The Echo Art Fair, Day Two: Is This For Sale?

by Paddy Johnson on September 8, 2013 Art Fair

Julian Montague designed fake covers for fake books in his series, "Volumes from an imagined intellectual history of animals, architecture and man", 2010-2011. They are currently on display at Board of Trade and Commerce Gallery at the Echo Art Fair.

Two days in, most gallery and artists booths at the Echo Art Fair had at least a few red dots speckled around their booth. Echo exhibitors are fond of sticking huge dots over the labels for sold art, an unpretentious break from the typical understated dot aesthetic at a lot of the larger fairs. I was particularly happy to see the sales in artist booths, since this is a demographic that typically needs the support.

Overall, I ended up wishing for a higher level of quality of art work from the show and a broader representation of the Buffalo arts community. For this reason, it was disappointing to see that many of the city’s artist-run centers and non-profits were absent.  Hallwalls, The Squeaky Wheel, CEPA and the Burchfield Penney Art Center  did not participate in Echo, distinguishing themselves (and the fair) from many of their New York City counterparts. Nearly all the New York City fairs host non-profits. Since Buffalo institutions could use support and Echo could use the strong art institutions often bring with them, this seemed like a missed opportunity for both parties.

But perhaps this trend, along with others, will change. Buffalo’s art community is very invested in itself and art and that dedication goes a long way. It is, however, perhaps a little too protectionist for its own good. While visiting, I heard stories from all fields about how too many trips to New York could create tension in Buffalo relationships. A little more willingness to build these relationships might not be such a bad idea since it tends to foster an openness to new perspectives.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t plenty worth a look at the fair. After spending several hours at Echo, I certainly had my own highlights. My thoughts below;

Liz Rywelski and her cast of pantless white-clad commerce doctors match their receipts.

This was a rather convoluted performative piece by Liz Rywelski that invited visitors to peruse the receipts as if they were objects of desire. In this case your dreams are literally worth nothing, since every receipt in the pile totaled zero, as did the receipt when you checked out. Each pile had its own designation; liquor, investment, objects, things, stuff, and even “shit” (that was a pile low on the rack), and they appeared to become more abstract the closer you got to the register.

I suppose the act of imagining can be powerful, but it’s usually a little more interesting when you’re creatively encouraged and this piece didn’t always achieve that. Too many of the cast members weren’t great with improvisation, so the conversation felt a little dry at times. “What’s for sale?” I ask. “Anything you want”  a girl in white tells me. “Okay, I’d like to buy your socks.” I tell her. “Is this the color you’re looking for?” says another guy in white as he hands me a receipt. Nothing terrible going on here, just nothing interesting either.

Shashi O'Leary Soudant, "God", "Time", "Run", and "End"

The buzz around Shashi O’Leary Soudant’s booth was intense. By the time I was able to speak to her, she’d already sold the entire booth out (each totem retails at $2200), plus earned herself a commission. I don’t have much to say about the work, which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy it. It’s very pretty, though perhaps a little vacant.

Installation shot from the Lawrence Brose Legal Defense Fund

Lawrence Brose is an award-winning experimental film artist who hasn’t made work in four years because the government is sucking the life out of him. In 2009, the government received a tip from German authorities that someone from an ip CEPA Gallery’s shared studio computer had downloaded child porn.  As the Director of that program Brose was charged for possessing illicit materials, even though experts can find no evidence of the original downloads. The charge currently includes 100 images of exhibition prints made from his film De Profundis.

In short, Lawrence Brose’s life has been ruined by some sort of bizarre Kafka-esque network within the government, and he has been forced to spend all of his time fundraising to pay for legal fees so he isn’t permanently labeled a sex offender. Pictured above are just a few of the prints artists have donated to the Lawrence Brose Legal Defense Fund.

Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (New York, NY), Installation view

Without a doubt, Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art offered one of the strongest booths in the fair. To the disappointment of many I’m sure, nothing was for sale. The museum was simply there to promote their programs, and the fair is a great way to introduce people to their work.  In this case, homoerotic imagery dominated the booth and took many forms; celebration of the male body, the sensitive man, the powerful cock. Mostly though, it was pure formalism of these images that I found compelling.

Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (New York, NY)

A clear stand out in the show.

C.S.1. Curatorial Projects presents Chris Barr's "Meaningful Offers".

Word has it there’s a line of people in Buffalo waiting to get into Chris Barr‘s “Meaningful Offers” at this very moment.  “Hi, I’m Chris Barr” reads a sign on the artist’s desk. Just above this greeting is a small bit of text that reads, “The Artist is Present”. You’ll get more than a stare down if you chat with Barr.

For his piece, the artist invites fair goers to barter services in exchange for art. Offers are printed out and displayed on the wall of Barr’s booth, but are also uploaded to a website he designed for the show. I’m told the zanier ones aren’t online yet because the Library has decided to block Barr’s access, but it looks like there’s some pretty appealing offers being made. I particularly liked the financial and budgeting advice for artists, and help organizing your studio because I’d need them, but I also liked the offer to read, review and recommend books based your reading preferences. Beneath each offer, participants are to explain “the meaning” of the offer (it’s value, for those who don’t mind a term with a commerce reference).

The work’s not without precedent—e-flux’s “Time Bank” and to name a couple notable examples, —but that’s fine with me. “It’s just about getting people thinking about the value of their own labor” Barr told me plainly. Given how frequently arts professionals undervalue the work we do, the project seems like a worthy endeavor.

Frits Abell at Board of Trade and Commerce Gallery

No deep thoughts on the work here, mostly because I wasn’t able to take a shot of this booth without also capturing an insane glare from the windows. The person you’re looking at though is Fritz  Abell, the founder and tireless organizer of this fair.

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