Sunday, March 8, 2009

Art Fair Mania - Part 1

Going to attempt to sift through and make sense of the pile of cards from the 5 art fairs I attended from March 5-7th. The art fairs are basically art gallery trade shows - large spaces in which galleries rent booths and show work. The big boy is The Armory Show, and I also attended Scope, Pulse, Bridge and Fountain.
On Day 1 I hit Scope and Pulse. Jonathan Schorr was showing Wayne Coe's work (which I saw previously at McCaig Welles). He built these retro model kit boxes featuring scenes from Guantanamo and AbuGhraid - Human Pyramid, Guantanamo Guard Dog, etc. Well designed and darkly humorous, sad comments on the CNN-ization of conflict. New pieces were these pencil drawings about 9x12" of old gay x-rated theatre marquees. Wayne told me that a friend of his showed him photos of these and that it reminded him of the "film hyperbole" style of ads in Art Forum hyping hot and/or blue chip artists. So the drawings substitute the porn stars' names with artists names (like John Currin) see pic. Jonathan said that some of these artists were quite pissed and a few were bought to be hidden or destroyed!

The Fernando Pradilla Gallery from Madrid had these large blue Bic pen portraits by Nelly Penaranda (?), in the 3x4' range. Nothing groundbreaking, but scale and execution made these attention grabbers.
Being that Scope was my first stop, I was pretty jazzed and took more pics here than the other fairs. Here's another one from dFaulken Gallery, figurative paintings by Karim Hamid. Most of the figurative painting at the fairs was traditional studio posing or photo realistic. In general the loose, gestural work looked more unrealized than worked through (except for Hamid's who had some great energy in his pieces). That was a theme for the fairs, especially Armory. So much work was weak in the sense of looking like very early career or even art school levels of exploration into different styles and genres. More on this in the Armory show section.

Christopher Cutts Gallery had these child-like portraits of artists by Matias Sanchez which I found audacious and amusing in their simplicity. Part of the reason I liked them is that I imagine these artists would've appreciated the naive style of the paintings.

I keep an eye out for trends in art at these fairs and noticed several. For example, there were several large portraits done in mixed media - an Obama portrait made of cereal, faces made up of chamomile flowers, thread spools as well as 2D images composed of shapes or images repeated to create a portrait. There was very little naturalistic photography, most of the photos were digitally manipulated and layered to create surreal images. These fantasy like realms, situations and people were prevalent in not just photography but across several genres - seemed more like the visual influence of video games and high-end CG effects from film rather than a desire for escape. Thickly impasto'd paintings (to the tune of 2-3" thick) were a common sight, oil and turp wafting through the booth. There was a number of Chinese galleries showing paintings of young girls with huge heads and big eyes, a cross between 50s Keene paintings and Japanese anime only loose and painterly. I asked the 798 Gallery about it and Jin Zi's paintings (right) are representative of this. I was told this is indeed a big trend amongst Chinese painters right now. I'm not a fan of these, but they were everywhere.

I hopped the shuttle downtown to the Pulse Art Fair. Pop Surrealism made its presence felt here at galleries like Copro Nason from Cali and Okay Gallery from Austin. The young guy from Okay who was in NY for the first time said, "I had a hundred bucks in my pocket yesterday, and today I have like ten, and I have no idea where it went!" I replied, "Welcome to New York!" There were also galleries showing original works by Robert Crumb and Robert Williams. Stopped at Lyons Weir Ortt Gallery which show alot of tight realism. Last year they showed work by Cayce Zavaglia which blew my mind!
I thought it was a portrait painting until I got closer to see that it was all thread!! Words cannot describe the skill and intricacy of these pieces. She does about two a year, and last year they were going for 14k and now they're 20. Worth every penny. PLEASE go to the gallery website and look at her work. LWO also had paintings by Fahamu Pecou - think Kehinde Wiley (several of his beautiful works at the fairs, too) only in a looser, more hip-hop style.
Space Projects from Slovakia had these silly jackets by Otis Laubert, one pictured here covered with stamps (Postman's Coat), one with matches (Fireman's coat, duh). Thought this one was fun.

Onto the Armory Show...
It's the big boy - the most booths, the anchor, whatever. Costs thirty bucks to enter. There are so many people that you can tell it is very exhausting for the exhibitors, making it difficult to engage in conversation about the work. However, if you dress nice and wear a jacket, I discovered that they think you're a collector and come up and start chatting! But seriously, the concensus seems to be that this was by far the worst show of all the fairs, and I agree. I have no pics because I forgot my camera, but there wasnt much that would've motivated me to shoot. An exception was Hope Gangloff's pen and ink drawings of nightlife at Susan Inglett. They appear in the weekly email I get from, or something like that. Also, Kenny Scharff's installation was playful and typical of his style, and had energy and enthusiasm that made it stand out from the (over?)abundance of exhibitors.

The Parisian galleries as a whole were pretty awful. They were showing avant garde and conceptual work, but so much of it was weak and unrealized. Had the feel of a first draft, retreads of old work that the artist was doing as part of their process to explore beyond it but hadnt arrived there yet - so why show it? Germany had many galleries showing similar work (one German gallery told me there are 420 galleries in Berlin!) but it seemed like their work was pushing the envelope more, edgier, trying some things that even though they weren't very successful, were dipping their toes into new pools.

I have my likes and dislikes. But I've learned over the years to look at work in its own context and so on, and I don't like to dwell on the negative. However, it baffles me how a gallery can spend thousands for a booth, airfare, hotel, etc and show such weak work! Want examples? A blurry mirror. 20-30 framed primitive pencil drawings of a penis. A piece of material with a pink oval in the middle (ooooo! it looks like a vagina! oooo! - puh-lease!). Appr 50 (yes 50) framed 11x14" drawings of a pink circle with the words (not exact) "Similar to a color in Jackie O's makeup compact" written in pencil under each one. A canvas painted white. A canvas painted black. Two aluminum(?) bananas.
Next year, I think I'll skip Armory. Pulse and Scope are keepers.

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