For quality art viewing experience, Cutlog easily wins in my book. Located in the well-worn Lower East Side school, the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Education Center, the fair cultivates a laidback atmosphere with lots of space, natural light, and an unusually high proportion of artist projects throughout. It even gave a large chunk of its second floor space to artists who have studios upstairs.
A few ex-Scope-ers were pleased to point out that it’s not the Scope Art Fair, which was obvious. Cutlog feels like the anti-Scope, answering to a tone of game show anxiety with modest experimentation. Blingy Wizard of Oz sculpture has been replaced with its feature presentation by Whitebox Art Center’s presentation of humbly-knowing art world caricatures by Anthony Haden Guest. His animations, which poke fun at art fair banality and greasy self-promotion, are the first thing you see when you enter the building. It reads as a sort of collective sigh– we all have to cater, so we might as well have a sense of humor about it.
There’s still a good portion of softcore portraiture, bland abstraction, gratuitous neon (the air you breathe in an emerging art fair). Cutlog’s difference is really about the ambiance: grungy school building, low-key dealers, genuine variety. And, yesterday, low traffic.
That last point is too bad, though not surprising. Thursday most fair visitors were at Frieze. Today, people will be at NADA, which leaves only the weekend for the smaller fairs. I hope for everyone’s sake people use their Saturday or Sunday to see Cutlog. The fairs are here to stay, so we might as well have a venue that supports experimentation and variety. As dealer Robert Stack, from Providence’s Yellow Peril Gallery put it, “This is how the art world is now. I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about the fairs, but this is modern life.”
Yellow Peril does pop-up shows, fairs, publishes the quarterly magazine “Collect”, and were early Artsy adopters. “We have a brick-and-mortar gallery that we run like a gallery, but we’re kind of putting our fingers in every pie,” Stack told me.
This new world order can be frantic, but Cutlog provides a platform for artists to adapt to it. First-year RISD MFA students presented a selection of work across from an international group of self-representing artists, ARTspace. Painter Alan Neider simply rented his own booth and filled it with his work. Appreciating Cutlog’s gritty character, he wrote the organizers and asked them about the possibility of showing his work there. At first, he’d proposed an installation with a dirt floor and abstract figures, in response to images of dead bodies laying in dirt in the media. This idea was nixed because the fair organizers thoughts collectors might not want to walk on dirt.
It’s the kind of basic art fair entry criterion that so often gives fairgoers the impression of an apathetic, apolitical, and cozy art world—so artists might as well be involved in that conversation. And for visitors, you get to look into the eyes of artists who are usually described in one soundbyte (age, medium, compelling biographical factoid).
In another room, artist Clara Feder had put up a “Wall of Temptation”: visitors are invited to take a scratch-off lotto ticket, resist the urge, and stick it on a large canvas. Nearby voting booths and markers are provided so that participants can write something on their ticket. Feder, wearing a lab coat, told me, “In a culture where giving into temptation and submitting has become the norm, the project gives you a chance to resist.” Herein lies the difference between Cutlog and Scope: whereas at Scope, you could expect a giant monument covered in lotto tickets, Feder was simply probing her viewers to stop and think.