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SF Art Fair Report

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Doug Hall, Chrysopylae II, 2012, two-channel video installation
 
Art fairs, ever since they returned to SF in 2010, have become major rallying points, places where artists, dealers, curators, collectors and the curious mingle in celebration over a long weekend, May 16-19.  This year, artMRKT and ArtPadSF together drew record crowds and more than 100 participating galleries.  Sifting through the highlights at a month’s remove, it's not possible to touch upon all those who deserve recognition. Herein, are a small fraction.          
 
artMRKT
At the entrance to Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, Taro Hattori, courtesy of Oakland’s Swarm Gallery, installed a giant cardboard airplane (Obscenity) that looked as if it had crashed through the ceiling.  It would be memorable anywhere.  But at Fort Mason, once the West Coast outpost of U.S. troop deployment, the piece’s anti-war message resonated even more strongly than it did several years ago at Swarm. 

 

Taro Hatori, Obscenity – a Version for Brotherhood, 2013, paper, 20 x 20 x 4'

At Rena Bransten’s booth, Doug Hall’s video, Chrysopylae II, riveted me.  It debuted last year on twin 7 x 13-foot screens inside Fort Point as part of For-Site Foundation’s celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary.  Here it appeared on two small monitors, markedly diminished, but stunning nevertheless.  Hall created the piece by mounting two video cameras side-by-side on a boat from which he shot footage of container ships plying the Bay.  That perspective compresses the distance between camera and subject, and the effect is overpowering, akin to a whale breach seen at close range.   If you missed either showing, the San Jose Museum of Art screens the piece for three months starting July 18.  At the back of the Hall, Johanna Arnold, a photographer of urban environments, installed a large felt tent, courtesy of Traywick Contemporary.  Inside it, a round video monitor displayed outdoor scenes spinning in a circle  accompanied by ambient traffic noise.  Like Hatori’s airplane, it commented on the immediate surroundings, summoning the experience of civilization colliding with wilderness.

 

Most of the visitors I spoke with agreed that two of the fair’s most cohesive exhibits came from Stephen Wirtz and Brian Gross, both mainstays of the SF gallery scene.  At Wirtz, Todd Hido’s slushy through-the-windshield photo of a forlorn landscape, Laurie Reid’s framed slivers of crushed mirror, arrayed like costume jewelry, the sun-singed photos from Chris McCaw, and Kathryn Spence’s faux taxidermy all combined to form a set piece — the backdrop of a drama waiting to be staged. At Brian Gross’ booth there was an Arneson bust on the floor, which reportedly sold for $200,000, and a Roy de Forest painting on the wall, both spectacular.  But what caught my eye was a 20-foot-long painting by Dana Hart-Stone called My America that covered the back of the booth.  It looked like a minimalist textile at a distance.  Up close, between the lines, ran repeated images, reminiscent of a Warhol filmstrip. It garnered a lot of attention. 

Joan Brown, Woman and Dog in Room with Chinese Rug, 1975

Paule Anglim, another purveyor of iconic Bay art, hung one of the most unusual Joan Brown paintings I’ve seen: Woman and Dog in Room with Chinese Rug, a cloudscape from 1975 on which everything else in the picture floats.  She also put on view an Op sculpture made of carved wood by Gay Outlaw, similar in perception-bending qualities to the one SFMOMA showed last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its SECA award.

Paul Kopeikin, the LA photo dealer, scored a hit with Andy Freeberg’s deliciously self-referential shots of Chelsea galleries and art fairs.  Of the latter series, Art Fare, only one was on view, but it was a good one.  It pictured the New York dealer, Sean Evans, at Art Basel Miami before a huge Kehinde Wiley painting, head-in-hands – a familiar scene at art fairs. In the same booth, Alejandro Cartagena’s grid of freeway-overpass views of pickup trucks hauling Hispanic day laborers seemed ripped from the headlines, as did Katrin Korman’s aerial views of public spaces, echoing the reality of the security state we’ve become.

Adam Parker Smith, Bottom 2 and 3, 2012, foam, rope, formica, bungee, 22 x 24 x 50

Evergold, a hip-smart gallery located in SF’s Tenderloin district, distinguished itself with erotic humor.  Adam Parker Smith, one of its rising stars, displayed two works.  One was a kinky send-up of classical sculpture made of cinched foam (a la Hans Bellmer) set on faux-marble linoleum pedestals, rolled to resemble columns. The other, Untitled (Dick), replicated a finger painting of male genitalia made on water condensation — achieved by applying frosting spray and resin to a mirror.  Across the isle at Patricia Sweetow, Cornelia Schulz displayed the latest iteration of the juicy-thick abstract works she debuted two years ago.  They showed the artist at the peak of her powers, teasing pigment to a high froth with a stunning combination of abandon and exactitude. Ann Weber’s monumental cardboard sculptures, swirling arabesques that have become mainstays at these events, were a welcome sight at Dolby Chadwick.

Elsewhere, unconventional paper works of exceptional quality abounded, and in a variety of formats. At Traywick, David Sleeth, a recent Mills MFA grad, showed biomorphic shapes made of carved cardboard that looked as much like rock and they did paper. Laurie Frick, a Texas artist showing with LA-based Ed Cella, mines her life for mundane data and represents it in labyrinthine map-like collages.  Val Britton, creator of imaginary topographies built of sliced paper, appeared at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art’s booth with a 9 x 9-foot piece big enough to get lost in; it was aptly named Beginning Anywhere

Cornelia Schulz, Shelf Life, 2012, oil on canvas, 15 x 12.75"

At Seager Gray, samples from its annual Art of the Book exhibition, made a strong case for book art’s ongoing vitality.  b. sakata garo, a Sacramento gallery, showed works from an array iconic NorCal artists, chief among them William T. Wiley whose small-scale painted tape sculptures represent classic examples of the artist’s deadpan humor.

Good as such works were, what I really craved, as everyone does at these events, are things that I can’t see at home. Red Truck, a New Orleans gallery specializing in street art, brought in Ian Berry, a British-born artist now residing in Sweden.  His studio looks like a used clothing store, and out of it come relief “paintings” constructed of denim. He combines fabric, seams and stitching in dimensional works you can look at and into, the result being noirish scenes reminiscent of Edward Hopper.  Greg Kucera’s show of David Byrd was a true milestone. Byrd, social realist painter and sculptor who died at age 87 eleven days after the fair closed, spent 30 years working as an orderly in a VA psych ward in upstate New York. His works depict patients objectively and with great compassion: spatially flat and in muted colors, listless or acting out, fighting demons only they could see. 
 
ArtPadSF
Ben Dowell, Live/work/quilt/bed, 2012, arcylic on air mattress, 75 x 40 x 12"

The strongest presentation at this fair, located in the Phoenix Hotel, came from Birmingham, Ala.-based Beta Pictoris.  It enlisted Amanda Roscoe Mayo, an SF curator, to assemble a special show for the event comprised of local artists and artists from BP’s stable.  The show’s title, Painting Painting, promised postmodernist endgames but delivered real vision.  Highlights included: an iron-scorched wood panel from Willie Cole; a matchstick-burned paper drawing (shaped like the American flag) from Melissa Vandenberg; a radiant Susanna Starr sculpture made of pigment-soaked sponge; Christian Sampson’s organic take on Light and Space aesthetics; a suite of exquisite Constructivist-flavored drawings by Pete Schulte; a spray-can-meets-Paul Klee construction by Jake Ziemann; and an anamorphic paint pour by Peter Fox in which the embedded text (“GTFO”) was readable at only certain angles through an the camera of a smart phone.  Ben Dowell’s inflated air mattress, Live/work/quilt/bed, painted in the style of Joseph Albers, was the most inspired work.  It appeared next to a window with a view of the hotel pool, suggesting that the entire project might be floating, conceptually speaking, on a bed of modernist mannerisms — reconfigured for the current art-historical moment.

Noteworthy works from other galleries included: Andrew Benson’s pixel-shredding video, More LIKE You at Johansson Projects; Jancar Projects’ display of Dada/Surrealist-inspired photography; Ken Kalman’s fake weapons, made of riveted metal at George Krevsky; Amy Feldman’s off-kilter geometric abstraction at Gregory Lind; urban history-inspired paper sculpture from Matthew Picton at Toomey Tourell; painter William Swanson’s “contaminated” landscapes at Marx & Zavaterro; Robert Minervini’s pop surrealist paintings of architecture and flowers at Electric Works; and the alternative-process photos of Ron Moultrie Sanders at 3.9 Art Collective, a group named for the percentage of African-Americans in San Francisco.  It was, hands-down, the strongest artist-run gallery at the fair. 
 
–DAVID M. ROTH
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