The entrance to the 2011 Fountain Art Fair during Saturday night (image by Hrag Vartanian)

The Fountain Art Fair was parked at Pier 66 in Chelsea, floating on the water as if at any moment it could set sail for an undisclosed location. The odd cousin in the family of New York art fair week, Fountain is a quirk DIY vision of what’s happening in contemporary art today.

At the entrance to the fair is a 100-foot mural on temporary plywood panels painted by popular street artists. The mural flanked corridor lead you to the exhibition hall, which in turn lead to a stage area where performance art and party events had been happening all weekend.

If you have the idea that art fairs are aseptic flea markets, then you haven’t experienced Fountain, which prides itself at being a warm space where accessible and affordable art is the name of the game.

A view of part of the corridor of street art at Fountain. Far right is the contribution of Hellbent and at far left is a portion by Clown Soldier. (via hv)

At Fountain I found many great surprises, but let’s start at the beginning, namely the street art murals that greet visitors to the boat. Following the success of the recent street art installations at Miami Basel, Fountain invited more artists from New York and LA to cover temporary mural walls with their work.

Sarah Trouche performing at Hotel Particulier Montmatre, Paris, 2010

Whether it was the psychedelia of Hellbent, the stenciled characters of Chris Stain, the large-scale animals of Gaia or the politically incorrect crotch humor of Dick Chicken, the mural and its contrast of styles and techniques felt whimsical and fun. Other artists who contributed to the project were Ellis G., Army of One, Imminent Disaster, Faro, Clown Soldier, among others.

There was plenty of good things to see, including the booth of G-Spot gallery that included the traffic signs of Chris Smith, the individual artist booth of Greg Haberny and his visual assault against consumerism, political corruption, propaganda and other social issues, and What It Is gallery, which had a fine acrylic painting by Lise Haller Baggesen with glitter over black velvet! But the highlight of the What It is booth was the large and intricate ball pen drawing by Stoic Swine, which I would describe as half nightmare, half art therapy.

One of my new finds was Paris-based artist Sarah Trouche, who attributes the same value to her performances as photographic documentation that results from her actions. Her work is an investigation of the relation between herself, the cities she visits and the people that inhabit those places. The images were vibrant, perfectly balanced and demonstrate a strong attention to detail.

Peter Lapsey’s “Williamsburg 2” (2009) uses 24-karat gold leaf floating on glass to recreate Brooklyn buildings. (click to enlarge)

If I had to pick the most outstanding booth of the whole fair it was the one curated by Williamsburg’s own Camel Art Space, whose display featured a number of talented artists, including Peter Lapsey‘s Commodity and Desire series, which depicts clusters of Brooklyn buildings created with gold leaf on glass. Using this extravagant media, Lapsey creates plain silhouettes that look like dissolving forms that float on transparent backgrounds — they are a visual treat. Another notable contribution to the booth was the photography of Carl Gunhouse, who portrays uninhabited urban spaces.

But the stand out in this booth was Gina Dawson, who uses the rejection letters she has received over the years from galleries and uses them to create delicate and beautiful embroidered samplers. She also had some miniature funerary reefs, which were constructed using the paper from those very same rejection letters, on display.

Brooklyn-based street artist Gilf! targets Sarah Palin in this work. (image via hv)

A view of the exhibition area at Fountain. (via hv) (click to enlarge)

I also enjoyed the opportunity to admire the work of French urban artist Ugly — Kid Gumo, who was showing at the Marianne Nems Gallery booth. His distinctive faces were here but so were some surprising collages created with paper materials found in the streets.

Right at the end of my time at Fountain I spotted JM Rizzi (aka JMR) painting a mural. His art is alway a good mix of urban aesthetics with colorful abstractions.

Fountain was laid back, easy to enjoy, and at the same time very delightful and inspirational. Definitively all things I look for in a good art fair.

The Fountain Art Fair (Pier 66 at 26th Street and Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan) is open on Sunday, March 6 from noon to 7pm.

Jorge Martin Vila is an independent curator born in Spain and living in Brooklyn. He writes about art for a variety of media, and assists in the production and exhibition of artwork. He also blogs at OUTSIDERmag.

3 replies on “The Fountain Art Fair Alternative”

  1. Thanks for the fine review of Camel Art Space. Small correction..the uninhabited urban landscapes are by Carl Gunhouse.

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