At the Governors Island Art Fair, Artists Get a Room of Their Own
Get a jump-start on the fall art season.
You may not quite be ready, but the fall art season unofficially kicks off this weekend, with the Governors Island Art Fair (GIAF).
Presented by the New York City-based non-profit 4heads, this independent exhibition is a strange and magical place where disembodied fingers can crawl across a kitchen fridge (Shannon McBride), nuclear disasters can get trapped in a bottle (Yusam Sung), and a massive space ship comprised of junk cars seems poised to take off from the front lawn (Aleksandr Razin).
Now in its eighth year, the fair, which runs on weekends through September 27, features 100 artists selected through an open call, each given a room on Colonel’s Row in which to create and exhibit their work. As the island has attracted more and more New Yorkers eager to escape the crowded city streets, the fair has become an annual destination—and an excellent showcase for innovative art.
4heads cofounder Nicole Laemmle can still recall one rainy, gray day during the fair’s inaugural 2008 run, in which a bored security guard stopped by the fair and informed her that the island had only 12 visitors, an unimaginable number today.
The island’s popularity has skyrocketed in the years since, bringing at times unwelcome scrutiny and oversight from officials. This year, the fire department weighed in, and found the fair’s third floor attic spaces—accessible by a single, narrow staircase—off limits due to the fire code.
Luckily, 4Heads appealed to the National Parks Service, which came through with what Laemmle described to artnet News as “six amazing, really old, creepy spaces down in the magazine where they used to keep the ammunition” at Fort Jay, which dates to the Revolutionary War.
With interior exhibition space limited, the fair has increased its number of outdoor works, such as four plastic sculptures by Niki Lederer that at first appear to be a cheerful, candy-colored, more delicate take on one of John Chamberlain’s lyrical compositions of car parts.
Crafted from fragments of colorfast plastic bottles sourced from her neighbors’ recycling (the ubiquitous Tide bottle will fade, so Lederer only uses it for indoor pieces), the repurposed works are a way for the artist to draw attention to the role mass consumption plays in our culture.
Throughout the exhibition, artnet News recognized the work of several returning artists including Peter Goldwater, who melds his ceramic forms with black iron plumbing joints. Goldwater last participated in the fair in 2013 (artists can show in two consecutive years, but must then take a year hiatus before applying again.)
Though he initially began mixing the two media as a way to create larger works than what could be individually fired in his kiln, Goldwater has since scaled down, creating smaller, spider-like works that you can see in 407 B.
Jillian Clark’s installation—she dusted a stairwell with a chalky orange lines created using a chalk snapline construction tool—is instantly identifiable in room 404A, if you spotted her similarly stunning 2014 installation.
Just below, don’t miss Sean Boggs’s hypnotizing work Paper Polygons, a slowly rotating sculpture that is a bright blue and purple vision in an otherwise pitch black room. Boggs places it behind a screen, with just an iPhone-sized window offering a small glimpse of the whole work, so that it at first appears to be a digitally-rendered graphic.
Also on hand is a selection of incredibly intricate laser-cut balsa wood-and-acrylic scale models of buildings by Olalekan Jeyifous that offer an intriguing blend of architectural styles.
Other standouts include Sam Horowitz’s work in wood in 406B, the massive, explosive Clean Break, made from long thin scraps of discarded wood he’s been collecting since 2008, and Sascha Mallon‘s mural full of fairy tale-like characters in 407A, which almost seem like illustrations out of a children’s book, save for their decidedly adult subject matter.
In 407B, Blair Cahill offers a hard take on the traditionally feminine art of embroidery, displaying sheer silk on powdered-coated steel mounts arranged in a spherical shape. A long, gauzy three-paneled work recalls a stained glass window, lending the space an almost sacred feel.
Over at Fort Jay, the fair has focused on video- and projection-based work. Entering the bowels of the magazine, the temperature immediately drops ten degrees, adding to the overall gloom of the dimly lit makeshift gallery.
There, Rachel Rampleman, who last year showed three video works including a montage of female body builders, returns with Phantasma, a flickering display of footage from a Motley Crue concert projected on the arched wall and ceiling of her cell-like room.
Laurent Fort also takes advantage of the eerie space combining sheets of mirrored acetate, water, and LED lights to create haunting reflective projections paired with an atmospheric audio track.
Though the Governors Island summer season concludes at the end of the month, along with the fair, Laemmle is optimistic for a longer season in the future.
“I can’t wait,” she said, “for the island to at some point be open year round!”
The Governors Island Art Fair is on view weekends September 5–27, 2015.
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