UNTITLED Takes a Page From Frieze

by Paddy Johnson on December 6, 2012 Art Fair

Untitled Art Fair

If there was ever any doubt that the Frieze art fair’s move to New York would influence the organizers of other fairs, Untitled puts the question to rest. The inaugural version of this 43-exhibitor fair mimics everything Frieze did right, with favorable results. Frieze’s light-filled tent, spacious booths, waterfront view, and fine catering: it’s all transposed at a smaller scale and near-perfect pitch. Only one sticking point remains—the sales—and the jury’s still out on that.

“Friday will be the sale day,” Rhiannon Kubicka of Blackston Gallery told me, while flanked by abstract paintings by Amy Feldman and Justin Adian that were some of the strongest work in the show. She told me that Monday brought in many locals, but few collectors, and Tuesday was an invite-only opening. “Fair psychology,”  she said, suggesting that no one really knew why collectors do the things they do. Untitled may have to wait until Friday for sales simply because yesterday saw the opening of Art Basel and today will be dominated by the opening of NADA.

Blackston Gallery

If all goes according to plan, the show alone should draw collectors, and dealers seem to have an awareness of this. UNTITLED‘s strong suit is its incredible aesthetic cohesiveness, a result of the fair’s curator Omar Lopez-Chahoud. “He came to my gallery many times,” Asya Geisberg told me as she explained Lopez-Chahoud’s role in the fair and the curation of the booth, which included picking out many of the sculpted wooden heads by Gudmundur Thoroddsen. “It was very hands-on,” she added, “and his level of involvement was the same for most of the fair participants.”

Aysa Geisberg Gallery

I would guess an extra pair of eyes weren’t always welcomed—dealers have their own egos to man—but knowing many of the exhibitors, Lopez-Chahoud often made the booths outperform their actual programs. The Tofer Chin show at Lu Magnus is a perfect example of this, as the quality of his show here easily exceeded the show I saw at the gallery back in February. Here, a greater variation of scale in the work, along with the absence of his immersive monochromatic installations, went a long way in removing the contrived gestures that often burden the work.

Lopez-Chahoud’s presence somewhat predictably eliminated the shock genitalia art and enameled drippy painting that never seems to lack a gullible buyer. That’s a step up from Pulse, where we heard at least one gallerist complain about a neighbor’s predilection for eyeball-offensive boob paintings. It’s also a step up from Art Basel Miami Beach itself, which this year showcased a wall-mounted relief dick painting and a performance artist dressed in red and armed with roses. Schlock is everywhere, except here.

And so Lopez-Chahoud is a real leg up for UNTITLED, which seems to be driven by the increasingly old-fashioned idea that we should build platforms around more than just sales. As if to drive home that point, the curator walked me over to Skull Sessions, a discussion series and open booth where artists Tim Hyde and Saul Melman were holding court. Hyde invited me to sit down, and we talked for at least thirty minutes about his friend and collaborator Andrea Galvani. In particular, we discussed a body of abstract work Galvani made by burying radiographic film on the grounds of Chernobyl; the work, which eerily resembles mushroom clouds, was a response to feeling unsatisfied with the type of documentation photography could provide. It literally looks like the poison that produced it.

Skin bricks

Saul Melman, for his part, showed me a number of bricks he made from the dust of parchment paper. That dust, it turns out, is mostly horse skin, which makes the bricks incredibly light, durable, and, of course, gross. As a whole, the project fetishizes material history a little too much for my taste, and while Melman tells me the bricks resemble a line drawing, I never did follow how that conclusion was drawn. Luckily, he’s holding his own session at what I hope will be the busiest time for the fair—2 PM Friday—so we can all ask him ourselves.

Tofer Chin at Lu Magnus gets a nod here.

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