9 Artists to Watch at the Governors Island Art Fair
As commercial development looms, the artist-centered fair keeps things weird.
Since 2008, the Governors Island Art Fair has been a bastion of contemporary art, with art nonprofit 4heads offering artists, many of whom lack gallery representation, the chance to take over former military housing on Governors Island with their work. This year’s edition, running September 1–30, 2018, continues the fair’s reliable track record of presenting compelling work by emerging artists in a unique environment, the decrepit houses of Colonels Row providing an unmatched atmosphere for viewing art.
There are signs, however, that Governors Island is changing. Over the last decade, the island has grown up around the fair, becoming a beloved backyard playground for New Yorkers with an ever-growing list of amenities—this year you could book an expensive glamping site, or check out the new mini golf course that replaced the annual artist-designed course from interactive arts festival Figment, which was free. And the city is considering rezoning part of the island to create a mid-density commercial district (a public meeting is being held regarding the proposal on September 26).
The brick homes of Colonels Row, which date to the 1870s, are landmarked, and will eventually be brought back up to code. But even if its venue isn’t in danger, will the quirky, out-there vibe of the fair continue to be a good fit for an increasingly tourist-friendly Governors Island?
“We never quite know how long we’re gonna be here,” admitted Antony Zito, who cofounded 4heads and the fair with Nicole Laemmle and Jack Robinson. Back in 2008, “it was a ghost town out here,” he told artnet News at the fair press preview. He believes that the fair and Figment “haven’t been fully credited” for their contributions to the island’s growth, and calls the growing development “a distilled gentrification story in a town without people.”
“I think that we’re necessary for Governors Island’s reputation as a creative public space,” added Robinson. “But 4heads isn’t just Governors Island Art Fair. If we lose the spot out here, it’s not the end of 4heads. We’re very resourceful.”
“New York is not for nostalgic people,” said Laemmle. “There is constant change.”
But if the fair, as Laemmle puts it, “represents the old spirit of New York City,” credit has to go to its artists with their wild transformations of Colonels Row, where sculptures spill out of kitchen cabinets, and transform bedrooms and stairwell closets into spaces of wonder and awe. Here are nine artists to watch from this year’s fair.
Samuelle Green’s installation, The Paper Caves, seems almost alive, the pages of cut up books transformed into a beehive-like structure that spills out the doorway and threatens to overtake the entire house. (A larger version has been on view for about a year on Saturdays at Basin and Main in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.)
“It’s all books that were slated for recycling,” said Green to artnet News. “Lots of romance novels!”
Inside the room, it is strangely meditative, with the subtle soundtrack of the artist at work, rolling thousands of pages into individual cones, playing in the background.
After studying painting at school, Monica Delgado had had enough. “I got tired of painting, but I was still very committed to the medium,” she told artnet News.
By pouring, squeezing, and drizzling paint, she began creating canvas-less works that suggest Jackson Pollock meets Lynda Benglis. In the kitchen, she’s also repurposed the trimmed scraps and odds and ends from various pieces, an artist’s pantry of supplies as appetizing as a sweet shop’s candy display.
David Siever’s sculptures, dollhouse-like rooms with period decor and white ceramic figures, are based on incidents from history—but not ones you necessarily know. He’s latched onto the smaller stories, ones that are weirder and more personal—and often sexual.
There’s Napoleon III in an imagined scene of sexual failure, a former playboy who is said to have suffered from erectile dysfunction in his old age. And then there are famed Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who each married wives of their own, a strange tryst in which a third party has no choice but to remain in the room. (Siever called it “the ultimate sexile.”)
“They are little vignettes of these horrible histories,” Siever told artnet News of the work, which inspires surprising sympathy for his unfortunate subjects.
Hayoung Lee blends art and design with her “Strata Series” sculptures, personalized furniture that she crafts from unwanted objects and materials from her friends, melding them together with epoxy, resin, concrete, and plaster.
Each piece is named after the person who supplied the materials, the useless objects that have been reborn as a functional stool or bench. “Every object has a memory,” Lee told artnet News. One work, named after her friend and her dog, for instance, includes a sheet that the dog chewed up.
An impassioned vegetarian, Emma Louise Moore isn’t exactly the type of artist you’d expect to be using taxidermy. But as part of her efforts to encourage the world to eat less meat—”cows emit 51 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases,” she told artnet News—Moore has taught herself, over the last two months, how to preserve the skin of dead animals, collecting discarded cows’ heads from the dumpsters of meat processing plants in Ireland.
The resulting sculptures, which she leaves unstuffed, are completely devoid of the hipster, Brooklyn-esque vibe of most present-day taxidermy. Their missing snouts—used for dog food—serve as a reminder of the massive scale of the livestock industry and its negative effects on the environment.
A recent graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, Guangyu Wu is showing her thesis project, an ethereal sculpture and video installation titled Seen Not Seen.
“It’s a life cycle,” the artist told artnet News. The white feathered archway is a heavenly structure, with a glowing video playing at the far end, featuring an animation of a young girl, first with her parents, then growing to adulthood.
One of the homes on Colonel’s Row has mold problem, so it was out-of-bounds this year. “As soon as I found out this building was empty, I said ‘can I please cover the windows?'” Megan Suttles told artnet News.
She’s worked with 4heads many times over the years, always utilizing different types of discarded materials to create her work. Her latest find is the scraps cut off newly pressed records, gray squiggly shapes with an undeniable organic quality.
Suttles’s first outdoor sculptures almost seem a larger-than-life manifestation of the building’s interior rot, the vinyl’s strange tentacles lending the building an ominous air not dissimilar to the Upside Down in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
DARNstudio: David Anthone and Ron Norsworthy
Both a couple and an artist duo, David Anthone and Ron Norsworthy are perhaps working harder than anyone else in the fair. “We’ll be sewing the whole time,” Anthone told artnet News, as the two men sat in the room, carefully stitching together matchbooks into massive quilts for their series “Another Country.”
They duo has designed each matchbook in memory of a person of color who has been killed by law enforcement, such as Oscar Grant, killed by a BART police officer at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station in 2009. “The matchbook is our metaphor of oppression,” said Norsworthy. “When it’s sewn down, you can’t light a match.”
They are also inspired in part by the African American women’s quilting collective of Gee’s Bend, though they are specifically setting out to disrupt the picture of what is women’s work.
One of the pleasures of the Governors Island Art Fair is meeting the artists, who are typically there in the room, ready to talk about their work. That’s not the case with Paola Citterio, who was working as an artist in residence with 4heads when she flew to Italy to visit her mother in May.
The kitchen is as she left it, an artist’s workshop full of her felted sculpture, with a sign explaining that the American consulate informed Citterio that her visa was being revoked. Her husband and children flew home without her. The artist has titled the unintentionally haunting installation The Artist Is Absent, supplying wall text to explain the sad circumstances.
The Governors Island Art Fair is on view at Governors Island, Colonel Row, September 1–30, 2018, Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Admission is free, with a $3 ferry ride to the island from the Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St, New York, and Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park Greenway, Brooklyn.
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