse population of artists, I think it really empowers both sides.

Blade: Whatever the reason, it seems to be working. Superfine has grown tremendously even in the past year.

Mitow: We’ve done some expanding, for sure – we’re adding a fair in Seattle and one in San Francisco, and we’re doing our fourth year in New York. We’re actually hosting a series of three fairs in a row there this spring, with the title “Woman, Myth and Magic.” The first one is all women artists, and the third one is all LGBTQ. The middle one is all surrealist art, that’s the myth part. We have a ton of surrealists that show in our fair, so we wanted to have an event that focused on them, as well.

In 2021 we’re expanding to St. Petersburg, Florida, which is kind of an unusual choice, but it has a lot of the markers of the demographics that we look for – it’s got a huge gay community, and there are a lot of younger, affluent couples who are settling there. Chicago is a big one for us in 2021 also, with a lot of similar markers.

Going forward past that, there are a lot of cities in the country that are underserved by what we do and by art fairs in general, and we’re really looking at them – cities in Texas, Colorado, Oregon – a lot of places that we’re going to try and take the model to.

Blade: What would you say to encourage someone who might have an interest in art but doesn’t think of themselves as a collector.

Mitow: I would argue that everybody actually collects art – we all put things on our wall, we all have things that we treasure. I think it’s a really neat feeling when you buy those things from people that you meet and connect with, and you know what the story is behind it and why they made it. It’s much different than having a piece of décor – you become a part of that person’s life and they become part of yours, and that just goes on forever, it’s something that pass on to your kids, to your family, and so on.

I’ve had friends who have come to our fairs that never thought they would buy art, and now they have seven or ten pieces in their house that they’ve bought over the years. We see that happen more often than not, and as the organizers, and this being our message, it’s a great feeling.

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Notables

Former LA Blade Editor Karen Ocamb, journalist of the year awardee

The AIDS crisis was her entry into the movement for LGBTQ equality. She had worked in LGBTQ and independent media for nearly 30 years

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Karen Ocamb, journalist of the year awardee 2020 at the Los Angeles Press Club gala (Photo by Troy Masters)

LOS ANGELES – Former Los Angeles Blade editor Karen Ocamb was awarded Journalist of the Year for 2020 at the 63rd annual Los Angeles Press Club’s Southern California Journalism Awards gala, which was held Saturday evening at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Press Club was founded in 1913 and honors journalists through its annual National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and SoCal Journalism Awards.

The annual gala is held to celebrate the best of Southern California journalism and features and honors journalists working in all media platforms of print, radio, television or digital (online). Ocamb won in the category of ‘print’ with a circulation under 50,000. Her fellow nominees were Lina Lecaro, LA Weekly and Hayley Munguia, Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The LA Press Club judges noted in their decision bestowing the award, “Karen Ocamb’s passionate reporting of the struggles of the LGBTQ community and journalists covering LGBTQ issues during the pandemic earns her a Print Journalist of Year award.”

She was also a runner-up in two other categories securing second place in ‘Pandemic Reporting Digital’ (Online) with awardee Jon Regardie, Los Angeles Magazine, “A Month Inside the COVID-19 War Room with Mayor Eric Garcetti” securing first place. (Karen Ocamb, Los Angeles Blade, “Seeking Truth in the War on the Coronavirus”)

Ocamb also secured second place in the category of ‘Commentary: on political, social, cultural, investigative, judicial, economic or other serious subjects.’ The awardees were Ryan Lo and Chandra Bozelko, Reno Gazette Journal, “Klobuchar’s Own Central Park Five Situation” (Karen Ocamb, Los Angeles Blade, “Strong at the Broken Places”)

Ocamb, who now works in media relations for Public Justice, a national nonprofit progressive legal advocacy organization that has been fighting for civil rights, environmental protection and consumer and workers’ rights for more than 35 years, was the founding news editor of the Los Angeles Blade in 2017.

After spending the 1960s as a student against the war in Vietnam, fighting for civil rights and exploring the counter-cultural movement, Ocamb joined CBS News in New York and learned to be a journalist under the mentorship of such icons as Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Bob Schiefer. Her final job for the network was producing the 1984 Olympic coverage for CBS News affiliates at TV City in Los Angeles.

Free to pursue her social justice passions and discuss her opinions, Ocamb volunteered on the ballot campaign for West Hollywood cityhood. It was during this time that her friends started dying of AIDS. By the late 1980s, serving as a quasi-healthcare worker was not enough and Ocamb returned to journalism, this time freelancing for Frontiers News Magazine and other gay press publications.

The AIDS crisis was her entry into the movement for LGBTQ liberation and equality. She has worked in LGBTQ and independent media since then, culminating in her position as news editor and reporter for the Los Angeles Blade.

Los Angeles Blade publisher Troy Masters, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and former LA Blade News Editor Karen Ocamb at the 63rd annual Los Angeles Press Club awards gala.
(Photo courtesy of Troy Masters)

In 2019, Ocamb won a special recognition award from LGBTQ media watchdog group GLAAD.

“After initially starting her career at CBS News and producing the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Ocamb joined the LGBTQ press in the 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS,” GLAAD said in a release at the time. “She has since become a leading force and champion for LGBTQ media. She is known for her smart, fair, and professional writing style as well as her staunch dedication to shining the spotlight on underreported LGBTQ people and issues.”

The 63rd annual Los Angeles Press Club’s Southern California Journalism Awards gala held Saturday evening, October 16, 2021, at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.
(Photo By Troy Masters)

Editor’s note links to the stories submitted and judged are here, here, here, and here.

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a&e features

Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

********************

Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

********************

Listen to the show here:

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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