13 May 2018

Art New York 2018

I haven’t been to many art fairs; gallery shows and museum exhibitions, sure—plenty and varied.  Even the occasional artist’s studio.  I’ve been to the odd county fair that included a sampling of art and craftwork among the agriculture and artisanry exhibits.  (I even have a wonderful ceramic sculpture I bought at a Maryland county fair—the artist, Doug DeLind, is a Michigander—in around 1993.)  I went to an ArtExpo New York in about 1987 when it was housed at the then-newly opened Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s far West Side in Midtown.  Israeli sculptor Hayim (now known as Haim) Azuz was exhibiting there and I had bought one of his bronzes a few years earlier at the Israeli artists’ colony of Safed, so he sent me an announcement.  That was the extent of my exposure to art fairs until 4 May (yes, Star Wars Day) 2018 when I went up to Pier 94 at 55th Street and 12th Avenue on Manhattan’s Hudson River bank for Art New York 2018.

This year’s Art New York was the city’s fourth, running from Thursday, 3 May, to Sunday, 6 May; the inaugural fair was in 2015.  (Art New York, founded by Miamian Nick Korniloff, actually started in 2014 as the Downtown Art Fair, housed in the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue between East 25th and 26th Streets in Manhattan, not far from where I live.)  As it happened, the same period of May this spring was art fair week in New York City, with Frieze New York taking place on Randall’s Island on 4-6 May, TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) New York Spring 2018 at the Park Avenue Armory on 4-8 May, and 1-54 Contemporary African Art New York 2018 from 4-6 May in Brooklyn.  Also in Brooklyn the same weekend were The Other Art Fair, 3-6 May, and Fridge Art Fair, 2-6 May.  (In mid-April, the 2018 ArtExpo was installed at Pier 94.)  I got a brochure for Art New York, however, with a two-fer ducat (regular day tickets went for $40 with discounts available for seniors and students), so I called my friend Diana, a member of several art museums in New York City and a former art student at New York’s Art Students League, and asked if a trip to Pier 94 for the fair interested her.  She affirmed it did, so we met a 3 p.m. on that Friday and spent five hours (until closing) walking through the fair and it was fascinating. 

Art New York, an offshoot of Art Miami, includes nearly 100 galleries from 30 countries—including cities across the United States.  It’s a commercial set-up—there was a “VIP Preview” day on Thursday, 3 May, principally for gallery buyers and collectors—so the art is all for sale (at prices mostly in the five-figure range).  The fair’s promos state that Art New York displays “works by important artists from the contemporary, modern, post-war and pop eras” and provides “a platform for a selection of new and established contemporary galleries to present emerging, mid-career and cutting-edge talent.”  Each booth was a display by a retail gallery with work by such artists as David Hockney, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Anish Kapoor; there were also special exhibits like a solo show by Cey Adams (Gary Lichtenstein Editions of Jersey City, NJ), the original creative director of Def Jam Recordings; a display by Jason Newsted, the one-time Metallica bassist, of his on-going series, “RAWK” (55Bellechasse, Paris and Miami); and an installation by actor-turned-artist Adrien Brody. 

There was also a considerable presence of charitable organizations; for instance, the “RAWK” exhibit supported the Perry J. Cohen Foundation, which sponsors the arts and environmental, marine, and wildlife education and preservation, and the Cey Adams (American, b. 1962) exhibit benefited the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation that helps to fight homelessness and hunger in the U.S.  Also represented were the Children’s Museum of the Arts in Manhattan’s SoHo and the Joe Namath Foundation that supports several children’s charities and neurological research.

At 133,000 square feet, the T-shaped Pier 94 has become a preferred site for large exhibitions, both for trade shows and for art expositions.  Approximately 144 feet wide by 746 feet long, the pier building can be configured in several ways, but for Art New York, it was essentially a straight promenade of three aisles with cross-overs about every 25 yards or so and several side displays at the entrance.  (The building’s ceiling height is 20-26 feet, so the space feels cavernously high.)  There must have been about 150 display booths, clustered in groups of three to five, with a cocktail bar off to the left at the front, a café bar to the right, a “VIP Lounge” in the center, and a café at the far end. 

The booths were all identical, like oversized office cubicles, all white-walled and without ceilings, running in four rows along the length of the building.  Some of the art spilled over into the aisles, lending to the sense of a vast, almost endless space.  Looking down the aisle from the entrance, it seemed to go on forever—and when we actually reached the café at the western end of the exposition, I was taken a little by surprise.  There were few places to stop and sit down, aside from the lounge and the café, so five hours made for a long (and physically tiring) afternoon.  Since there’s no unifying theme as in museum shows and even most gallery exhibits, it was a lot like looking at an art kaleidoscope.  Fair publicity asserts that there were 1,200 artists represented.  I won’t be able to give a detailed “review” of Art New York,  so I intend just to try to describe my experience that Friday afternoon. 

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t an enjoyable experience.  I’m not sure I’d rush to repeat it, but it wasn’t a disappointment; after all, I did spend five hours there.  In general, I’m not enamored of the latest in art—say from the ’90s on (see my report on the Whitney Biennial, posted on 22 June 2017)—but there was also a lot of work from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (and even earlier, the classics of 20th-century art), and some surprising exhibits that were interesting to see even if I wouldn’t want to own any of the art.  

Among the stalwarts of the 20th century were Stanley Boxer (represented in my late parents’ art collection by my mother’s favorite piece, Highfromblare (High From Blare), c. 1987; see my report “A Passion For Art: My Parents’ Art Collecting,” posted on Rick On Theater on 21 November 2017), Fernando Botero (ditto and Fernando Botero: Abu Ghraib (2007),” 26 November 2017), Alexander Calder (“Calder: Hypermobility at the Whitney,” 21 August 2017), Marc Chagall, Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Marcel Duchamp, M. C. Escher, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, David Hockney, Hans Hofmann, Robert Indiana (and his many imitators), Jasper Johns, Yayoi Kusama (whom I looked for but didn’t see on my visit; see my profile on 18 May 2017), Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Joan Miró, Kenneth Noland (of the Washington Color School; see my article on 21 September 2014), Pablo Picasso (yes, that guy), Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Richard Serra, Andy Warhol (some of whose pieces on show were different from what I expect from this artist), among others. 

Diana, to her delight, was very taken with Sam Francis (American, 1923-94), an abstract expressionist whose work was exhibited by several galleries at Art New York.  Diana spotted a couple of his pieces in a display very close to the entrance, the Rosenfeld Gallery of Manhattan and Miami, and was so impressed with his use of color and space that she took a few cell-phone photos to send to her friend in Chicago who’s a former gallerist in that city.  After Untitled of 1953 (watercolor on paper on board) and untitled of 1990 (acrylic on paper), Diana stopped at many other Francis canvases in the exposition (Untitled SF87-071 (Acrylic), 1987, Gilden’s Art Gallery, London; Untitled, 1982, Masterworks Fine Art, Oakland, Calif.) and exclaimed to the gallery reps staffing the displays how much she admired the art for its “core,” by which she meant the solid basis of the work, the artist’s groundedness in the principles of his art, the seriousness of his intentions—as opposed, it appeared, to the impulsiveness of other, later expressionists who, Diana seemed to feel, just daubed paint haphazardly on the canvas or paper without consideration of balance or harmony.  (I’ve said before that Diana appears to like art that follows established principles and fits recognizable patterns, even in abstract art.  She displays the same predilection in theater.)

The Rosenfeld Gallery, right at the beginning of our trek, also displayed a number of other striking pieces by established artists, sort of setting a tone for the afternoon’s experience.  Aside from Francis, among the artists from the mid-20th century were Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-85 – Group Society, 1979; Dessin Bonpeit beau neuille, 1982), Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-97 – Landscape 7, 1967), Andy Warhol (American, 1928-87 – Jacqueline Kennedy II ( Jackie II), 1966; Rollover Mouse (From the Toy Painting Series), 1983), Kenneth Noland (American, 1924-2010; Doors Easel, 1989), and Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976 – Untitled, 1949; Untitled, 1965).  These are all artists with whose work I’m quite familiar—or so I thought. I got the same lesson throughout the fair.

Warhol’s Jacqueline Kennedy II, for instance, is a color silkscreen print of a photo bust of the former First Lady, not unlike other work by the pop artist, but Rollover Mouse (synthetic polymers and silkscreen inks on canvas), while it’s a recreation of the box from a child’s wind-up toy, it’s much more impressionistic than his iconic soup cans and Brillo boxes, with blurry edges of the lettering and the mouse figures.  Labeled a “unique work,” it’s also not the whole box, as if it were a cropped photo.  Lichtenstein’s Landscape 7, a screenprint on four-ply, white rag board using iridescent silver Mylar collage mounted on board, wasn’t one of his signature comic book scenes (though there were some of those around as well) but a geometric abstract, more Op than Pop. 

Calder, whose mobiles were the subject of the recent Hypermobility and whose wire sculptures were the heart of Focus at the Museum of Modern Art about a decade ago, was a surprise for me with his 1965 Untitled gouache on paper which, while it could have been a graphic representation of the elements of one of his more fanciful mobiles, was apparently filtered through the eye of Joan Miró with some of the Spanish Surrealist’s squiggles, arachnidan thingies, crescent moons, and discs floating over a schmeared pink-and-brown background.  (The two artists met in Paris in 1928 and became lifelong friends.  There were actual Mirós in several other galleries at Art New York.)  The small 1949 Untitled (it’s only 9 x 12), gouache and ink on paper, was even more of a surprise: a totally abstract expressionistic piece of black and white splotches, with irregular outlines and blurred edges, and a black circle in a red field. 

Golden oldies weren’t the only art that Rosenfeld premièred for us at the fair.  Nearly ubiquitous at Art New York were two former street artists who flourished in the 1980s: Keith Haring (American, 1958-90), with 1981’s ink-on-paper Untitled, Untitled from 1982, 1983’s Monkey Man, and  Untitled of 1986, in Rosenfeld’s display, and Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-88), whose untitled (marker on paper, 1981) and In Color (oil, acrylic, oil stick, and mixed media on paper, 1986) were exhibited by that gallery as well.  These artists, though, didn’t surprise with divergences from their familiar styles—neither artist having lived long enough, I suppose, to stray from their initial impulses.  (I’m not really a fan of Basquiat, but Haring’s virtually an icon of late-20th-century American art, and I actually still remember with fondness his signature chalk drawings in the blank advertising panels in the New York subway stations; their whimsy and the joy Haring seemed to be expressing with his dancing figures—even the dogs—made a subway ride more tolerable, especially in the Execrable Eighties.) 

Adrien Brody, a film producer and Oscar-winning actor (for The Pianist in 2002), turned seriously to making art with his début exhibit in 2015 at Art Basil Miami.  He’d been painting as an avocation for a long time, he’s said, because he appreciates “the creative autonomy afforded me as an artist, which an actor doesn’t have.”  His multi-media installation, Metamorphosis: Transformations of the Soul, is displayed in a small room off to the right, just past the entrance to Art New York and uses  video, sound, photographs, collage, and painting to explore Brody’s artistic influences, reflecting “a lifetime of influences, experiences and labors of love.”  Viewers walk into the roomlet that brings to mind a cluttered artist’s studio (which exists somewhere in upstate New York, but the exhibit attendants wouldn’t say where) to encounter mementos, bits of art or art studies, photos, newspaper clippings, books, bric-a-brac, and an apparently haphazard collection of items, as if Brody’d been assembling bits and pieces of his life over many years.  Entering through a doorway on the left, visitors may meander through the space at will for as long as they wish, communing with Brody’s assemblage, eventually exiting back out to the small wing of the exposition through a doorway on the right.  I found myself rather unengaged by the experience, but I suppose your response depends a lot on your interest in the actor.

Near Metamorphosis was the small exhibit of the Joe Namath Foundation.  Several contemporary artists celebrated legendary Jets quarterback Namath, whose 75th birthday is on Thursday, 31 May, in a set of specially selected works.  Edwin Baker III (American, b. 1991), a Florida-based painter who is Broadway Joe’s son-in-law, created I Get Better Looking Every Day (2018), a collage portrait of the Hall of Famer for the Art New York exhibit.  Other artists in the display, the proceeds of which go entirely to the foundation, included Skyler Grey, Bradley Theodore, Mr. Brainwash (the anonym of French-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker and street artist Thierry Guetta), Harry Benson (an iconic photograph of the Hall of Famer), Danny Minnick, Jason Newsted, Al Baseer Holly (aka ABH), and Yigal Ozeri.  (While most of the art in this display clearly and directly referred to Namath, famous football player, one painting seemed to be all about The Simpsons—yes, those Simpsons: Homer and Bart, et al.  I can only guess that the allusion is to the two appearances Namath made on the animated TV show.  Namath’s image doesn’t appear in the painting, the creator and title of which I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember.)

In the exhibit of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Newsted (American, b. 1963), “RAWK” (the title is the “eye dialect” spelling of ‘rock’), with which I was unfamiliar, stopped me at the 55Bellechasse cubicle because so many of his images resembled Basquiat: Circle of Willits (2006), Blue Griot (2007).  Then I spotted one canvas frankly called Basquiatty (2007), which kind of clinched my impression!  At the Cavalier Galleries (Greenwich, Conn.; New York City; Nantucket, Mass.), I was also arrested in my amble down the aisle of Art New York by a sculpture with which I felt I was familiar.  Well, not so much the actual sculpture, but its style, so I thought I recognized the artist’s work.  It’s a 6½-foot tall bronze casting of a standing man in a sort of neo- impressionistic rendering.  He’s holding out his right hand, bent at the elbow, and on his up-turned palm stands a tiny version of what I took to be himself.  The larger image is looking gently at the little man in his hand, his left arm behind his back.  The sculpture is called Inner Dialogue (2017) by Jim Rennert (American, b. 1958), and I knew I’d seen something very like it, in a much larger scale, in Union Square a year or so ago.  So I stopped and asked a man in the gallery who was wearing an ID badge around his neck if this was the same artist.  “It is,” said the man I took for a gallery attendant, “and I’m the artist!”  (Rennert’s 2013 Think Big was the piece on public display in a triangle off the southeast corner of Union Square.  The 12-foot statue, which always made me think of Charles de Gaulle, stood in the square from June 2014 to May 2015.)  

There were several other sculptures by Rennert in the gallery, including Listen (2017), a two-foot bronze piece of a man standing with a finger pressed to his lips, and Paradigm Shift, a 2017 flat bronze-and-steel panel of a forced-perspective room lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a man standing in the open doorway at the end of it, seemingly very far away.  I then noticed that the walls of the space, lined with prints and paintings, held several of a similar iconography, like Hustling (2016), depicting the black silhouette of a businessman on a yellow-and-white background, attaché in his right (up-stage) hand, walking determinedly to some engagement, which turned out to be Rennert’s work as well.

In the same gallery were several whimsical bronze sculptures of hippopotami in fabric tutus, clearly reminiscent of Edgar Degas’s famous Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878-81).  One, in fact, Hippo Ballerina, fourth position (2015), could have been a direct parody of the beloved Degas.  The artist, Bjorn Skaarup (Danish, b. 1973), has done a series of animals in human activities and costume, such as Rhino Harlequin, Bowing (undated) and Greek Warrior Mouse (undated).  I dubbed the hippo set “Degas by way of Disney” in reference to the Fantasia “Dance of the Hours” sequence from the 1940 animated film.

Obviously, some of the pleasure of Art New York were the quirky and amusing pieces, a sense of fun and humor in what’s often a self-important business, and some was the delight in seeing so many of the modern masters whose work was the cutting edge when I was growing up and experiencing art for the first time.  (I’ve written of my experiences surrounding my family’s involvement with Washington, D.C.’s Gres Gallery in “Washington Art Matters,” 5 September 2013; “Yayoi Kusama,” 18 May 2017; “A Passion for Art,” 21 November 2017; and “Fernando Botero: Abu Ghraib (2007),” 26 November 2017; among other posts.)  I’m not sure I’ll rush off to another art fair soon—it’s an exhausting endeavor—but I did enjoy Art New York, both seeing the art (though there’s an awful lot to digest if you really want to see it) and chatting with the gallerists—who are there, of course, to sell you their wares, but who also know a bit about art, especially “their” artists.

1 comment:

  1. Artist Robert Indiana, creator of the iconic 'LOVE' sculpture of 1970, died on Saturday, 19 May 2018, at his home in Vinalhaven, Maine, at the age of 89. (The near-ubiquitous image was first created as a Christmas card in 1965 for New York's Museum of Modern Art.)

    Of his famous word sculpture, Indiana said it was the 20th century's "most plagiarized work of art." He kept a collection of knock-offs to prove it. The image was released by the U.S. Postal Service as a stamp designed by the artist for Valentine's Day (14 February) 1973.