Flux Art Fair Bets Big on Public Artwork This Year

"You activate a space with art," the director says.

Bayete Ross Smith, Got the Power: Harlem (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.
Bayete Ross Smith, Got the Power: Harlem (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

Harlem’s Flux Art Fair takes to the great outdoors this May, with an installation of public artworks by over 40 artists currently on view in Marcus Garvey Park.

The fair, led by director Leanne Stella, held its inaugural edition in 2015 at the historic Corn Exchange building on East 125th Street. Part of the reason behind the move outdoors was practical, Stella told artnet News during a pre-opening tour of the exhibition, given the relative lack of large indoor spaces in the neighborhood.

“There was always an intention to include public art in Flux,” so when the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance invited the fair to do something there, Stella quickly proposed recasting this year’s edition as a public art exhibition, she explained. (It is the Parks Department’s largest single-entity project to date.)

Artists were asked to respond to the theme “Changing Landscapes,” but were free to interpret that quite broadly, be it on a global level, or specifically within Harlem.

Suprina Kenney, DNA Totem (sample). Photo: courtesy Art in the Parks.

Suprina Kenney, DNA Totem (sample). Courtesy Art in the Parks.

Suprina Kenney‘s DNA Totem, for instance, a large helix composed of found objects, speaks to the environmental impact that our species has on the Earth. “There’s a little bit of a pun to it,” she told artnet News, asking “is it in our very DNA to destroy our own planet with all these objects that we throw away?”

In a similar vein, Lucy Hodgson‘s Surge takes on the question of climate change. The rippling wooden wave is constructed from shingles ripped from the roofs of New England beach houses during storms and collected by the artist.

Lucy Hodgson, Surge (2002/2014). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

Lucy Hodgson, Surge (2002/2014). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

On a more local level, Michele Brody drew directly on the site itself, responding to the park’s Fire Watchtower, which has been removed from its regular spot atop the hill for renovations. Brody has placed an image of the tower and surrounding buildings on a chain-link fence cordoning off the site, allowing viewers to envision the tower in its regular location. The image, titled Fire Watchtower Fence, is created by embedding hydroponic sprouts in handmade paper, and then coating the paper in wax to preserve the ghostly image.

Another example of an artist responding to the local terrain is Jordan Baker-Caldwell‘s Golem, a 10-foot-tall head that serves as a kind of guardian to the neighborhood, which is built from recycled car parts, from taxi cabs to food trucks. “When he was building it, people from the neighborhood were bringing him pieces of metal,” said Stella of the work, which is part Transformers, part totem.

Bayete Ross Smith, Got the Power: Harlem (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

Bayete Ross Smith, Got the Power: Harlem (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

For anyone who’s spent time walking across 125th Street, the vendors blasting classic tunes from tinny boomboxes remain a familiar sound. Bayeté Ross Smith has built a massive tower from some 50 vintage sound systems. Got the Power: Boomboxes, Harlem will play a soundtrack of songs submitted by people in the neighborhood, adding additional selections throughout the fair’s run based on community input.

Engaging with the people of Harlem is of key importance to Stella’s vision for Flux. As artnet News toured the exhibition on Monday afternoon, several park visitors approached Stella, asking about the artwork. “It has been amazing to see people’s reactions to the work. From the guy who’s sleeping in the park to the person who’s walking their kid to school, everybody is excited about it,” she said.

Also on hand during artnet News’s visit was a Parks Department landscaping crew, which was vigorously pruning ahead of the opening. “You activate a space with art, and the city starts to pay more attention to it,” noted Stella.

Jeffrey Allen Price Fillings (Brickolage) (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

Jeffrey Allen Price Fillings (Brickolage) (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

For his project, Jeffrey Allen Price has responded directly to the park’s state of decline, rebuilding missing segments of the stone staircase from cast-off materials, such as broken egg shells, used tin foil, and laundry lint. “The laundry lint comes form that laundromat over there,” Price told artnet News, pointing just across the street, from where the business owner has a clear view of the artwork. He considers his irreverent Fillings (Brickolage) interventions both “impractical and hilarious” and “decorative and trashy at the same time.”

Although the fair places a strong emphasis on the local community (half of the participating artists are from Harlem), Stella hopes Flux will help draw the international spotlight to the neighborhood as well. As she is quick to point out, “Flux is literally a ten minute taxi ride from Frieze,” which has listed the fair in its list of VIP events.

Kurt Steger, Urban Structure (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

Kurt Steger, Urban Structure (2016). Courtesy of Flux Art Fair Harlem.

Scattered across the park, seeing all of the works will be a challenge, inviting return visits. Even Stella admitted she still hadn’t identified one exact path to see it all in one go.

That seems in keeping with the fair’s ethos: “Flux is always changing and moving,” said Stella.

Flux Art Fair Harlem is on view in Marcus Garvey Park, 18 Mt Morris Park West, May 3–31, 2016. Following the public opening on May 3 at 6:00 p.m., a “celebration stroll” (8:oo p.m.–10:00 p.m., $25) will see ten local establishments host live music with specialty cocktails. 


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