In 2013 we stopped covering PULSE New York. After publishing an image of a taxidermied horse on roller skates with anime eyes in 2012 there didn’t seem to be any point. Clearly the strong exhibitors had left, and if they hadn’t, they soon would.
That’s changed this year. Helen Toomer took the helm at PULSE this January, and already we’ve started to changes for the better. She reduced the number of exhibitors and limited the number of artists that exhibitors could bring to the fair. She’s also worked tirelessly to get visitors to PULSE. These efforts have clearly paid off.
With the exception of Black and White Gallery, which was showing an installation that included a small child vomiting flowers and ceramic birds with human heads on them, there was plenty of art worth taking a look at. The PULSE Prize finalists tended to stand out (full disclosure: I was a judge), in particular Brea Souder’s Ezra Johnson-like animations of landscapes and intimate collages at Uprise and Daniel Temkin’s abstract sound visualizations at Transfer Gallery. Hassan Hajjaj’s mixed media photographs in which he dresses men to look like rock stars won the Pulse Prize.
Exhibiting strong work helps attract collectors. Yesterday afternoon the halls of the Metropolitan Pavilion, the PULSE location for the last four years, were filled with visitors. Every exhibitor we spoke to had made sales. In this bullish market, sales may not be a surprise, but their timing might be. PULSE opened their VIP brunch at 9:00 am Thursday, competing with the mammoth fair Frieze which began mere two hours later. PULSE still brought in plenty of collectors. “The fact that it was 9:30 on a rainy Thursday and I’d already sold a piece I attribute to Helen.” Jeffrey Teuton of Keeler & Co. exclaimed. Lisa Schroeder of Schroeder Romero Editions told me they sold “tons” of stuff during the VIP.
Schroeder Romero Editions has lower price points than many exhibitors—$175 print by Man Bartlett was common price point in that booth—which may explain their sales volume. Ashley Dillman at Freight + Volume had a more reserved look at the fair “Stuff isn’t flying off the walls, but it never does,” she said. “We expect to come out ahead,” she told me. When asked how dealers handle the stress of making ends meet she replied simply, “We drink a lot.”
Not all work was for sale. Sean Fader’s #wishingpelt, a feature presentation at PULSE, invited viewers to rub his hairy chest and make a wish. The wish, of course, would only come true if you uploaded a picture of yourself rubbing Fader’s chest to Instagram with the appropriate hashtag.
Like “Sup?”, an online dating project in which Fader created “before” and “after” pictures of his dates, this work isn’t particularly deep, but that’s fine. It adds a little energy to a fair that needs it, and helps hype PULSE. Outside the conversation of how much better PULSE was this year, were only the constant mentions that FRIEZE was no good.
PULSE hype is especially important for some of the smaller dealers in the fair hoping to make more connections, though they, too, seemed to be doing well. “I’m actually genuinely happy with the fair,” Leah Oates at Station Independent Projects told me through a hum of noise. The PULSE Prize party had begun and halls were packed, mostly with a younger audience. “I feel like I’m in a high school cafeteria right now,” we overheard one visitor remark of the acoustics. “I’m going to go get a sloppy joe and call someone a bitch!”