Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In New York for the Fairs day 1: Cutlog, Pulse and Select (possibly NSFW)

Robert Boyd

For the past three years, I've been checking out the art fairs in New York that happen in early May. It's a little birthday gift for myself. I like it, but it's exhausting--both physically (my dogs are barking by the end) and mentally. Your eyes get tired of looking at art for a while. But it's a lot of fun walking through the fairs with my friends LM and DC. On Thursday, I went to Cutlog alone and then met up with DC at Pulse.

I forgot my camera at Cutlog so I didn't take too many photos--just a few phone pictures. (If you want to see an excellent selection of photos from Cutlog as well as a nice write-up, real Alison Meier's report.)

Yes, I was wearing a tie that day.

This is what the entrance looked like at night. As you can see, it looks like it's on fire! But that is actually a brilliantly lit ball of fake fur, Hairdoo for a Hallway by Shoplifter. The neon phrasing is by Robert Montgomery.

Hrafnhildur Arnardottir aka Shoplifter, Hairdoo for a Hallway

It was really dramatic. I think it makes sense for an art fair to have something eye-popping in the entrance way, even if it's a kind of empty calories artwork like this. It gives you a nice feeling of "wow."

Clara Feder, Break In Case of Emergency, mixed media, 13.7 x 17.7 inches

Clara Feder's Break in Case of Emergency made me laugh. It was part of a larger project called the Wall of Temptation. Now the thing about art like this is that it is literally a joke--a one-liner, a New Yorker cartoon. And it's a good joke! But once you've gotten a joke, do you want it on your wall forever? Some of my favorite art at the art fairs are jokes--I see them and enjoy them for a moment, but feel that they have a shelf life of just as long as the laugh they get.

Borges wrote a story called "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" that includes within it a description of a Chinese Encyclopedia called "Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge." In it, all animals are categorized as belonging to one of the following categories:
a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.
DC and I started a similar classification of art you will find at an art fair. These would include (but not be limited to) (a) jokes, (b) art that seems good for 10 seconds, (c) art you are glad you saw but never want to see again, (d) visual overload art, (e) Anish Kapoor wall bowls, (f) abstract painting, (g) art that if you owned it, it would require you build a special room for it, (g) art that if you owned it, it would require some kind of continuous special maintenance, (h) art so quiet and unassuming, you almost miss it, (i) art so quiet and unassuming that you do miss it, (i) big photos, (j) small photos, (k) sexy art, (l) new casualism, (m) etc., (n) art that from up close looks like money.

Hairdoo for a Hallway was a (d) and Break in Case of Emergency was an (a).

Garcia Sinclair, Weapons of Mass Distraction, 2013, maple, cotton rope, plaster casts

Gabriel Sinclair's Weapons of Mass Distraction at Yellow Peril Gallery was also an (a).

There was art that was more about some visual quality or which had a sophisticated conceptual basis at Cutlog--I just didn't take any pictures. I think Cutlog is a good art fair--the art's eclectic, it's in a funky space and it brings over non-blue chip European galleries. Not to mention one from Malaysia--Fuman Art. I mention them because I was shocked as I rounded the corner into their both and saw this:

Stéphane Blanquet, Blue Ocean, 2014, mixed media on paper, 11.8 x 15.75 inches

Blue Ocean is by artwork Stéphane Blanquet, a French artist best known (to me at least) for his comics. An alternative comics artist, his work falls into the more transgressive, underground sphere of French alternative comics (as opposed to the somewhat more intellectual, twee side represented by L'Association). A small number of his stories have been published in English and one book, Toys in the Basement. Many of his comics are drawn in silhouette form (such as La Vénéneuse aux deux éperons). And the work that Fuman Art had was all done in silhouette.

Obviously one thinks of Kara Walker (or I should say that Kara Walker reminded me of Blanquet--I saw his silhouette work before I saw hers). But even more so, this work reminds me of Andrea Dezsö, an artist whose work was shown at the Rice University Art Gallery in 2010.

I have always liked Blanquet's work, and his paintings were reasonably priced. So I bought one.

Stéphane Blanquet

It's a pretty simple piece. It is painted on stained unprimed linen. But it shows a familiar creepy situation--a bug landing in your hair. It tickles me to think that an artist produced this in France presumably, it was shipped to Kuala Lampur in Malaysia, but then shipped to Manhattan for this art fair, bought by me and carried home in my suitcase to Houston. It would be amusing to draw a map of its travels.

My next stop was Pulse where I met my friend DC. The first year I went to Pulse in New York, I was bowled over by the sheer crassness of the art. Lots of loud, stupid art. Tons of pin-up derived art. I won't say that is entirely gone this year. For example, there is Fall by Jessica Lichtenstein at gallery nine5.

Jessica Lichtenstein, Fall (Four Seasons Series), c-print on acrylic, 48 inches in diameter.

An oversaturated nature scene. But look closer.

Jessica Lichtenstein, Fall (Four Seasons Series) detail, c-print on acrylic, 48 inches in diameter.

The tree is constructed of sexy naked cartoon girls.

 Gallery nine5 also has a classic example of a (g).

Katherine Mann, Fallow, acrylic, sumi ink, collage on paper and felt

Pulse over all seems to have mellowed and matured a bit. Here is some other work that was on display.

Two pieces by Jim Condron at Adah Rose Gallery.

Two pieces by Brian Dupont at Adah Rose gallery. The text is derived from depositions in the Richard Prince/Patrick Cariou case.

And here's Brian Dupont himself

There was a lot of interesting photography at Pulse.

Penelope Umbrico, Mountains Moving: of Aperture Masters of Photography (4 Westons), 2013, c-print at Aperture

Penelope Umbrico also did the amazing Suns from the Internet.

Ellen Carey, Dings and Shadows (Suite of 5, Panels A through D), 2013, color photograms, 24 x 20 inches each at JHB Gallery

Here's DC looking at some Ellen Carey photos at JHB Gallery, with Jayne Baum on the left.

Stephen Mallon captured the sinking of a subway car (at Front Room Gallery).

Among the non-photographic works I liked were these calligraphic pieces by Retna at Coburn Projects.



And I loved Loren Munk's history of minimalism (portrayed, ironically, in his trademarked visually dense, super-colorful style) at the Freight + Volume booth. Interestingly, Munk and Retna are two artists I have seen before, but only at art fairs. Sometimes art is described as "art fair art"--that's always seemed rather vague, but one possible definition would be an artist whose work you only ever see at art fairs (assuming that artist is not represented by a gallery in your city).

Loren Munk also has an alter-ego named James Kalm who does videos of various current art shows, which allow him to comment on the art scene--which will presumably inform future Loren Munk paintings.

Loren Munk, Colliding Timelines of Minimalism, 2012, oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches

Loren Munk, Colliding Timelines of Minimalism (detail), 2012, oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches

Munk's painting combine two things I recoil from in visual art--a self-referential art history content and tons of text. For this reason, I've resisted liking them even though in my gut, they appeal to me. My gut wins. I like Colliding Timelines of Minimalism and his work in general. It's wacky fun.

Dan Gluibizzi, Our Season, 2013 (left) and Story Sisters, 2014 (right)

Dan Gluibizzi, Between Friends, 2014

Dan Gluibizzi, Girls Girls Girls 1, 2014

These Dan Gluibizzi watercolors at Kopeikin Gallery also had a wacky quality to them. Both Munk and Gluibizzi want to dazzle you with intense color, and they both succeed. You might ask, why do I condemn Jessica Lichtenstein's Fall, with its naked girls, but like Dan Gluibizzi's Girls Girls Girls 1. Good question. I think it's because the girls in Fall are so fake and plastic. Something about the watercolor in Girls Girls Girls 1 gives them a much more real presence. Not real in the sense of realistic, but real in the sense of human, flesh-and-blood as opposed to just pixels.

Keith Allyn Spencer, Post-Walmart Moral Hangover, filthy disgusting dusty plywood panel found in the outskirts of Hell, student purchased acrylic paint, 1 nail only God Bless It. Dimensions vary (24″ tall -+), 2014

"New Casualism" was represented at Pulse with a booth full of the work of Keith Allyn Spencer. (Jim Condron might fall into that category as well.) I liked these ramshackle abstractions quite a lot. Spencer wears his casualism on his sleeve. The materials for Post-Walmart Moral Hangover are described as "filthy disgusting dusty plywood panel found in the outskirts of Hell, student purchased acrylic paint, 1 nail only." (Spencer was included in the Pan Art Fair in Dallas as part of the Oliver Francis Gallery's line-up.)

Keith Allyn Spencer, The Department, plywood, paint, paint, plywood, staples, canvas, canvas, staples, pain in the pain in the, 12.21″ tall -+, 2013

The booth was run by Phalanx Gallery and it was a solo show by Spencer. I wonder about the strategy of devoting your booth to one artist versus multiple artists. With the former, you can be more dramatic and less cluttered. You are also sending a message that you consider this artist very important. But you may be simultaneously sending a message to the other artists in your stable that you consider this one guy to be the star and all you other artists to be spear carriers.

On the other hand, showing multiple artists can look a bit cluttered and cheap--like a flea market stall. It makes it harder for the viewer to really see the work--individual pieces get lots in the crowd. But at the same time, you hedge your bets. If artist A doesn't sell anything, artist B might.

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Hoorah! For the home spun Dresses, 2014, 16 mm polyester film and thread, 17 13/16 x 16 3/4 inches at LMAKprojects

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Hoorah! For the home spun Dresses (detail), 2014, 16 mm polyester film and thread, 17 13/16 x 16 3/4 inches at LMAKprojects

Sabrina Gschwandtner takes old 16 mm film--in this case, some that was deaccessioned by the FIT--and makes quilt-like patterns out of them. (She also is the only person I've ever encountered who has five consonants in a row in her name, as well as another set of four consecutive consonants as well.) Her beautiful work was shown at LMAKprojects.

Station Independent Projects had a large variety of work by Conrad Bakker, pictured below.

Conrad Bakker at Station Independent Projects

All the stuff on the desk is Bakker's work. So is the desk. So is the trash can. So is the post-it note. And it's all carved from wood and hand-painted. 

Conrad Bakker at Station Independent Projects

So yeah, that piece of paper is carved from wood.

Conrad Bakker at Station Independent Projects

These books are all carved from wood, as is the Amazon box. The concept here is that Bakker is taking high art objects (the Donald Judd-designed desk) and mundane objects (a plastic trash can) and equalizing them, forcing us to contend with our ideas of "high" and "low," art-as-commodity, and blah blah blah. Conceptually, this seems like pretty weak tea. But the objects themselves are amazing! Obviously Bakker demonstrates a lot of skill as a wood-carver, and I respect that, but what really appeals to me is the slightly crude, obviously hand-made paint job he gives each object. Instead of making perfect replicas, he's made ones that is slightly off in a very appealing way.

Conrad Bakker at Station Independent Projects

This sculpture--a painted wood replica of a paperback copy of Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure, is the perfect art fair artwork. It takes something cheap and mass-produced (but wonderful for the ideas it contains) and turns it into a valuable unique artwork for a member of the "leisure class" to buy--without any implied obligation that said leisure class member needs to read the words the original contained!

DC had to head home after Pulse, but I went next door to check out Select Art Fair. The main thing Select Art Fair had going for it was its immediate proximity to Pulse. Otherwise, it seems to have taken the old Pulse's worst sensationalist tendencies and run with them. The selection of galleries was truly odd. I knew two of the galleries represented, Zoya Tommy Contemporary and Unit, run by Arianne Roesch. Both told me that they had been approached by Select while exhibiting at other regional art fairs. (They were, by the way, the only two Houston galleries in New York at any of the fairs as far as I could tell.) My friend DC texted me that "Select was 100% missable, if you haven't already been." By the time I got his text, I had been.

People lined up to check out Select

The fair went more for spectacle than for depth. And spectacle can be entertaining. That's the main reason I go to an art fair, anyway--to be entertained.  The problem is that when you are repeatedly hit in the face with such art, it makes it hard to see other art. Art that is quiet or contemplative or subtle.

Allie Pohl, Hot Seat series at Black Book Gallery

So we have work like Allie Pohl's Hot Seat series at Black Book Gallery, self-portraits (presumably) of the artist peeing in various bathrooms. It feels like it desperately wants to be outrageous.

Pills at DNA Gallery

I don't know who did these pills/bombs at DNA Gallery--their website is unhelpful to the point of being extremely irritating--but the facile juxtaposition of pharmaceuticals with aerial bombardment, the huge size of the objects, and their shiny plastic quality make them masterpieces of glibness.

Pills at DNA Gallery

Daniel Henderson, Premo, 2011, Fossil black marble, cast glass, glass lenses, brass-plated bronze, cast bronze with patina, nickel-plated steel, powder-coated steel, nickel-plated brass, enamel paint. 79 x 38 x 68 in., 5600 lbs. Powder-coated steel base
When is doubt, make giant-sized versions of small things. That's what Daniel Henderson did.

One sweaty fellow told me, seemingly at random, that I should make sure I don't miss the goings on in the back room. Naturally I was intrigued and went to check it out. When I saw what he was talking about, it made me wonder if he wasn't a professional tout, like you'd see outside a strip joint in Soho.
The piece he was pointing me to turned out to be a living tableau/art-making exercise sponsored by Lambert Fine Art. It was described as a collaboration between Terrenceo Hammond and Tony Margerrison.

fruit girl at Lambert Fine Art

You were beckoned into a room by this young woman, who also gave you fruit.

Terrenceo Hammond and Tony Margerrison's naked tableau
In the back room, there was this scene of naked folks lounging around on cushions and couches. The woman in the center seemed to be posing the other models and taking pictures of them with the camera in the foreground on the left. Maybe this had a point beyond, "Hey look! Naked people!" But I couldn't figure it out.

Not everything was cranked up to 10. I liked this collection of detritus by Brett Day Windham. Sure, Tony Cragg did it first, but Windham's version still looked lovely.

Brett Day Windham's project

Meow Wolf installation

And I liked the casually thrown-together installation by Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe, New Mexico collective. On one side was this collection of artfully arrange junk (I liked the altered traffic cone), and on another was this large painting of a flower-sasquatch by Meow Wolf member Caity Kennedy

Caity Kennedy of Meow Wolf
So if you are a gallery that shows relatively quiet work, how do you get seen in a fair characterized by visual cacophony? My friend Zoya Tommy's gallery showed art that was kind of unassuming compared to the pulsating productions that dominated Select Art Fair.

Zoya Tommy standing in front of Mark Perry's Koi Pond 2, 2014, oil on canvas, 66"x49"

But she announced on Facebook that she had sold Mark Perry's large painting Koi Pond. So even with all the distractions, if fair goers saw a quieter work that they wanted, they went for it.

Arianne Roesch at the UNIT booth

And Select Fair was probably smart to include a lot of printers of and dealers of editioned artwork, like UNIT. Out of the 42 exhibitors, at least five were presses. The result was that work was accessible to younger, poorer collectors.

Magsamen+ Hillerbrand oven mitts

You could get these playful Magsamen+Hillerbrand oven mitts from UNIT. 

All in all, I'd say Pulse was the best fair I saw Thursday, followed by Cutlog and then Select. Friday was devoted to Frieze, which is the subject of my next post.


  1. Hi Robert, First of all let me thank you for the piece you wrote about Break Glass in Case of Emergency, which, as you've very well categorized, is a joke, and intended as such. But what is a joke but a thought provoking pun? I take it that it worked, seeing what you wrote about Borges immediately after having written about Break Glass. I must say I love that Borges classification, which was also lenghtly commented by Michel Foucault in The Order of Things , published in 1966. He said this classification inspired him when he wrote his book. Cheers from France! Clara

    1. Thank you for responding. I was highly amused by your piece--there are people who act as if every work of art must be serious or severe, that humor somehow cheapens it. I strongly disagree. That's why I liked your work so much.