Artist Mary Coble was lying face down on a table in the Conner Contemporary Art booth at the Pulse Fair in New York. A tattoo artist moved a buzzing needle over her flesh, drawing blood, as people strolled past clutching gallery brochures and occasionally paused to watch. Coble is a tough-looking gal with a buzz haircut but I thought she was going to bite her own forearm off in agony. In Coble’s performance, Blood Script, the artist had hate speech inklessly tattooed on her body in ornate script. An assistant pressed paper against Coble’s bleeding flesh and made prints of the ugly epithets. Yikes. The performance and the spectators’ reactions could be a metaphor for any number of things and you could also view it as a sensationalistic attention-getting stunt. I never made up my mind about it because I really couldn’t bear to nonchalantly stand and watch somebody purposely endure that kind of pain just for art.
Successful or not, Coble’s performance was probably the edgiest thing I saw in my visits to three fairs in New York last month – the Armory Show, Pulse and Volta. The Armory Show had the longest lines and the priciest entry fee – $30.00 – but was kind of disappointing overall. Word was that all the dealers were freaked out by the economy so they brought smaller and safer stuff. A great Eleanor Antin installation at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts has was one of the standouts. And there was enough neon art on view to light up Vegas. Included in the luminous extravaganza was Jonathan Monk riff on Bruce Nauman, a scrawled text piece by Tracey Emin and a glowing homage to Marcel Duchamp’s bottle rack by Bethan Huws.
Texas galleries and artists made appearances over at Pulse. Finesilver and Inman Gallery were both represented. Based in San Antonio and Houston, Finesilver Gallery showed work by Leonardo Drew and made big news by taking a big chance and bringing in Drew’s massive installation Number 90, 2003. Made in conjunction with the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia, the piece incorporates 51, count ‘em, 51 large glass vitrines. Each encases a fragile paper sculpture cast from an everyday object – everything from end tables to radiators to eyeglasses to desk fans. The sculptures look like a bunch of household objects shed their skins. The piece is, however, a shipping nightmare and Drew was reluctant to have the gallery take it to Pulse. Fortunately, the gallery made even bigger news by selling the installation, priced at $250,000, to a Spanish art foundation. No word yet on how the transatlantic shipping went.
Houston-based Inman Gallery brought a selection of gallery artists to town but forgot chairs; the fairs are BYOF (Bring Your Own Furniture) affairs. Gallery director Patrick Reynolds was standing when I stopped by the Friday of the fair while somebody else was out hunting down seating. Work by Brent Steen, Yuko Murata, Carl Suddath, Gilad Efrat, Katrina Moorhead, Duncan Ganley, Demetrius Oliver, Sigrid Sandström and David Aylsworth was on view and the gallery rotated works by Nina Bovasso, Beth Secor and Angela Fraleigh. Reynolds’s take on Pulse, was that the new location at Pier 40 was a better and more accessible venue since people could just head straight down the West Side highway from the Armory Show at Pier 94. (Last year there was apparently a lot of bitching about having to head across town from the Armory Show to Pulse’s previous location at 26th & Lexington.) Reynolds said there were also significantly more galleries participating this year.
I caught up with Reynolds last week for a post-fair wrap up. He was still following up on contacts from the fair but said Inman’s sales were approximately the same as last year. He did, however, feel people were more cautious. Reynolds said one dealer remarked to him that people’s eyes seemed to glaze over if anything was priced over $3000.
According to Reynolds, there also seemed to be an unusually high number of “consultants” floating around. "Although," he says, “I’m not quite sure what that means.” He attributes the large number of foreign visitors to the weak dollar and strong euro. Aside from sales and attracting new clients, Reynolds says, “Part of the benefit for us is reconnecting with curators. There were a fair amount of them attending and that is encouraging. Everyone was trying to get a read on the economy.”
Austin-based Lora Reynolds Gallery didn’t participate in the fairs but owner Lora Reynolds and associate director Elizabeth Chiles were in town checking them out and making studio visits. They swung by Jim Torok’s Williamsburg studio; Torok’s show Life is Good opened at Lora Reynolds this weekend.
Pulse did have some interesting work on view (Volta, not so much). In Russian artist Yevgeniy Fiks’s conceptual project Lenin for Your Library?, Fiks generously donated copies of Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism to 100 corporate libraries. He asked that they confirm receipt of his donation and their replies were unintentionally funny and revealing. A small selection of the letters was on view in the Winkleman Gallery booth. Sony wrote back and returned the book because they “cannot accept gifts” but wished Mr. Fiks “many hours of enjoyment” with his Sony purchases. Wendy’s suggested a local school would benefit more from his gesture and sent him a coupon to “enjoy” during his next visit to Wendy’s
But ultimately the thing that struck me the most about Pulse was the cavalcade of bad painting. I don’t mean the ironically bad painting of years past, or paintings in which an artist was trying hard but things somehow just didn’t work. I’m talking about unapologetically and enthusiastically bad painting. I’m talking about artists and galleries, embracing crappy, crappy painting that is indistinguishable from the stuff found in shopping malls, starving artist sales and state fair art competitions. Exactly what in the zeitgeist is fueling this shit?
Just take a gander…