Great Strides Made Yet Still Needed at Pulse

by Paddy Johnson on December 5, 2015 · 1 comment Art Fair

Pulse Art Fair

Pulse Art Fair

How do you infuse life into a zombie art fair? Ask Pulse Director Helen Toomer. She’s been in the unenviable position of having to clean up years of poor leadership at Pulse, and has miraculously achieved some success during her two-year tenure. The fair’s put together PERSPECTIVES, an impressive discussion series put together in partnership with Hyperallergic and has slowly but slowly pushing some of the long time, weaker exhibitors out of the fair. Meanwhile, Pulse has succeeded in bringing strong exhibitors into the fold like Monya Rowe, Yancey Richardson and Transfer. Great strides have been made.

But let’s be clear: the fair still has a lot of work to do. The quality of art on view is all over the map. At this year’s Miami iteration, it often seemed as though galleries had only one good artist or worse, only one good art work to show in booths otherwise filled with crap. Cheeseball figuration, formulaic abstraction, and meaningless self-reflexive nods to the market plagued the exhibition tents. In addition to this, their exhibition design desperately needs help. This year, they divided exhibitors into two tents, placing general exhibitors in the North End and two person booths in the South End. The separation does little more than disrupt the viewing experience of the fair. (And it will likely only cause rivalry between the exhibitors in the two sections as it did for NADA which had a similarly bifurcated floor plan at the Deauville.)

How much the Pulse floor plan will affect sales is anyone’s guess, but to be fair, I doubt this will be the cause of financial suffering for most exhibitors. Every fair is experiencing slower sales this year, and the reason for the slowdown in all parts of the contemporary market is still unclear. Pulse is no different, and the explanation for the slow down at this fair seems to simply be that the market is unpredictable. Evidencing this, a good deal of head-scratching occurred over a sold out booth of amateurish portrait paintings depicting a young gay man.

Said booth didn’t seem worthy of a lowlight slideshow, but we did put together our picks for those heading out for the last day of the fair. Let’s take a look at those.


Thierry Goldberg

Grace Weaver at Thierry Goldberg.

A clear stand out at Pulse: Grace Weaver’s bright figurative paintings at Thierry Goldberg. The paintings depict adolescence—girls in high school doing track, telling secrets and drinking juice. The figures are more confident than you’d expect for people that age. They seem to know who they are so you imagine these characters more confidently making the mistakes young people make.

Ann Toebbe and Larissa Bates

Ann Toebbe and Larissa Bates at Monya Rowe.

Monya Rowe paired Ann Toebbe and Larissa Bates in her booth. I’m not sure how well that worked out for the artists—their work has similar qualities and thus it was hard to distinguish the paintings from one another—but the work itself was great. Toebbe’s flat, masterful renderings of interior spaces were a particular stand out here.


Yancey Richardson, installation view

In years past Pulse had been known as a strong photo fair, so it’s good to see Yancey Richardson’s photo program back here. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of photography and her exhibitions have always demonstrated a keen eye for bold color photography. The large Brian Graf abstraction to the right in this photo is a joy to look at, and certainly worth the trip over.


Bryce Wolkowitz, installation view.

Bryce Wolkowitz usually has a few too many blinking art works in his booth for me to truly get behind the program—this year it was a series of glowing books—but he gets a nod regardless for consistently championing digital work.


Ryan James MacFarland at Uprise.

Ryan James MacFarland takes a Polaroid every day. At this point, the photo-a-day is a pretty common trope, but I thought this personal grid of shots came together well regardless. The photos, each mounted on cintra and a cleat, could easily be arranged on the wall, and together they did seem to create a portrait of the artist’s life, as seen through the lens of landscape, abstraction and still lives. (His sketchbook here.) These works are available at Uprise.


The Target room

As the lead sponsor of the Pulse Art Fair, Target transformed an entire room into an art playhouse. The marketing props are pretty much what you’d expect a creative agency’s interpretation of art to look like: Oversized common commodities such as a boom box, a troll doll pyramid, and a giant spilled milk carton—each of which have an interactive component to the piece. I loved the space for its utter absurdity and felt bad for the Pulse press relations team who nervously told me about the room. Over at the AFC offices we debated the merits of the sponsorship—Michael Anthony Farley strongly believed that the Target center only diluted a program that already needs help—whereas I was more entertained by the show. I don’t think anyone is going to think the room’s art, so I don’t see it having any affect on the exhibitors. That said, it is a little like having a McDonald’s attached to your luxury shopping experience.


LMAK, Installation view

I had the good fortune of having been able to sit on one of the small rubber stools artist Nynke Koster made in the LMAK booth. The artist makes molds of architectural decor—ceiling medallions, etc. and they’re actually very comfortable! New Yorkers may be interested to learn that LMAK has expanded and will open their new space December 13th at 298 Grand Street. Mazel Tov!

Brittany Nelson

Brittany Nelson at Kopeikin

We weren’t able to take a good photo of Kopeikin’s booth—an Amy Ross floral and glittering humming bird series dominates the booth—so we opted to post this reproduction of the Brittany Nelson photograph we liked. Nelson uses photo chemicals to break down the emulsion on the photo paper she uses, creating gorgeous, and often terrifying abstract images. (See our thoughts on her work here.) A must-see photograph, for sure.

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