Photo Essays

Dark Humor Abounds at the Fine Art Print Fair

Much of the artworks for sale emanated a darkly satirical message this past weekend.

Bruce Nauman, "Clown Taking a Shit," (1988) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic, except where otherwise noted)
Bruce Nauman, “Clown Taking a Shit” (1988), on display at Jim Kempner Fine Art (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic, except where otherwise noted)

With sales described somewhere between “fair” and “not the worst year I’ve ever seen” by gallery dealers, the terse mood that settled over the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) Fine Art Print Fair this past weekend was in direct contrast to the darkly satirical messages pouring out from the artworks for sale. The range of work was spectacular, and the tone unified in critical jest. With little more than a week until the midterm elections, it’s hard not to read too much into the grotesque figures of Francis Bacon, the hilarious shitting clown by Bruce Nauman, or the hyper-real portraits of Miles Aldridge’s plastic women. The works were not so much escapist, but more like artistic confrontation, the likes of which we don’t often experience at art fairs. Spanning much of the 20th and 21st century, the Print Fair was rich viewing for those who appreciate the timelessness and constancy of human folly.

Francis Bacon, “Second Version of Triptych 1944” (1988)
Francis Bacon, “Second Version of Triptych 1944” (1988), on display at Marlborough Gallery

Beginning with the masters of the last century, Francis Bacon, Paul Klee, and Salvador Dalì collectively sent SOS messages from the past. In “Second Version of Triptych 1944,” repainted in the 1980s, Bacon’s blood-red backgrounds and nightmarish figures, indistinguishable as either man or beast, elicit a sense of unknowable horror. A Dalì lithograph from 1971 is more lighthearted, filled with headless dancing figures and the Victorian silhouette of a woman collaged with cuts of meat, suggesting that perhaps the human condition is simply there for a gruesome laugh.

Paul Klee, "Seiltänzer" (1925)
Paul Klee, “Seiltänzer” (1925), on display at David Tunick, Inc.

A dusty pink Klee lithograph from 1925 shows a tightrope walker hovering above the abstracted outline of buildings — carefree or careworn, it’s impossible to know. In a similar but more contemporary vein, the black and white etching of William Kentridge from 1996 brings the absurd to the forefront, as the portly figure of the artist sleeps, bathes, and dances nude. Together, these works paint a world of immersive imagination, from the idyllic to the obscene.

Ana Maria Pacheco, “An Ancient Dark Night Descended Upon My Soul,” (2010-12)
Ana Maria Pacheco, “An Ancient Dark Night Descended Upon My Soul” (2010-12), on display at Pratt Contemporary

Moving from the psychological into the fantastic, Marcel Duzma’s black and white triptych of creatures takes on a life of its own — theatrical, sometimes cute, and always slightly sinister, like characters from Grimms’ Fairy Tales. From the performative to the imaginary, the animals in Ana Maria Pacheco’s “An Ancient Dark Night Descended Upon My Soul” bring viewers into a cinematic world of magic and symbolism. The drypoint engraving, full of shadowy and meticulous detail, shows a group of creatures huddled together, eyes darting in every direction, as something approaches. Equally dreamlike though less surreal was a lithograph by José Clemente Orozco titled “Brothel.” Soundly snoring after a night of revelry, Orozco captures the drunken sleep of a pile of Johns. Addressing issues of class and propriety, Orozco exposes his subjects without glorifying or condemning them. Questioning the baffling nature of the subconscious feels as timely as taking an unflinching look at the reality of our own desires and behaviors.

José Clemente Orozco, "Brothel" (1935)
José Clemente Orozco, “Brothel” (1935), on display at Weyhe Gallery

From the monochromatic realm of dreams to the Kodachrome world of Pop and Punk sentiments, irreverence rounded out the aesthetic. Warhol’s recreation of Munch’s “The Scream” from 1984 and his bright blue screenprint of Jackie Kennedy’s smiling face moments before her husband was assassinated, highlight how the Pop aesthetic continues to turn culture into commodities we crave.

Jamie Reid, "Pinned Queen" (2013)
Jamie Reid, “Pinned Queen” (2013), on display at Paul Stolper Gallery

A Punk mood emanated from the British gallery of Paul Stolper, which was showing the works of Jamie Reid and Mat Collishaw. Reid’s quadriptych of perfect smiling lips pierced by a safety pin, created with colorful pointillist dots and “diamond dust” glitter was aptly titled “Pinned Queen.” New work from Mat Collishaw, “Gasconades,” places decorative (and domesticated) goldfinches on a perch in front of dilapidated walls covered in peeling paint and colorful graffiti. A nod to the genre paintings of the 17th-century Dutch masters, these prints feel entirely contemporary and full of questions about captivity and beauty. Delving deep into West Coast subcultures were the drawings of Raymond Pettibon, collectively celebratory — with images of baseball and surfing — to harshly critical and crude.

Mat Collishaw, "Gasconades (Lawofsuccess)" (2018) (courtesy of Paul Stolper Gallery)
Mat Collishaw, “Gasconades (Lawofsuccess)” (2018), on display at Paul Stolper Gallery (image courtesy Paul Stolper Gallery)

The list of works addressing personal and political folly was seemingly endless, tucked into corners and sometimes without labels, like the small, Sharpie-like ink drawing by Ida Applebroog, which shows two men, each with one leg and one crutch, saying “Thank You, Mr. President.” Behind all of these artworks is the question of human nature, with its capacity to both appall and astound, and while few concrete answers could be gleaned, the work provoked viewers to reconsider a timeless subject now more relevant than ever.

Ida Applebroog, "Thank You, Mr. President" (2018)
Ida Applebroog, “Thank You, Mr. President” (2018), on display at Hauser & Wirth
Raymond Pettibon, "Untitled" (2018)
Raymond Pettibon, “Untitled” (2018), on display at Brooke Alexander, Inc. 
Miles Aldridge, "New Utopias #1 and #5" (2018)
Miles Aldridge, “New Utopias #1 and #5” (2018), on display at Polígrafa Obra Gráfica
Salvador Dali, "La Gastronamie Surréaliste" (1971)
Salvador Dali, “La Gastronamie Surréaliste” (1971), on display at Isselbacher Gallery
Andy Warhol, The Scream (After Munch), 1984, Courtesy of David Tunick, Inc.
Andy Warhol, “The Scream (After Munch)” (1984) (image courtesy David Tunick, Inc.)
William Kentridge, Black Ubu, 1996-97, courtesy of Gallery Neptune & Brown
William Kentridge, “Black Ubu” (1996–97) (image courtesy Gallery Neptune & Brown)

The Fine Art Print Fair was held in the Jacob K. Javits Center (Hudson Yards District, Manhattan) from October 25–28.

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