Friday, March 06, 2009

Armory Week 2009: Fountain Art Fair Review

Fountain Art Fair 2009
Art Fair review
written by Nikki Schiro in New York

So, when I was waiting for the never-ending light to cross the west side highway, I took a gander west, and in the distance my destination revealed itself, a bright yellow circus-like tent waving softly in the wind, on it read Fountain. Let me begin with an "I 'heart' fountain". Fountain is a fair that is pro-artists. Perhaps there in lies my bias. Literally built from wall to wall by John Leo and David Kesting of Leo Kesting Gallery, with the help of a few artist friends, this fair is quite unlike any of the others, just from the start. Each of those artists that gave a hand were given access to the downstairs area of the boat/barge, a very charming space, one of them referred to it as the lounge, where they exhibited some of their own work independently (cool!).

What's more, Glow Lab Gallery donated half of their space to the Swoon Boat project fundraising team, who were there today finishing up installing prints and artwork donated to help raise money for their new project, Miss Europe Armada (www.swimmingcities.org, also see www.missrockaway.org)There were nine galleries there, or so. I recommend checking this fair out, just for the freshness of it, the antithesis in some ways of the "art fair" as you know it.

Glow Lab's Beka Goedde had a few works up, layered upon layer of materials that spawned really interesting paintings. She's also got a solo-show opening up at the gallery this weekend. Glow Lab had two walls of works on paper that I enjoyed to looking at, and affordable (a lot of the labels in fountain, I noticed, had prices on them).

One thing that stands out in my mind was 2 little drawings on postcards from the should-have-been-land marked meat packing district staple Florent, a restaurant that closed this year. There were more interesting drawings, but I liked the idea of that postcard acting as a piece of history, with the sketch, a moment, a memory, preserved "just so", in that little frame.

Definition Gallery, from Baltimore, with a great selection of affordable work, was also selling very affordable limited-edition prints of paintings ($75-$100). My favorites from this gallery were the creative, colorful paintings of Chris Ryniak and Dan May. Outstanding.

McCaig Welles's gave their space over to Greg Haberny who transformed it into another world with his very ambitious installation, "The Donkey Party Game". There was so much to look at in there, there was no way I could take it all in and not miss anything…not even if I stayed there for hours. Adding to it, nearing the back end of the barge, was motion from the waves beneath, creating a drunken off-balanced feeling. I recognized Mr. Haberny, after seeing a little clip of him on NY1 repeatedly during the day. We spoke briefly about the boat moving. He chuckled, recalling the installation process on an 8 foot ladder with the boat rocking beneath him (yikes!) Well, it was worth it, Haberny.

At the back end of the boat was Stuart Shepherd Gallery, from New Zealand. Here I had the pleasure of having a really lovely conversation with Mr. Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd's gallery primarily features self-taught artists, but his goal has been to integrate both trained and untrained artists. He is soon to curate a show in Paris doing just that. Mr. Shepherd's compassion for these artists just blew me away. He himself makes an effort to get these self-taught artists recognized by the government so they can be funded, as they have trouble proving they are artists because they lack the kind of track record that comes with school, etc. (Wait, let's pause here for a moment…can you imagine New Zealand! Supporting their artists! Can we get some of that inspiration up in the US? I "heart" New Zealand, baby!) James Robinson, the only trained artist in Stuart Shepherd's lot, exhibited obsessive, diarist collages that I thought were truly terrific.

With a background in social work, Mr. Shepherd discovered Martin Thompson in devastating conditions, privately and obsessively making mind-blowing, intricate drawings and cut outs on graph paper. You wouldn't believe this artist hadn't studied modernism, or was untrained. I believe the Folk Art Museum acquired Mr. Thompson's work, and being the only artist from New Zealand in their collection, New Zealand has come to recognize him as an artist, no doubt. After finding Martin Thompson in the conditions he was in, Mr. Shepherd thought about how many other artists were out there in similar situations, so he began and executed a tremendous project in an effort to find them. Mr. Stuart Shepherd may soon release a book about the artists he found in this project, "Self-Taught and Visionary Art in New Zealand."

At Leo Kesting, I saw lots of cool stuff. My favorites were by artist Jason Douglas Griffin, the bright colorful wall of paintings by artist Brian Leo (also having a solo-show, opening this weekend), one of Ray Sell's pieces with the playboy bunny girls imposed on a group of men, who by association became "playboys." Donna Cleary's black and white figures were gorgeous, touching, and Johnny Fenix's work was quirky and colorful.

At Vagabond Schmarotzer Gallery, I liked one piece by Hiroyuki Nakamura, where the figure had his balls plopped on the table. Nakamura started painting in 2004, I looking forward to seeing his work in 5 more years, if looks this good already! Also, I liked some of the paintings by Andrew Hezuinsy; goppy oil paint abstracted figures set against textiles that he's collected from around the world. These fabrics run off the canvas in an interesting way.

Ad Hoc Art, from Bushwick, hosted a gigantic installation by Peripheral Media Projects. I saw them there today installing, it looked pretty close to completion, and pretty cool.

Downstairs, in the independent artist lounge, I really liked "Steak Knives", a funny figurative painting by Joe Heaps Nelson, and some of the work by Dave Tree and Sergio Coyote.

Next door, on the Boat, Sound Walk premiered Kill The Ego, New York Recordings 1998-2008, a motion painting film by Rostarr, directed by Jim Helton and Ron Patane. The piece was great, loved the whole experience of walking in that boat, discovering the film downstairs, having a seat and watching it in that ambiance. After I watched the film, which, did I mention already (?), was great, I walked up a staircase I hadn't come down, to discover paintings around the boat. There were some lovely little abstract paintings I really, really liked. I also noticed more work by artist Dave Tree that I had seen before, but this environment had given it a new context, and it was exciting to see there. What a spectacular space.

These dealers built the venue with their own hands, donated space to help fund artist's projects, had gone to great lengths to support their artist… Stupendous! I love it! The works here were definitely on the smaller side, more affordable, overall, and the fair itself was defiantly edgier and so very much fun to visit.

2 comments:

diane said...

Hi,
Those "lovely little abstract paintings" that you "really really liked" on the boat at the Fountain Art Fair? They were mine and if you want, you can check out more of them at www.dianedwyer.com. I'm part of the Leo Kesting coterie and would love it if you would consider adding my name to the text in your post. Thanks for giving the fair such thorough attention!
Best,
Diane

jimeye said...

Really glad you liked the film.
Thanks,
Jim