Why I Love AIPAD, Part 1

Posted on May 11, 2023

By Catherine Couturier

Catherine Couturier Joins AIPAD Board

I started working in the fine art photography business in December 1999, and just two months later I was thrown into my first art fair, affectionally called Aipad (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) because of the members organization that runs it. I met a lot of people, knew absolutely nothing, and was all but overwhelmed by the pace of the fair and the incredible diversity of photography on the walls. I know the people now, and I know more about fine art photography than I did, but the breadth of art that the member galleries show remains. I’m always excited to see what my friends and colleagues will have prominently displayed on the walls or have tucked away in the bins. The fair is always a veritable chest of riches.

As my first years in the gallery business passed, I started to see that the organization was about so much more than the fair; Aipad is a community. The gallery I ran, John Cleary Gallery, was the only fine art photography gallery in Houston for most of its life, so I would have been on something of an island without the dealers from all over the world I’d met through Aipad. If I needed a price, I knew who to call. If I had a printing question or signature issue, I knew who to call. If I needed to find a print on the secondary market or ask about an artist, I knew who to call. And more than anything else, I knew who to trust. Aipad members have a level of not only expertise but legitimacy that is oftentimes lacking in the art world. Aipad galleries were there at the very start of the market for fine art photography and have advanced it to the place it now holds, rightfully so, alongside other forms of art. These galleries are the top of the top.

The story I think best exemplifies this organization is from the 2009 fair. John Cleary had died after a very short fight with pancreatic cancer in February 2008, and with no time to even think it through, I suddenly owned a gallery. I’ll never forget the dealers who flew in to say goodbye to John, helped on the business end of the transition, or attended his funeral. It speaks to how respected and loved John was, but it also speaks to the type of people so many of these art dealers are. It was an incredibly difficult time personally and professionally, and I don’t think I had my head above water more than a day or two those first six months. That fall, I was sent an application to exhibit at the fair, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t buy John’s corporation, I just bought furniture, fixtures, and rights to the name. Was I still a member? John was a member. I was just silly little Catherine who worked at the gallery and was vaguely charming. Did anyone even know who I was?

I realized I really needed Aipad. I needed to feel a part of that community. I didn’t feel like I could navigate this business without these experts by my side, so I sent in my fair application as John Cleary Gallery and crossed my fingers. I was accepted.

The fair arrived, and wow. Talk about imposter syndrome. I kept my nose down and tried my best to act normal through setup and the first couple of days as I told the story of John’s passing over and over and over again while trying to sell photographs and keep it all together. I was exhausted, physically and most definitely emotionally, but I had a smile on my face and a song in my heart as we say in East Texas, so I don’t think people realized how hard of a time I was having. Just before the fair opened one morning, I saw Stephen Bulger and Catherine Edelman, one of whom was the outgoing president of Aipad and one of whom was incoming, walking past my booth. They said hi, and I blurted out, having no idea the words were even in my head, “Thank you so much for not kicking me out of Aipad.” I will never forget what Catherine Edelman said. She said, “It was never even discussed.”

I teared up, and Stephen said it was all going to be okay, and you know what? He was right. 15 years later, I can attest that it has all been okay, but I can’t say that it would have been without the support I’ve had from other dealers (and my artists and collectors; so many people have been instrumental in the success of the gallery). As good ole John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Aipad is my continent. Aipad is my main. So when offered the opportunity to join the Board, I readily accepted. I can’t wait to help in anyway I can because I know what this organization has done for me and what is can do for others.

Want to know more? Check out Aipad’s website here! Hope to see you next spring at the fair!


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