On a barge in New York's Hudson River, Jessica Gallucci wanders around Fountain, the Armory's younger, messier but more vital satellite fair. She finds a wonderful zoo of street art at glee-inducing prices, and a delicious sausage sandwich ...
Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
“Burger, hot dog, cowboy chili, Italian sausage, New England clam chowder,” I write in my notepad.
“You like that menu?” asks the cook, watching me scribble. I say that it's perfect, for this kind of art fair. “You won't find any passed hors d'oeuvres,” she chortles. I nod, swaying slightly.
An enormous crowd sways with me, on this barge moored to Pier 66 in New York's Hudson river. The annual Armory International Fair of New Art is taking place 30 blocks upstream, at Pier 94, but the party is here at Fountain, the Armory's younger, messier but more vital satellite fair.
The founders of the fair are independent gallerists from Brooklyn, David Kesting and John Leo, of Leo Kesting Gallery. Kesting and Leo banded together with other Brooklyn dealers to organise the bi-annual fair, which has expanded in recent incarnations to include international exhibitors. The duo constructed the walls and lighting for the show themselves, and hand-painted signs hang here and there, adding to the fair's homegrown aesthetic.
Tonight is the artists' reception, and on a low stage at the hull, a DJ spins records beneath a video projection of paint-spattered women dancing in the nude (“Legacy Fatale”, by Coco Dolle). At McCaig Welles's politically themed space, there is a bikinied go-go dancer on a podium strewn with roses. A table nearby bears more than two-dozen cupcakes decorated with obscenities, part of an installation by Greg Haberny. There is a full bar, of course.
There is also plenty of bracingly good art.
Near the DJ stand, Stuart Shepherd Gallery shows work by self-taught artists from New Zealand. I'm immediately drawn to a short video by Sarah Jane Parton, in which a woman in an absurd pink leotard (Parton herself, it turns out) hops around amateurishly on an outdoor track at night. Part silly home movie, part breathtaking study of movement through space—each frame is expertly composed—I find myself watching it again and again.
At Leo Kesting's space, Jason Douglas Griffin (top) and Donna Cleary are the standouts. Griffin's “Cool Gray” ($3,000), a mixed-media painting of an androgynous, plaid-shirted woman, her gaze alert to the viewer's, a cigarette cantilevered from the corner of her open mouth, is at once sensuous and grimy: a muddy wash dribbles down the front of the canvas, and the top of the work has been graffittied in an oblique scrawl of wax crayon.
Cleary's charcoal-on-paper portrait, “Gone” ($2,800), depicts a hunched woman, her hand to her face in a gesture of despair. Precise cross-hatching shades the figure's ribs and lends extra wretchedness to the lank tendrils that obscure her face.
Glowlab has mounted two mini collections, in addition to its wall of quirky up-and-comers. They are candy-box sized, relative to the sprawl of neighbouring exhibitions, but to street-art aficionados the little booths are hallowed ground. One features a fierce snarling dog's head, silk-screened in red by Faile. Elbow-Toe's “All My Rights and Wrongs”, a three-quarter portrait of a wizened woman, her eyes downcast, one arm cradling the other, goes for $300. Dennis McNett's elaborate linocuts of wild animals glower from every corner. And Chris Stain's construction-worker print features the words: “THE BOSS NEEDS YOU. YOU DON'T NEED THE BOSS!”--a timely, morale-boosting provocation.
Next door, a mini-booth (above) hosts a fundraiser for the artist Swoon, who is preparing to embark on an Adriatic sequel to her “Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea” project (which involved navigating a homemade flotilla down the Hudson river from Troy, New York). As of Saturday night, several of the artist's silkscreens on boards were still available, as were hand-detailed prints of two women embracing, in Swoon's signature reedy lines, for $150 (in an edition of 200).
Considering how popular street art has become, these prices are glee-inducing. But the real steals are strewn across the staff's card table: squares of fabric in various colors and sizes, printed with designs by Swoon and Imminent Disaster. “They're patches,” explains a friendly girl behind the table. I sift through the stack, selecting delicate fish skeletons on pinstriped cotton, by Swoon, and what looks like a giant stylised trilobite, in bright pink ink on denim, by Imminent Disaster. The quality does vary—the prints are hand-pulled and include splotches and faint areas—but many examples are fit to be stretched on a frame and displayed. And they range in cost from $5 to $15.
“Oh!” says the girl staffing the booth, quietly. “I didn't see this one.”
She reaches across the table and fingers a scrap of buff-coloured suede bearing a symmetrical pattern of butterflies and avian skeletons—another Swoon—in iridescent gold. She pulls it towards her, folding it carefully in quarters. A minute later she tucks it away under the table.
I head outside, to the front of the barge, where an antique trolley car houses installations by Allison Berkoy, a 29-year-old video artist who begins her residency at the Experimental Television Centre this Spring. At the back of the car is a pair of life-sized mannequins sitting in wheelchairs (right), swaddled in medical gauze, facing a working television. Videos of faces are projected onto the heads, and the characters roll their eyes, make razzing sounds, titter and smile in an eerie five-minute loop.
I’m about to make my way back to land when I notice a gangway leading to a small boat adjacent to the barge. Signs on the deck direct visitors to climb below for “Soundwalk: Kill the Ego”. Descending two staircases, I find myself in the dark hold of the vessel, where a semi-circle of couches faces a movie screen. “Soundwalk” is a compilation of audio recordings taken from places in New York, paired with video of paintings in progress. Only 60 people are allowed onto this boat at a time, and after the crush of the crowds on the barge, the cool, hollow space is a haven.
Footsteps clang on metal floors elsewhere in the ship, and I decide to explore. Ascending one level, I follow a winding corridor that leads to a small exhibition of paintings by Diane Dwyer.
“Oh my goodness, it’s like a buried treasure in here,” a woman exclaims.
Sunken treasure is more like it: Dwyer’s tonally pleasing oil paintings are of shipwrecks and other submerged objects. On the wall next to “Pile” (an abstract grouping of gold, teal and orange forms against a muddy green background, $2,600) is a small, battered door labelled “C-201-L”. I step through it, towards two ancient cots suspended from a low ceiling. In one corner of the tiny room, spot-lit from above, is Dwyer’s “Hull Interior” (oil on linen, $2,400), which depicts a crumbling structure in the exact shade of rust that pocks the wall it hangs on.
A metallic boom sounds from upstairs, followed by laughter: someone has found the enormous bell at the prow of the ship. This fair is so much fun, with its obstacle-course layout, low prices and anti-establishment vigour, that I wonder if it will attract the kind of big-name collectors who can make the difference in an artist’s career. This is no yacht, after all, and should they lack the spirit of enterprise necessary to locate Dwyer’s works, to hoist themselves into Berkoy’s little trolley, or even to bother journeying down the West Side Highway from the Armory show, collectors would be missing a great deal.
All that exploring leaves me hungry, and I return to the grill to order an Italian sausage sandwich. I think, as I’m devouring it, how glad I am that it isn’t a canapé on a cocktail napkin.
Image credits: David Barron
(Jessica Gallucci is assistant editor of More Intelligent Life and a writer based in New York.)