A stone’s throw from The Armory Show at Piers 92 & 94, THE(UN)FAIR showcased close to 100 artists at a warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen. Spearheaded by nAscent Art and curated by nAscent’s founder Jennifer Wallace alongside artist Mikel Glass, the event included sponsorship by Ben & Jerry’s. That’s right: free art, free ice cream, and a five-minute walk from the Armory.
As the name indicates, THE(UN)FAIR goes beyond reinterpreting the concept of the art fair and seeks to undo it. Floors and walls, elevators, and even the delightfully neon graffitied bathrooms were called into question at THE(UN)FAIR. From the moment guests stepped into the elevator, a comedian regaled them with terrible albeit affable stand-up. Upon entering the exhibition space, a work by Daniel Baltzer presents cut, unframed glass with the wall installation, Common Place, Common Grace, Baltzer explained he used to paint on plexi, but that this was more accessible.
The best example of deconstruction is the thematic use of picture frames in two works, one by curator Mikel Glass and the other by frame collectors and restorers Gill and Lagodich, who have amassed a collection of antique painting frames. Instead of using them to display other images, the frames remained empty, artfully tossed in a pile on the floor of the warehouse space. Mikel Glass set up empty frames in cut holes of the wall, so guests could come and pose in the dually interactive and deconstructive conglomeration. A photo series of colorful characters followed accordingly.
Mikel Glass and Jennifer Wallace put together THE(UN)FAIR just three weeks prior, when many art fairs take as long as three months or more. Rumor has it Glass lost 14 pounds during that short time, sleeping three hours a night on average. Glass showcases his own work in the show: Steampunk Shelly, a portrait of Mary Shelley. Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, serves in this case as an emblem of the artist’s trademark steampunk. Despite his ironic surname (in relationship to fellow artist Baltzer) the portrait features found materials rather than glass, including a disfigured infant doll. The image is as unusual as it is innovative, speaking to the overall absence of convention fitting to THE(UN)FAIR.
One stand-out work is Seeds that Release, a performance piece that ran from 6-10pm. Two African-American men covered completely in white body paint stand parallel on separate revolving plates, tied across with black twine. The revolutions are rhythmically attuned to music, with an accompanying video installation, Stasis. Brian Gonzalez created Seeds that Release and Stasis separately initially. The works were added together for the first time during the fair.
Arguably the most controversial piece on view, not least because it involves performers, the racial implications of Seeds that Release are undeniable. The figures are in a sort of ‘whiteface,’ counter to the minstrelsy and aggression of 20th century blackface as part of larger color divisions, and entertainment value, in pre-Civil Rights America. In a contemporary recontextualization, the overlap of black and white consequently challenges race altogether, with the video installation’s adding dimension on an aesthetic and metaphorical level.
The word stasis takes etymological forms. It’s rooted in a Greek word that translates to ‘standing still.’ The fact that the two figures in Seeds That Release are technically immobile as they circulate on the panels directly parallels the meaning of the word. This ‘standing still’ also functions as a standstill argument tactic in rhetorical discourse, a stoppage of blood-flow in medicine, and a lack of evolution in biology among other variations.
In terms of race and art, this blockage reveals a challenge. While the video is named Stasis, the Seeds that Release are growing despite the obstruction. As festive as THE(UN)FAIR is on the surface, the art evokes rebellion against an oppressive system, even alluding to injustices in the art world and beyond.
THE(UN)FAIR’s use of counterculture is ultimately both fun and formative, hopefully diverting a ‘stasis’ of art fair trends into a release and rebirth.
THE(UN)FAIR was held at 500 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019 from March 5th-10th. The Building is also home to nAscent Art New York, Inc.
Special thanks to Executive Art Consultant Cole Harrell for the press information.