As of last year, the future was looking glum for Pulse, the mid-sized emerging fair with uptown aspirations. It had lost many of its better exhibitors (Andrew Edlin, Schroeder Romero, Yossi Milo, and Mixed Greens among them) and saw a conspicuously quiet run in Miami. But Pulse has returned with a new, spacious, and well-lit midtown venue, and is running a free shuttle back and forth from the Frieze ferry, both of which seem to have paid off. Sales were already trickling in on Thursday’s opening, and foot traffic was reportedly up by 30 percent from last year.
From the outside it’s hard to know what might spark a change like this, but one tabled theory is the fair’s increased number of European exhibitors allowed them to capitalize on the influx of international collectors from Frieze.
Visitors, at least, seem pleased. “It’s a very classy fair,” I overheard a well-dressed older woman observe. Sleek, quiet photographs and jewel-like classical paintings certainly create that impression.
The high-end ambiance doesn’t do much for this art writer, but then, fairs aren’t for critics. When I asked dealers why they’d chosen this fair, the most common response was that this was one of their first New York fairs. Pulse would help put them on track for Frieze or the Armory, more so than, say, Scope.
“We did Scope [recently], which was terrible,” Harry Hutchinson, Associate Director of Aicon Gallery told me. The New York-based gallery focuses on South Asian pre-modern, modern, and contemporary art, and this was their second New York venture. “It was just awful, there were no buyers, no clients. It was disgusting. I thought it was actually borderline dishonest, so it was very difficult to persuade the partners of the gallery to try another fair, but I’m so pleased we did. Pulse has been excellent so far. We’re really pleased.”
“You won’t find that one gallery is doing something dramatic and drawing all of the attention,”said Carol Sun, from the Hong Kong gallery Identity Art. Some may find Scope’s’ attention-hogging to be its best quality; the frat boys in a glass cube (‘11), the Walt Whitman impersonator in a shipping crate (‘12), and the Larry Gagosian parody statue (‘12) just scream goofy pizzaz. But Identity Art’s presentation of Kurt Tong‘s photographs, a very matured, and distilled, reflection on cultural identity, would have gotten lost there. “It’s quite balanced,” she observed. “You can really see the artists.”
When I visited last Thursday, Sun and nearly all the other dealers in the “Impulse” section I spoke to said it was too early to tell whether this would help sales (it was only 3 PM on opening day). But the red dots were already popping up downstairs; Philly’s Gallery Joe was almost sold out of Marilyn Holsing’s blue paintings in the style of fine china.
Surprisingly, dots were also collecting around the fair’s most new media-styled work, Cameron Gray’s bubblegum video-posters. They’re more affordable, around $7,000, but require the artist to install a screen inside a collector’s wall, and then cover that with an unprotected poster. Assistant director Lauren Licata hadn’t expected a tough sell. “We’ve been very confident that he would be well-absorbed by everyone here,” she told me. “And we’ve had a great reception so far, so we’re happy.” His mini funhouse-style back room, by far the most pop on view, had collectors swarming Mike Weiss’s booth.
By Thursday evening, the London dealer Michael Hoppen fetched a respectable $25,000 for a photographic collage Diorama Map NY by Sohei Nishino. Hoppen has been doing fairs internationally for twenty years, yet had chosen Pulse for the first time this year because he felt it was the right fit for Nishino’s work. “It’s better to find the right fair and attract a particular type of client for a particular type of art,” he told me, “rather than trying to push a square peg into a round hole.” Pulse happened to be the best fit for intricate black-and-white collage. “Look around the fair, the craft of work here, it’s less conceptual work,” he said. “I felt that [Nishino’s work] kind of fit into the model that Pulse encourages. Different fairs, for different artists, for different people.” And for some, that’s just fine.
With additional reporting by Paddy Johnson