After celebrating ten years of contemporary art fairs nationally and abroad, Scope New York has decided to make the move uptown to mingle with the big boys. The fair is enclosed in an enormous white tent on 57th Street at Twelfth Avenue and provides a much-needed respite from the hysteria of the Armory Show. Fifty-seven galleries are represented, approximately half of which are based in New York. The Middle East appears to be the one region noticeably absent from the international pool, but strong entries from Santo Domingo and South Korea show that this fair is still digging deep into underrepresented terrain.
Upon entering the circus tent, a hall of mirrors speckled with obscure trophies from track meets and wrestling matches welcomes the visitor. The mirrors magnify the tiny front desk area; the open sky, Hudson River and piers are inescapable in the reflection. This first impression of the fair, juxtaposing artificial and natural beauty, creates a dialogue that runs through the show. Joanie Lemercier’s installation at Brooklyn’s Muriel Guepin Gallery echoes this. Light projections illuminate a flat composition of piled grey rectangles on canvas, giving them a three-dimensional presence. Light, be it a surging spot or dancing lines that highlight the contours of certain blocks, is the pulse of this piece. Lemercier creates a superficial environment that merges flatness and depth, forcing the viewer to adjust back and forth between the two dimensions.
The only flaw in Lemercier’s work, according to the artist himself, is the trembling light from the projector. His straight lines gave way to SCOPE’s hollow floors, stabilized by wooden planks and screws but putting projectors and sculptures in danger’s way. I mused that the eventual implosion of the entire 30,000-square-foot space could be a huge installation purchased by the City of New York, but quickly realized that the Hudson would empty before the state had enough funding for that type of acquisition.
I approached each trembling pedestal on the exhibition floor as I would an electric fence: getting close enough to investigate, but staying far away enough to account for my unrelenting clumsiness. The value of shattered objects and ideals, however, is a prevalent theme at Scope. Galerie SAS is showing a suite of decorative, white porcelain sculptures by Laurent Craste that have been irrevocably deformed by a baseball bat or a screwdriver. Some of the urns and vases are deflated enough to be pinned to the wall, stuck there with the force of a crossbow’s arrow. They are elegant, adjusting to the imposition of the real world without losing their poise.
Sometimes this imposition isn’t as well received, as in Michael Mararian’s painting “Candy Wall” at Corey Helford Gallery. The toddler in the image is a disciple of the grocery store’s gummy candy section. His glance is one of disoriented sadness, as if pleading with the audience to lower the blaring prices behind him. The juxtaposition of sweet and sour candy with the pure devastation on his face is laughable. Both Craste and Mararian present comedies of errors with extreme aesthetic appeal, indicating that just because something is broken, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it.
Another highlight of SCOPE is the fluid conversation between states of consciousness and commerce. An unexpected performance by Katherine Nolan with Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery drew a large crowd on Wednesday evening. Dolan walked out from the back of the booth wearing nothing more than a black bra, thigh-highs and high heels. After putting on a pair of panties, she stretched, posed silently for pictures and then removed them. Nolan promptly nailed the panties to the wall and proceeded to stroll around the fair. One of the gallerists added a price tag: $4,003.99. The price accounts for her own rate as well as the cost of the panties themselves (often from Wal-Mart). The performance prompted questions about commodity and the quantification of an artwork, which in this case was worth approximately $1,000 per minute. Nolan is deeply entrenched in feminist studies, so more power to her if she tricks a collector into paying such a high sum for her to take off her panties in less than ten minutes.
Despite the charming approachability of Scope, one shouldn’t forget who the fair is really targeting: collectors. Catering to the crowd with extra space in their five-story brownstones or new summer homes in Dubai, the fair features a plethora of versatile, forceful and decorative work. Federico Uribe’s playground of fruit, modes of transportation and traffic signals made of colored pencils at Now Contemporary Art is luscious and extravagant. Michael Murphy, represented by gallery nine5 in Manhattan, offered a comical deer head fashioned out of black and brown Popsicle sticks that I would hang on a mantle if I had one. Even video has fallen into the decorative, perhaps not surprisingly. Marck at Licht Feld Gallery, for example, had several looping videos of a woman swimming through and around 3-D objects in a digital world. They may not lead the viewer to any new life conclusions, but the videos are engrossing and coy in the way decorative pieces should be.
Scope is an engaging, playful alternative to the Armory Show — though there are far too many Chuck Close-esque portraits and an unnecessary emphasis on money as literal subject matter (what fun is that?). The focus on process and cultural mockery suggests that all is not lost, that there’s more to contemporary art than the extremes of excess or transparent political outcries. Scope’s galleries are vigilant, focused and shameless. They don’t preach, they suggest. For an audience that is more stimulated than the Trojan Tri-Phoria (link NSFW) this weekend, Scope kills us with kindness.
Extremely honorable mentions:
- Farley Aguilar at Spinello Projects
- Stephen Zirwes at Krause Gallery
- Penny at Robert Fontaine Gallery
- Clayton Chandler at C. Emerson Fine Arts
- Jenny Keane at Golden Thread Gallery
- Pakpoom Silaphan at Scream
- Igor Josifor at Galerie E.G.P
- Cinders Gallery collaboration with The Center, Lilah Freedland and The ProFailure Press opposite the food court sponsored by La Esquina
Scope New York (West 57th Street & Twelfth Avenue) takes place March 8–11, Thursday–Saturday: 11am–8pm; Sunday 11am–7pm, and general admission is $20.