The Spirit of Exploration Drives PULSE 2016
Macon Reed's recreation of a lesbian bar is a main draw.
In the crowded New York city art fair scene, it can be hard to make sure your fair stands out. For Helen Toomer, director of PULSE NY, her mission is simple: “It has to be a place of discovery,” she told artnet News at the preview breakfast on March 3.
That discovery begins right at the front door, where guests are greeted by a brightly-colored pool table crafted from cardboard and plaster bandages. This sets the stage for Macon Reed‘s life-size installation, Eulogy for the Dyke Bar.
The project was inspired by Reed’s own experience as a queer feminist. “I live in Chicago where the gay neighborhood is called Boystown,” Reed told artnet News, explaining that parallel communities for lesbians are much harder to find.
She began doing historical research, and realized the lack of bars catering to a lesbian clientele is not a recent phenomena, and is bound up in issues of discrimination, fear, and lack of equal pay.
“Carrie Mackin showed me and image and I was like ‘I fucking love it,” said Toomer of her decision to include the project in the fair, calling it not only “incredibly visually astounding” but “conceptually brilliant.”
Throughout the week, the installation will have a variety of programming—and yes, that includes selling drinks after 4:00 p.m. each day—culminating in a Sunday afternoon “Eulogy Ritual,” in which members of the LGBT community, including a Stonewall veteran, will speak. “For me, the bar is just a container for the storytelling,” added Reed.
Other standout projects at the fair include a striking sisal rope installation from Richard Vivenzio, hung in loops in a corner around a pre-existing column. The work activates the architecture, and transforms the negative space between the ropes into a sculptural whole.
As always, the PULSE Prize nominees, presented in single artists booths, are among the fair’s highlights. Don’t miss Isidro Blasco at Brooklyn’s Black and White Gallery, whose work this reporter previously discovered at Bushwick Open Studios. His photo collages seem at first like David Hockney works, with the added element of three dimensionality, the image propped up on wooden supports, with architectural elements protruding from the frame, but Blanco told artnet News he is most inspired by Cubism.
New York Wave is one of three pieces on view at PULSE that Blasco created from thousands of photographs he shot over the course of a full day spent atop the Empire State Building’s observation deck. “You can see the passing of the day,” Blasco noted, pointing out where the blue sky transitions into the sunset.
Another strong PULSE Prize contender is Bradley Wood at London’s Sim Smith, where richly-decorated interior scenes populated mostly with fierce female characters are displayed in a boldly-striped booth that could serve itself as a backdrop for one of the paintings. The eponymous gallery owner described the work as “post-Impressionist avant- garde reinterpreted in a contemporary way.”
Beyond reveling in moments of nostalgia, the fair aims to break new ground, and is driven in part by exploration.
At Williamsburg’s Front Room Gallery, a life-size watercolor of an astronaut floats on a white background, one of a number space-inspired works in Thomas Broadbent‘s “Inertia” series. The spirit of exploration that drive the space program is subverted by the blank emptiness of the paper.
Another piece, depicting the Moon’s Challenger craters, which are named in memory of those killed during the 1986 shuttle explosion, is painted on numerous sheets of paper placed one over another. “When NASA was surveying the lunar surface, they would physically tile together the photographs,” explained gallery co-owner Kathleen Vance of the painting’s genesis.
The spirit of exploration is found on Earth in Jawshing Arthur Liou‘s stunning 4K video piece shot along a Nepali pilgrimage route around a sacred mountain at Pictura Gallery of Bloomington, Indiana. The Buddhist prayer flags fluttering against the stunning mountain landscape capture a similarly-otherworldly beauty.
Throughout the fair, unexpected moments abound, from the vibrant stripped sculptures created by Derrick Velasquez from layered strips of vinyl at Philadelphia’s Pentimenti Gallery, to Gianluca Quaglia‘s The Shadow and I, a giant mound of around 200 pounds of black confetti spread across the booth of Milan’s mc2 gallery.
Visitors were encouraged to traipse through the confetti, kick it around, or even throw handfuls into the air, causing the tiny papers to gradually migrate into nearby booths.
“Everyone is an ambassador of the art,” joked gallery art director Claudio Composti.
Meanwhile, at Pitt Projects of Worcester, Nat Pitt was billing his booth as “music versus pottery—let’s put the two disciplines head to head.” Among works on view from a number of artists were deceivingly simple clay bowls by Andy Holden.
In reality, the artist melted a shellac record (the forerunner to the better known vinyl variety), carefully molding it into the shape of a vessel. While the inside of the bowls are painted in a style reminiscent of Spanish ceramics, the backsides still bear the original record labels, revealing the works’ unexpected origins.
For Toomer, that’s what it’s all about. As heavily-involved as she is in the selection of works at each and every booth, “I want to be surprised,” she says.
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