Portal Art Fair Lets in Some Promising New Voices

It's a new addition to a packed fair week.

Frieze Week is about to hit New York like a waterfall of high-fructose corn syrup. All kinds of artist-organized events spring up around the main attraction, with hopefuls holding out their hands to catch some of the sugary runoff. This year, one of the new additions is the Portal Art Fair, located at Federal Hall National Memorial in the Financial District, which has the kind of scruffy, up-with-people vibe that makes you want to root for it.

Portal comes courtesy of 4heads, a non-profit group helmed by Nicole Laemmle, Jack Robinson, and Antony Zito. They also put together the Governor’s Island Art Fair, which has always had more of the feel of a jolly open studios than a cut-throat art fair. For the inaugural edition of the new event, the organizers asked the Parks Department to use the historic Federal Hall, inviting 30 of their favorite artists from past iterations of the Governor’s Island event to make works for the space (for next year, they told me, they hope to open it to participants outside of this circle).

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The founders of the Portal Art Fair: [left to right] Antony Zito, Nicole Laemmle, and Jack Robinson. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

The results are pretty much the exact opposite of the tony, high-end, ultra-exclusive Frieze vibe. Instead of a ferry to an island inhabited by the most exclusive galleries, here the art rubs shoulders with packs of tourists looking for a classic New York photo op, and there are no galleries at all.

Because Federal Hall is technically a public park, Portal can’t sell anything directly on site; you can find the prices and contact info online. The artists get to keep all sales (the fair “suggests” that they donate 30 percent to 4heads to help cover expenses).

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The rotunda of Federal, with visitors mingling with sculptures by Will Kurtz. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

The whole thing is a bit chaotic, but good fun. The art occupies a basement space, the main foyer, and then an upper deck. It’s a mixed bag, and no one is really breaking any molds. It’s “emerging” art, but it all looks very eager-to-please. Still, you’ve got to admire the hustle, and there are plenty of promising voices coming in through the Portal.

Here are a few:

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Jackie Mock’s Matches (Gradient Study). Courtesy of Ben Davis.

Jackie Mock makes cabinets and framed boxes, collecting various detritus from the streets into whimsical compositions. There’s a set of drawers that pull out, containing little wishbones, one broken for each day of the year.

Another work, a small box, features matches, arrayed to go from white on the left over to completely black on the right, through all the variations in between.

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Peering into Laetitia Soulier’s The square Roots Sculpture (2016). Courtesy of Ben Davis.

French artist Laetitia Soulier (the only participant here who is not New York-based) has an intriguing diorama from her “Square Roots” series. Peering inside, you are greeted by a meticulous dollhouse environment full of trippy interlocking patterns, conjuring something playfully otherwordly.

Simona Prives's <em>Black Remnants II</em> (2016)<be> Image: Courtesy Simona Prives

Simona Prives’s Black Remnants II (2016). Courtesy Simona Prives.

Simona Prives offers a wall of delicate, looping ink animations, showing landscapes making and unmaking themselves.

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Woven photographs in Portal by David Samuel Stern. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

David Samuel Stern takes multiple portraits of the same figure from slightly different angles and weaves them together into a single photo, resulting in a form of art somewhere intriguingly in between a lenticular print and a quilt. It’s a nice effect.

Jayoung Moon's <em>Form and Emptiness 07</em> (2015)<br> Image: Courtesy Jayoung Moon

Jayoung Moon’s Form and Emptiness 07 (2015). Courtesy of Jayoung Moon.

Jayoung Yoon‘s sculptures from her “Form and Emptiness” series consist of meticulous woven mesh boxes, hung from the ceiling. Each cradles a different geometric form at its heart, and all are woven from strands of human hair. The resulting little abstract sculptures feel both intimate and elegant.

The official reception for the Portal Art Fair is Thursday, May 5, from 6 to 9 pm at Federal Hall.

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