Governor’s Island Art Fair (GIAF) isn’t your typical fair. At GIAF, there are no identical dry-walled booths or uniform foam core placards. There are no stranded-looking gallery girls and boys checking their phones, and no one is ignored for not looking collector-y enough. The rooms are manned by the artists themselves or feature some kind of note on the wall thanking visitors for coming by. On the whole, artwork is installed in a way that responds to the natural light coming through windows, the slanted walls of attics, and the curving banisters in the stairwells. It’s a nice place to go.
That’s thanks to 4heads, the fair’s producer and not-for-profit artist-led organization dedicated to “commandeering and re-purposing unused spaces”. Now in its sixth year, the fair includes over 100 (mostly independent) artists, who do not pay to participate, but return 35% of their sales to the fair. (A few arts organizations, collectives, and galleries also participate in GIAF for a fee, but they represent a tiny fraction of the work displayed.)
The show is not without its fair share of crap. That occurs in every medium and aesthetic, but it at least feels like an artist’s sincere efforts rather than a gallery’s offering of consumer-friendly work. My main beef with GIAF is the uneven level of selected artists and lack of curatorial focus. But these faults seem to be the flipside of having a non-corporate, artist-focused venture of this size. GIAF takes place across the island, in nine buildings and several outdoor spaces; for the most part, artwork can be found in old houses, in previously abandoned rooms, covered with peeling with paint.
I started my visit at building 404A, with Hunter Jonakin’s “Jeff Koons Must Die” video game. I paid 25 cents to be berated and chased around a giant museum by Koons and museum security while me and my camo- colored bazooka blasted away at the bunny, the puppy, the heart, and the porn-paintings. It’s a good time shooting up art for giggles, especially while you’ve got a virtual Koons saying things like “don’t you know that art is about the acceptance of others?” and “Museum security will take care of you”.
Upstairs from Joankin’s room, in one of the attic spaces, is David Connolly’s witty but confusingly-titled installation Be Careful For What We Wish For?. It’s a three-part series of sculpture and video works, the best of which is a black and white slideshow in which a suited, stern-faced Connolly repeatedly drops a Chinatown plastic soup bowl to the floor. A parody of Ai-Weiwei’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn from 1995 (in which the artist is shown dropping an ancient artifact to the floor, where it smashes to pieces), it’s an effective art joke with rather grim implications about the unwanted results the exportation of culture.
Of Maya Ciarrocchi’s video interviews of ex-orthodox Jews, I found two especially riveting: the first is Joshi, who chops chicken and vegetables for the camera, cooking show-style, while referring to his old community as “monkeys”. His unapologetic disdain and frank derogation for the community he was raised in initially made me uncomfortable, but then it made me think that we all talk about our own communities in ways we would never tolerate from outsiders. Maybe Joshi’s hostility actually illustrates how you can never truly leave your roots behind.
Another video captures Melissa (formerly Malki) telling a story of how her intellectual curiosity got her in trouble growing up as a Satmar Hasid: after going some extra miles in her pursuit of her Torah studies and asking the Rabbi too many questions, he told her to stop “wanting to be like a man”- a sentiment that goes mostly unsaid (but not unthought) in secular culture.
Gretchen Scherer’s small paintings of exquisite interiors remind me of Jane Irish and are pretty delightful; Scherer shares Irish’s joy in the depiction of fancy interiors and has a similarly lush palette, but there is something more ominous in those empty rooms, a clearly felt absence.
Amanda Burnham and Aaron Miller both shine in the black-and-white-painting-turned-into-sculpture department. Burnham’s sprawling, engrossing paper installation Pascagoula brings the artist’s material recollections of the Mississippi town into the slanted-roof attic with cut up drawings of lighting fixtures, cables, and signage. Miller, who is interested in the mining industry in Wyoming as well as 19th century high society, takes an exhaustive research approach to the various artistic uses of charcoal. His best works here are a pile-in-the-corner sculpture made of a mix of raw and polished charcoal lumps, and a coal and graphite drawing of a charming man in a ballgown.
Good ceramics make me happy. I found Eric A. Lawrence’s vessels in a small windowed room that provides a perfect backdrop for their subtle colors and shapes. My favorite is a series of small white pitchers in which each irregularly-shaped piece echoes the form of the ones beside it. It was a pleasant, quiet note to end on.
GIAF is open on Saturdays and Sundays until the end of the month, 11 – 6 pm.
All images taken by the author unless otherwise stated.