Best and Worst of the First Downtown Fair

downtown-art-fair-2014-08

The central aisle at the Downtown Fair, with a painting by Mel Ramos at center.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

The new Downtown Fair, Art Miami’s first crack at a New York City fair, is an eclectic affair. Its strong suit of secondary market dealers sets it apart from the rest of the Frieze Week slate, but it also makes for a lot of repetition in the booths at the 69th Regiment Armory. Works by John Chamberlain, Alexander Calder, Ed Ruscha, Robert Indiana, and the like abound, though the fair’s unquestioned king is Fernando Botero, who has work in virtually every other booth. That said, Miami’s Ascaso Gallery has brought a 1961 Botero, Mona Lisa a Caballo, that offers a rare glimpse of the Colombian artist’s work before he developed his signature style and is well worth seeking out in the fair’s far corner.

In addition to those heavyweights of postwar art, there are plenty of strong and worthwhile booths, and one-off wonders peppered throughout the rest of the fair. Herewith, some favorites.

downtown-art-fair-2014-07

David Richard Gallery’s booth at the Downtown Fair, with a work by Nancy Dwyer in the foreground.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

DAVID RICHARD GALLERY
The Santa Fe-based gallery has a fantastic booth with colorful works in virtually every medium, from a beautiful orange Op art painting by Julian Stanczak, Divided Red (1990, priced at $40,000), to a set of glossy urethane-on-wood sculptures by Beverly Fishman. But the stand-out offerings are a pair of Nancy Dwyer sculptures: the wooden text piece ME, MAN, MEN, MEAN (1987), priced at $10,000; and the deceptively pretty Selfish Idiot (2014), whose colorful garlands of painted plastic orbs spell out the titular insult, priced at $8,000.

downtown-art-fair-2014-02

Works by Polly Apfelbaum and Chitra Ganesh in the Durham Press booth at the Downtown Fair.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

DURHAM PRESS
In my book, there’s no better booth at the Downtown Fair than that of the Pennsylvania-based art press, whose rear alcove is a little slice of heaven. Nirvana Park 1 (2012), an aptly titled woodblock monoprint by Polly Apfelbaum for sale for $33,000, boasts a superb, striped rainbow gradient punctuated by bands of silver. On the adjacent walls, Chitra Ganesh’s portfolio of prints, Architects of the Future (2014), melds Indian iconography with comic book aesthetics for a wonderful sci-fi effect. That portfolio is available for $12,000.

downtown-art-fair-2014-05

Greely Myatt, redDot (2013).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

DAVID LUSK GALLERY
There’s a tendency toward over-stuffed booths at the Downtown Fair, but the Tennessee dealer David Lusk—who has locations in Nashville and Memphis—makes the most of his small space by hanging it sparsely. His alcove offers an oasis of optical calm where visitors should spend some time with wonderful abstract paintings by Mary Addison Hackett and speech bubble wall sculptures by Greely Myatt, including one piece, redDot (2013), whose red tips are made of the wax used to wrap cheese. That work is priced at $8,000.

downtown-art-fair-2014-09

Detail of Shony Rivnay’s Walls (2013).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

BOSI CONTEMPORARY
The Lower East Side gallery’s booth is stunningly uneven, with kitschy floral sculptures by André Feliciano, in which each flower has been replaced by a tiny camera, taking over half of the space. There are also ornately decorated wooden torpedoes and missiles by Shony Rivnay, which verge on kitsch (as well as borderline offensiveness). But the Tel Aviv-based artist’s work shines on the nearby wall, where Rivnay has hung a dozen chunks of smashed drywall on which he has painted ornate floral patterns. Those works, titled simply Walls (2013), pull off the war-zone chic aesthetic more convincingly.

downtown-art-fair-2014-10

Lauren Saltowski, Cowboy Whose Hat Fell Off (2013).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

BEST OF THE REST
Beyond the interchangeable Chamberlains and de rigueur Ruschas, the fair is speckled with gems. Detroit gallery Wasserman Projects has wonderfully weird paintings and ceramic sculptures of melting, cartoon-like figures by Lauren Saltowski, like her canvas Cowboy Whose Hat Fell Off (2013), which is priced at $3,200. Similarly evocative of melting and decomposing materials is Sweet Paste (1994), the lumpy orange-pink Ken Price sculpture that another Michigan dealer, David Klein of Birmingham, is selling for $385,000.

downtown-art-fair-2014-04

Ken Price, Sweet Paste (1994).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Installed prominently at a corner of the fair’s central aisle, Ruth Asawa’s sculpture Untitled (S.606, Hanging Single-Lobed Five-Layer Continuous Form Within a Form) from circa 1962 is a nice contrast to the noisy work nearby. Its successive orbs of copper nestled within one another cast dramatic shadows on the walls of London-based private dealership Archeus/Post-Modern’s booth.

downtown-art-fair-2014-03

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.606, Hanging Single-Lobed Five-Layer Continuous Form Within a Form) (circa 1962).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

As with any satellite fair worth its salt, there are also a number of outrageously garish works on view. Chief among these are Mel Ramos’s enormous, bold-hued paintings of nude supermodels re-enacting iconic works from art history, like Nude Descending a Staircase #2 (2004), on view in San Francisco gallery MODERNISM’s booth. (I’m not even going to get into Cleveland gallery Contessa‘s huge Mr. Brainwash presentation; just know that it’s there, and that you should avoid it at all costs.)

downtown-art-fair-2014-06

Johnston Foster, Life Psychotic III and Life Psychotic V (both 2009).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Far less pretentious, and thus much more enjoyable, are Johnston Foster’s two shark sculptures made of trash (priced at $10,000 each), which New York dealer Emmanuel Fremin is showing alongside utterly sophomoric photographs by electronica music star Moby. I’ll take junk sharks over a John Chamberlain any day.

The Downtown Fair continues at the 69th Regiment Armory through May 11.