Anthony’s Art Diary: May Fair Edition

by Anthony Haden-Guest Photographed by Michael Gross
Saturday, May 12, 2018

Nothing much was to be seen of those rambunctious, space-invaders, Made-for-Art-Fair-Artworks, around the New York art fairs this year. Frieze, though thoroughly reconfigured on Randall’s Island, struck me as being as fastidiously groomed as a CEO’s haircut as I roamed the aisles. I was, of course, searching for a leitmotif, and finding … what?

I had assumed that hot political buttons would be pressed and to some extent they were, as in a piece by Miao Ying morphing together Trump and Nick Cave at the Beijing gallery, Boers-Li, and a plaque by the always spirited Marilyn Minter upon which the president grins above a transcript of his commentary on the Access Hollywood tape. It has to be said though that our darkly absurdist political goings-on have produced no equivalent to Dada, no George Grosz, sharp of tooth and claw, but mostly dismay and withdrawal.       


   Sculpture was alive and kicking, a reaction perhaps against the narcotic flatland of screens upon which so many of us dwell. I liked The Art of Perseverance III, a chunk of rock strapped to a column, by Jose Davila at Travesia Cuatro, the Mexico gallery. Dustin Yellin, the artist, and the creator of Pioneer Works, the terrific art space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, stopped by as I was iPhotographing it and enthused “He’s a great guy. We drove through Morocco together”.

  There was a leitmotif at Frieze, though. Well, two, actually, and both reflected real world concerns. The first was the physical heat, which dealers fretted would diminish the enthusiasm of collectors, and the second was the Wealth Gap. This, a surging global phenomenon, is having a particular effect upon the art economy, as a handful of uber-galleries, often with spaces in several cities and countries, such as David Zwirner, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, become ever more pumped up while the army of mid-level and smaller galleries struggle and increasingly shut up shop. What is peculiar to the art economy in a Wealth Gap world is this: It’s just those smaller galleries who locate and develop the fresh artists amongst whom will be found the Jeff Koonses, Cindy Shermans and Jean-Michel Basquiats of the future. Upon whom those sharp-eyed dealers become players themselves and fresh artists are set up for inspection by both collectors and predatory circling mega-gallerists.

  It has been an excellent system but it is now rickety, indeed threatened, and in large part that’s because involvement in the art fair circuitry has become as near-necessary for the strivers as for the fat cats. But it is all costly, and much riskier, for the strivers. The mega-gallerists are aware of this and Zwirner’s recent suggestion that just as the rich pay more tax in the non-art world so he and his fellow uber-dealers should pay more for their spaces at the fairs was much spoken of at Frieze. Zwirner was congratulated for this generous commonsense but it was noted that this would not of itself resolve the art economy’s very real wealth gap problem. Nobody I spoke to could come up with practical suggestions but we are likely to hear more on this.

  Just walking into TEFAF at the Park Avenue Armory signaled that this was a fair for grown-ups. At Nahmad my eye fell upon a Hans Arp, a Calder with a figuratively modeled head – recalling that Calder made toys early in his career – and a Max Ernst. And there was another Max Ernst at Acquavella across the way. I soldiered on. There was a magnificent 2nd century AD torso of Hercules and huge flint tools from the Stone Age – one priced at $15,000 – at the Paris gallery, David Ghezelbash. TEFAF stands for The European Fine Art Foundation and has been an annual event at Maastricht, The Netherlands, annually since 1988, where it shows thousands of years of art. A loaded Ruinart trolley – Blanc de Blanc at $25 a glass – spun silently up. Like I said, TEFAF is a fair for grown-ups.

   So to Art New York, which offered a wholly different art world. Several wholly different art worlds, in fact, because, like Art Miami, its fellow fair, the attitude seems broadly welcoming rather than  judgmental. Yes, there was excellent mainstream work there, such as a superlative Alex Katz at the Casterline Goodman Gallery of Aspen, Colorado, which would have been equally at home at TEFAF or Frieze. There was also a fair amount of Street Art and Street Art derivatives, such as work by Retna and some neons by Mr Brainwash, which dispense such not particularly wise nuggets of wisdom as LOVE IS THE ANSWER, FOLLOW YOUR HEART IT KNOWS THE WAY and I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.

  There was an interesting body of what I would call Latino work, including some deft abstractions by Jorge Luis Santos and caricatural realism by Roberto Fabelo at Cernudo Arte of Coral Gables. And an especial delicacy is what many will call kitsch, way too simple a description, I think, of the obsessive, highly illustrational, big-eyed-girl manner, associated with the magazine, Juxtapoz, and at the fair with the Los Angeles gallery, Corey Helford, which was established by Jan Corey and her TV producer husband, Bruce Helford, creator of such shows as Anger Management. What does it have to do with the contemporary art world? Nothing much really. It is what it is. That’s what I like about it.





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