There’s often no rhyme or reason to the selection of art in individual booths at fairs — other than, of course, a gallery’s aim to sell well. At the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) Art Show, the best booths are those that feel like mini solo or group shows, with a distinct idea or aesthetic being explored. While most of the fair still skews toward Modern and postwar art, some galleries are presenting newer work by bigger names like Jim Shaw (Metro Pictures) and Marcel Dzama (Crown Point Press), but also by quieter artists like Jasmin Sian (Anthony Meier Fine Arts). Among my personal favorites were individual works by well-known artists that were previously unfamiliar to me, including a breathtaking Japanese-inspired photograph by Alfred Stieglitz and an ephemera-filled valise by Joseph Cornell.
Joseph Cornell at Richard L. Feigen & Co.
In this delightful work titled “The Crystal Cage (Portrait of Berenice),” Joseph Cornell packs an overflowing valise with letters, pictures, real train stubs, and pages ripped from poetry books, all of them said to belong to a fictional character named Berenice. Cornell began the work in 1943 and continually added onto to it until the 1960s. Obsessed with astronomy and science, Berenice, we discover, convinces her parents to move the 18th-century tower Pagode de Chanteloup from Paris to New England for her to use as an observatory. Elsewhere, a scribbled-on piece of paper poetically reads, “Bérénice ‘lost’ constellion [sic] in the dome of the Grand Central.” Cornell, a Christian Scientist, would sometimes write in Berenice’s perspective in his own diary, pages of which are said to be scattered in this whimsical portrait of a girl’s dreams, fancies, meteorological predictions, and travels.
Hugo Gellert at Mary Ryan Gallery
The Hungarian-American illustrator and muralist Hugo Gellert, who lived from 1892 to 1985 (79 of those years in New York), covered a lot of political ground. At Mary Ryan Gallery, you can see his 1930s lithographs commenting on labor abuse in factories, his illustrations for the radical Greenwich Village publication The Masses, as well as his paintings from the 1920s, which, in my view, are less accomplished, though they give a closer sense of what his murals would’ve looked like — none of which survive today. The highlight is his Century of the Common Man 1943 silkscreens, whose brilliantly colored aesthetics seem to reappropriate Soviet-era posters and predate Poppy sensibilities.
Bill Traylor at Betty Cuningham Gallery
Bill Traylor’s portraits of horses, birds, owls, humans, and fish are some of the first works to greet you at ADAA. A former slave who only began to explore his artistic potential at the age of 85, Traylor drew with pencil and crayon on cardboard, producing images that float in empty planes and are playful in their rigidity and flat perspectives. Especially beautiful are his few drawings of objects, like “Figure 8 Basket” (1939) and “Plant in Vase” (1939), both of which lend multiple readings to their abstracted shapes.
Jasmin Sian at Anthony Meier Fine Arts
At first glance, Jasmin Sian’s If I had a little zoo series looks like a collection of small embroideries. Instead, she made incredibly delicate cutouts on deli bag paper and filled each shape with peonies, crows, a bear, or deer — all characters in Sian’s imaginary zoo. “I miss Gus the mopey polar bear in the Central Park zoo,” reads the subtitle of one her cutouts; it has a polar bear delicately placed within a wreath of plants, rendered in ink and graphite. There’s a deep sense of care and lengthy dedication of time to each of these scenes, which hold no more than two animals at a time.
German Expressionists Drawings at Galerie St. Etienne
Taking a stride and seemingly wearing a jacket backwards, the nude in “Standing Semi-Nude with Brown and Red Vest, Back View (Torso)” has a light and loving mood for an Egon Schiele. There are other surprises at Galerie St. Etienne’s booth, including four pen and ink drawings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of nude women, rendered in quick, sparse, Matisse-esque strokes, and one study drawing by Max Beckmann of a distressed woman with chillingly enlarged hands for his painting “Afternoon.”
Alfred Stieglitz at Howard Greenberg Gallery
Howard Greenberg Gallery has a host of work by Photo-Secessionists on view, but it is this Alfred Stieglitz, hung to the side on the face of a pillar, that caught my attention. Printed on Japanese paper, its long composition and foggy image — which seems to almost blend photography with watercolor — recall the sparse landscapes of Japanese scrolls.
The 2016 ADAA Art Show continues at the Park Avenue Armory (Park Avenue at E 67th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through March 6.