Artists Unite Issue

September 29, 2006

ART(212) Contemporary Art Fair — by Sky Pape

Filed under: Articles — Sky Pape @ 2:02 pm

With today’s busy lifestyles and so many galleries, we all bemoan how hard it is to get to see a lot of what’s going on out there. That is unless you’re willing to put on some comfortable shoes, strip off a few layers of clothing, and spend an hour or two or three facing down that beast we love to hate, the salon show of our age: the Art Fair.

The current one in town, ART(212), is by my estimation worth the trip. It’s by far less of a test of endurance than the overkill of the contemporary Armory show held annually on the Piers. Furthermore, the work is of significantly better quality than the boatloads of dreck I thankfully don’t specifically remember but do generally recall being bombarded with at both the Armory show and the Affordable Art Fair (with the unfortunate name), even though some of the galleries have shown at more than one of these fairs. (Don’t confuse these other shows with the ADAA show at the Park Ave Armory. That’s the more “blue-chip” one, more modern than contemporary.)

Still, one has to be prepared for art-overload. Just do the math. There are 60-plus galleries, let’s say each with an average of 5 artists, and with a rough estimate of 2 works per artist, that’s 600 pieces to view. That allots a luxurious 18 seconds per piece, which isn’t bad, considering that the average viewer spends no more than 13 seconds, tops.

I gave the quickest of overviews of the show in a previous post, and will provide a few more glimpses and opinions about the overall experience. Curated special exhibitions presented by the Asia Society, and El Museo del Barrio were welcome additions to the scene. They seemed to get lost a bit in the chaotic swirl of activity, but I was glad I made time to stop and check them out, and in particular found myself drawn into a video called “I Parking” by Korean artist Junebum Park (video still shot below) — one of a series of videos presented by the Asia Society.

Aside from the work, there is the personal interaction with the dealers to consider. Some dealers who show perfectly good work would really benefit by taking a course in basic social skills. Like many artists, I collect whenever and however I can. I would be extremely reluctant to buy work from an impolite or inconsiderate dealer, unless I absolutely couldn’t live without the work of that artist. Even so, I would go out of my way to seek out another source for that artwork. I won’t name any names, nonetheless, I doubt the dealers in most dire need of a tutorial in basic manners would be capable of recognizing this shortcoming in themselves without seeing their names in black and white. Conversely, I do like to mention the dealers who would be highly qualified to give such a tutorial. Once again, Mixed Greens earns respect for their informative and welcoming staff (this time, it was Monica Herman — their booth included a fine presentation of ink drawings by Giles Lyon, and a subtle, corner piece by Mary Temple), and both Vassilios Doupas, owner of the apartment, and Viviette Hunt, Director of Richard Levy Gallery (both mentioned in my previous post) deserve special recognition for their intelligence and attentiveness. Good dealers realize there’s more to it than having good work.

Still, we really do go to these shows to see the work. There was a fair amount of worthwhile work by photographers evident here. I was excited to be introduced to the work of Malick Sidibe at BrancoliniGrimaldi, and Robert Mann Gallery was a good stop to get a survey of excellent work, both new and old, with examples by Mary Mattingly (new), Bernd & Hilla Becher (new-ish), Edward Muybridge’s studies of human locomotion (old) and John Stuart studies of locomotives (old: 1878-1880). Robert Koch Gallery from San Francisco had a terrific booth, with large-scale photos by nearly-peerless photographer Edward Burtynsky, which were well-paired with architectural photos by Michael Wolf (see below). Vicki DaSilva’s “fluorescence” photographs (mentioned by Peter Ferko here) stood out at Art Gotham.

Among the interesting work at Marcia Wood Gallery, it was hard not to be pulled in by a huge piece by Devorah Sperber. Called “After van Eyck,” (see below) it was 122 inches high by 100″ wide, and comprised of 5,024 spools of thread that make up a inverted, pixellated version of a van Eyck portrait, which rights and resolves itself to become perfectly evident when viewed through a clear acrylic sphere placed in front of the installation. There’s something quite wonderful and visually impelling about this piece upon first viewing, not the least of which is due to its size, rich color, and obsessive nature. Further thought, however, made me wonder if the piece had much to offer beyond the initial “wow” factor. I’d have been more impressed if Sperber’s work involved pixellated versions of original compositions she created, rather than quoting other artists. It didn’t seem to bear the repeated looking that, say, a Chuck Close does. Close also challenges the ways we take visual interpretation for granted, even using a similar kind of image deconstruction, but his point of departure is original, and he invests so much in the technique and variety of his methods, that they offer many layers for contemplation. (You won’t know that unless you see his work in person, but that’s true of most good art!). Sperber will be having a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007, curated by Marilyn Kushner. Kushner is an excellent curator, and I expect I might come away from that show with an expanded appreciation of Sperber’s work.

Hudson Franklin had a Guston-esque ink drawing by young artist Michael Bernstein (left) that made me curious to see more; relative newcomer Foley Gallery had works on paper, and explained they also have a strong focus on photography; Franklin Parrasch was one of the few 57th Street galleries in attendance, with a solid showing of more established artists, espeically from the west coast; and there was a notable presentation of unique works on paper by Valerie Hammond at M%, which is actually a consulting firm for corporate and private collectors, rather than a gallery.

Peter Ferko and Drawing Center curator Kathy Carl are at the show today, and will likely have more insights to add soon. The show’s up until Monday, so be nice to the dealers, even those who don’t return the favor. It’s an exhausting ordeal to be “on” for five days running. I don’t envy them!

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