It was a quiet evening at the PULSE art fair on opening night, though dealers remained upbeat nonetheless. “The real opening happens Thursday morning,” Lisa Romero of Schroeder Romero quickly reminded us. That remark was followed up by PULSE Director Cornell DeWitt, who reiterated that “Thursday is always our door buster.” The proceeds from last night’s opening, including ticket sales and a silent auction, will be donated to Lotus House, a shelter for homeless women and infants just a few blocks away from PULSE.
The light opening didn’t appear to hurt the charity aspect of the program; DeWitt anticipates exceeding their $25,000 goal. For the VIPs in attendance, the art viewing experience was better than anything we’ll see in the coming week: clear sightlines for the art was never a problem, and the dealers had plenty of time to talk. As a result, we were introduced to lots of work we might not have seen otherwise.
Mixed Greens opted for a solo booth with work by Syracuse-based illustrator Mark Mulroney, who was in attendance to paint a cartoonish figure on the booth’s wall. A solo show “may not be the smartest sales tool to use at a fair,” Director Steven Sergiovanni said, but the visual impact and curated feel makes the booth stand out. Sergiovanni also said that museum buyers, for whom PULSE opens this morning, prefer seeing a selection of works from an artist. Mulroney’s illustrations of cowboys jamming crucifixes in their manginas, though, might be a tough sell.
Caitlin Moore of Mark Moore Gallery showed us a salon hanging of fantastic exquisite corpses by Okay Mountain. It was all new work, and some of the better art we’ve seen at this gallery. We also discovered the photographs of Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook thanks to Tyler Rollins Fine Art, the only gallery in the country that specializes in Southeast Asian Art. In them, Rasdjarmrearnsook asks Thai farmers to look at reproductions of famed artworks from the Western canon. At just four years old, the gallery is in a position of needing to educate collectors about Southeast Asian art, so the photographs seem like a fitting metaphor.
While Rasdjarmrearnsook’s work has enough to it to create small conversation, it’s still not particularly substantive, a problem that permeates the fair. Much of the work was weak, and a few Pulse standards, like Jen Bekman Gallery and Andrew Edlin Gallery had left. Many of the returning galleries brought along what seemed like the same work they bring to the fair every year. Heather Gwen Martin at Luis de Jesus hasn’t made a painting that looks distinguishable from any other painting she’s ever made, and we’ve reached our limit for Mel Ramos titties. Even dealers complained to us about the endless number of beach photos that come to the fair each year, and there’s one particularly egregious example at Mary Ryan Gallery, featuring a large pair of sunglasses framing the beachgoers.
Those problems don’t seem to have dampened dealers’ spirits, though there was some nervousness in the air. When I spoke with dealer Yossi Milo, he sarcastically asked if anyone was claiming to have sold out their booth, but then added, “It’s exciting!” I’d heard that before. “It’s exciting every year, isn’t it?” I asked. Milo just laughed.