Here Are 9 Affordable Works We Love at the Portal Fair on Governor’s Island, New York’s Least Pretentious Art Fair

Here are the highlights of the free fair on New York's historic Colonel's Row.

Will Kurtz, Have a Nice Day at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Labor Day weekend marks the start of the newly rechristened art fair Portal: Governors Island, the free annual event that takes over the deteriorating brick mansions that once housed officers on New York’s Governors Island, a quirky historic destination that has recently expanded its offerings to include glamping and an oyster bar.

Long before well-heeled art collectors were boarding the ferry for Frieze on Randall’s, the Governors Island Art Fair, as Portal was previously called, was New York City’s first island-based art fair, founded in 2008 by the art nonprofit 4heads, run by Antony ZitoNicole Laemmle, and Jack Robinson. Now returning for its 12th year, the fair may have a new name, but its dedication to engaging an audience outside of the art world cognoscenti remains unchanged.

The 4heads team has garnered a reputation for fostering the careers of emerging artists, and offering a refreshing antidote to the market-driven New York art world. At Portal, works are largely affordable and the bulk of the profits go directly to artists It also offers a chance to encounter art in an unconventional environment. Here, the traditional white cube is replaced by kitchens, bedrooms, and other residential spaces.

There’s also public art on the lawns, including the largest Will Kurtz dog sculpture I’ve ever seen, ingeniously crafted from plastic bags, rather than the artist’s usual newspaper.

Portal, which 4heads previously used as the name of two art fairs staged in Manhattan, will be the brand of all the organization’s endeavors going forward. And after years of being year-to-year tenants at Colonels Row, 4heads recently signed a three-year agreement to continue on Governors Island, with the hope that Portal can also travel, perhaps popping up again in Manhattan.

Without further ado, here are some of our favorite picks for art on offer for $10,000 or less at Portal.

Miggy Buck, Rapunzel, $7,000

Miggy Buck, <em>Rapunzel</em> at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Miggy Buck, Rapunzel at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

A massive red chain spilling across the red lawn, Miggy Buck’s Rapunzel was inspired by the artist’s three years working in a foundry, though it’s made from wood, not metal. “I have of a love that ’70s steel work of a lot of strong I-beam things by male artists,” Buck told artnet News. “I wanted to soften it, making it a women’s hand.”

 

Taezoo Park, Distance Sensor, $1,750

Taezoo Park, <em>Distance Sensor</em>. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Taezoo Park, Distance Sensor. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

“I’m combining abandoned technology and new technology,” Taezoo Park said of his scavenged electronic sculptures. Equipped with sensors, they buzz and light up as you walk by—and it’s a jarring experience—but they are also surprisingly elegant art objects in their own right.

 

Anne Muntges, Titched In, $10,000

Anne Muntges, <em>Titched In</em> at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Anne Muntges, Titched In at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

My favorite works at the fair tended to lean toward artists who draw inspiration from the architecture. Anne Muntges literally drew all over her space, painting the walls white and meticulously covering nearly every surface—floor and ceiling not included—with black acrylic paint hatch marks. The delicate black-and-white line work made it feel a little bit like you were stepping into an Edward Gorey drawing. Muntes will custom design an entire room in this style, while the individual components are priced at $200 to $800.

 

Gail M. Boykewich, Goldfinch, $2,000

Gail M. Boykewich, <em>Goldfinch</em>. Courtesy of the artist.

Gail M. Boykewich, Goldfinch. Courtesy of the artist.

Gail M. Boykewich has created a cheerful installation of paintings and papier-mâché sculptures in one of the Colonels Row kitchens, covering the backsplash with astroturf and the counters with large green leaves. The effect is that of transporting the space to some kind of Surrealist tropical getaway, imbuing the scene with a sense of magical realism. The artist’s sculptures start at just $70, with paintings ranging from $275 to $2,000.

 

Sophie Gamand, “The End of Love” series, $1,300 each

Sophie Gamand, <em>Cookie, Hempstead, Long Island</em>. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sophie Gamand, Cookie, Hempstead, Long Island. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sophie Gamand’s portraits of the much-maligned pit bull aim to rehabilitate the breed’s reputation by posing shelter pitt bulls from around the country in floral crowns—and went slightly viral last year. Here, she’s displayed them with sculptural arrangements of fake flowers, as well as a print-out featuring biographies about each of her subjects.

 

Jiwon RhieFlower Dogs, $300

Jiwon Rhie, <em>Flower Dogs</em>. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jiwon Rhie, Flower Dogs. Photo courtesy of the artist.

If you like dogs and flowers, and also mechanical toys, you’ll adore these adorable floral robots, which have adorably invaded a Governors Island kitchen. These little pups are charming and weird in the best kind of way.

 

Xiaoyue LiuWhere Did All the Squirrels Go?, $2,850 per video

Xiaoyue Liu, Where Did All the Squirrels Go? at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Xiaoyue Liu, Where Did All the Squirrels Go? at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Xiaoyue Liu has created a series of lovely, lonely vignettes in her Where Did All the Squirrels Go?, a set of three animated videos that incorporate both 2-D illustration and 3-D animation. Conceived of more as a trio of “moving paintings” than short films, and displayed in what look like gilded frames, the works feel like something out of a modern-day fairytale.

 

Eleisha GrantPain Is Pain, $2,750

Eleisha Grant, <em>Pain Is Pain</eM>. Photo courtesy of Eleisha Grant.

Eleisha Grant, Pain Is Pain. Photo courtesy of Eleisha Grant.

Eleisha Grant’s extremely topical Pain Is Pain speaks to the ongoing opioid epidemic in a heartrending installation of the artist’s bedroom. The sheets are printed with larger-than-life descriptions of drugs and their side effects, with a seemingly impossible quantity of empty pill bottles—each prescribed to Grant herself—stashed around the room in overflowing containers. A large poster of a young Judy Garland, who died of a barbiturate overdose, serves as a reminder of past victims of addiction.

 

Lori Nelson, Bigger Than This Town, $2,700

Lori Nelson, <em>Bigger Than This Town</em> (2017). Courtesy Portal Governors Island.

Lori Nelson, Bigger Than This Town (2017). Courtesy of Portal Governors Island.

Lori Nelson’s delightful, feminist-tinged canvases read like sweet fairy tales with a strange, unsettling twist. “A lot of my work has cryptids or sort of monster people—the other or the outside,” Nelson, who also helps organize the fair, told artnet News. “This can represent another facet of the self.”

 

Honorable Mention: Bobby AnspachPlace for Continuous Eye Contact, $120,000

Bobby Anspach, Place for Continuous Eye Contact at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Bobby Anspach, Place for Continuous Eye Contact at Portal Governors Island. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

One of the most unique experiences I have ever had at an art fair, Bobby Anspach’s Place for Continuous Eye Contact uses a profusion of colored pom poms paired with shifting colored LED lights and a score commissioned by composer Eluvium to create a bizarrely transportive optical experience. Once inside, all you can see is the eye of the person across from you and the field of pom poms surrounding you, which magically seems to come to life, pulsating and undulating.

“I spent about a year of my life on meditation retreats and studied a little bit of neuroscience,” Anspach told artnet News. The artist readily admits his price point is on a different scale than the rest of the fair: “I doubt anybody else is charging this much!” But it just might be worth it.

Portal Governors Island is on view at Governors Island, Colonels Row, Saturdays and Sundays August 31–September 29, 2019.


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