As the sun burned through the summer haze hovering above Manhattan, I caught a small ferryboat to Governors Island trying to catch a small breeze as I melted like a wax candle in heat. Five-minutes from Manhattan’s southern tip, this 172-acre island has played host to Lenape communities, Dutch settlers, Civil War prisoners, hospital patients, Coast Guard cadets, YMCA athletes — and now, artists.
This year marks the eleventh anniversary of the Governors Island Art Fair (GIAF), which has commandeered a selection of buildings around the outpost’s Colonels Row for artists to overrun. First built in the 1870s, these brick homes once housed army generals and their families. Now, their rooms are stuffed with multimedia installations, recycled plastic tsunamis, scalped stuffed animals, and an animatronic beating heart. There goes the neighborhood, and good riddance.
Roving through the row’s derelict assortment of buildings, it takes little time to understand the kaleidoscopic array of works on view. And while there is no curatorial theme uniting the exhibiting artists together, many have nonetheless reacted to the decrepit confines of their galleries by producing wonderfully terrifying art.
That’s not to say that the art is depressing; it’s practically delectable. That’s certainly the case for artist Rina AC Dweck who has transformed the kitchen of one row house into a delicatessen’s little shop of horrors. Fabricated with runny pink pigments, feathers, and nail extensions, Dweck’s work is a commentary on the muddled state of feminism today. Elsewhere she seems to have gone for the shock of discovery. Hint: check the freezer for a bloody surprise.
Another highlight is artist Motomichi Nakamura’s “Mush Marsh” (2018) projector installation. Just don’t ask me what it’s about: Nakamura has his nine semi-spherical blobs on the floor transform from an optical illusion to cartoonishly terrifying faces to little white sperms and beyond. It’s an enjoyable, if bewildering, experience.
Expect to see Samuelle Green’s fantastic bookworm installation flood your Instagram feed for the next month. Here, Green has rolled thousands of book pages into the stitched fencing of chicken wire to create an undulating, cavelike structure for visitors to enjoy. The overall result is something akin to a fragile beehive; the hexagonal sectors of Green’s creation seem to claw outside of the doorway that frames her room.
Another worthwhile installation is Etty Yaniv’s “Sirens” (2018), which is a massive sculpture made of recycled plastic materials and the artist’s discarded drawings. Initially inspired by a line from novelist Haruki Murakami’s story, “The Seventh Man,” which begins with a massive wave sweeping someone from the land. The concept of man being caught between the forces of land and sea is powerful in Murakami’s text as it is in Yaniv’s sculpture, which mixes additional elements of environmental awareness and pollution into the narrative.
One of the art fair’s founding organizers, Nicole Laemmle, described GIAF to me as an enormous summer camp for artists. What I saw on the island definitely confirms her description in the sense that the fair provides ample room for artists to flex their creative muscles without many restrictions. Further, the use of horror elements within installation conforms to a trend in the contemporary art world that we have seen develop from other art fairs like Spring Break and beyond.
The Governors Island Art Fair continues through September 30 at Colonels Row on Governors Island, accessible by ferry every day from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street with service from Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 on Saturdays, Sundays, and Labor Day.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.