Among peeling paint and creaking floors, the Governors Island Art Fair returned this past weekend to the former military homes of Colonels Row out in the New York Harbor. Organized by the nonprofit 4heads, it’s open each weekend this month. With 100 artists taking over rooms in the row of houses, from kitchen to attic, and media including photography, painting, installation, sound, and video, there’s an impressive labyrinth of work to explore. The most interesting are those which interact directly with the usually vacant space.
Some of these interventions are subtle, like Fiorella Gonzales Vigil fixing blinds in layers of color in one room’s windows, creating slatted shadows on the floor, or Jillian Clark sketching clouds of chalk around an old fireplace, the dust from the blue material scattered on the floor. In one small room, Baltzer Glass built what is possibly the world’s most elaborate Victorian-influenced gerbil cage, where you are invited to gently interact with the animals while pouring water in certain areas of the installation of pipes, salvaged art, and gerbil homes to generate steam as if you are powering a small engine. Then there is a small birch forest by Chaney Trotter where you can step behind a black curtain onto a bed of mulch edged by moss, while above tiny lights flash and a recording of thunder forebodes a storm. In two rooms of an attic, Sabrina Barrios also made an interesting transition between experimenting with the idea of “How to Build a Pyramid” with connecting squares, one portal painted right on the worn walls, the other a futuristic 3D “drawing” with light.
It was exciting to see the 1870s houses being used in so many different ways, the best I’d seen since No Longer Empty took them over with their Sixth Borough in 2010, where the art spilled into fireplaces and creeped up staircases. Too often the mostly abandoned structures are just used as a backdrop to art exhibitions. That’s not to say all the art worth exploring at the Governors Island Art Fair is a site-specific installation. Jackie Mock’s reliquaries for found objects, such as drawers of confetti from different events, hiccup remedies, a vintage suitcase packed with good luck charms from around the globe, and even a chip of paint from a Colonels Row wall, are thoughtful and clever. As is her dartboard inlaid with earth from all 50 states, the bullseye formed by some dirt from the center of the US, paired with darts tipped with feathers from North American birds. (A few items in the installation were a part of her takeover of the top of the Wassaic Project back in 2012).
There was also an engaging charm to Lori Nelson’s “Secret Self” horned monster ripped from 25 Fresh Direct boxes, and Sam Metcalf’s collaboration with Heather Dickison on a houseplant that hid behind blinds that opened and closed as the viewer walked around the room. While some of the two-dimensional art gets lost in the sometimes awkward structure of the buildings, and the lack of air conditioning can make the tops of the buildings a bit stifling, there is an interesting mix of emerging artists here collaborating right with the 19th century structures.
The Seventh Annual Governors Island Art Fair, of which Hyperallergic is the exclusive media sponsor, continues through September 28.