Relocating its New York edition from Armory Week to join Frieze Weekend, the 2012 Pulse Art Fair offered itself as an accessible companion to the bigger fair action on Randall’s Island, both in terms of location and the art presented. In two floors of the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, a spaciously arranged group of national and international galleries, with the established organizations on the first level and the emerging galleries offering solo shows in the Impulse section on the second, made for eclectic, but consistently approachable, viewing. This resulted in few moments of excitement, although there were those works that sparked off from the pleasant stroll through the aisles.
Mike Weiss Gallery had one of the most dynamic booths, with highlights including Kim Dorland’s atmospheric oil paintings and Will Kurtz’s detailed-yet-messy characters who appeared to have morphed from some trash heap to the bench on the pristine Pulse fair floors. Although Kurtz’s people (accompanied by one dog) were attracting a lot of admirers, much of the attention at Pulse went to the rabble of animals that prowled through the works, including one shocking stallion.
TINKEBELL’s “Cupcake,” an abomination that disfigured a taxidermy horse into a grotesque version of a My Little Pony, was impossible to miss, even if you might have wanted to. The Dutch artist was exhibiting with the Amsterdam-based Torch, so that means this thing made a transatlantic journey to rollerskate into your nightmares.
“Cupcake” wasn’t the only horse in Pulse, and another appeared in Diana Lowenstein Gallery’s booth in the form of Chu Teppa’s “It’s Over I,” where a equine figure emerged as if in a marble relief. The booth was one of the liveliest points of the fair, with vibrant collages by Alejandra Padilla and playful fabric sculptures by Clemencia Labin adding the the Miami gallery’s exuberant presentation.
Other creatures could be found with Julie Saul Gallery, where Christopher Russell’s meticulously sculpted birds cackled on miniature obelisks and terracotta fruit. It was the most heavily decorative arts-influenced work I saw, and I loved how it felt different from everything else at the fair with a foreboding, contemporary take on an aristocratic dinner service, turning ornate table decorations into a crowd of conquered monuments.
Not all the beasts were of the natural world, with Alan Rath’s “Creature II” being more a spawn of the new media universe. A single wagging feather and screen with a human eye both responded to human interaction, showing how easily friendly actions can transform the most alien of robots into something personable.
Humans were often represented in fragments, and I saw a couple of large-scale skull paintings and some gaping skull sockets in sculpture. Aleksandar Duravcevic’s had a gorgeous series of anatomical drawings that could have been torn from a Victorian doctor’s notebook at Galerie Stefan Röpke of Cologne, one of the several international galleries with strong showings at Pulse. I also loved Lawrie Shabibi of Dubai, which had some impressive works by Shapour Pouyan and Adeel uz Zafar, whose gorilla “Kong – The Tragic Anti-hero” (2012) raged against a swath of bandages in a drawing etched out of paint on vinyl.
Upstairs in the Impulse section of emerging galleries and interactive installations the audience energy was more engaged, especially with Inner Course’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” presented by Honey Space, where visitors could enter a glassed-off “psychic playroom” for a participatory art experience.
There was also the frustrating/fun table of computer games by Bennett Foddy embedded in stuffed animals and presented by the art arcade purveyors Babycastles. Foddy’s clever games are all about very coordinated muscle movement, and I totally failed at getting my runner in “QWOP” to do much more than fall flat-faced at the starting line, but it was an enjoyable misery. (You can torture yourself with the games online through Foddy’s website if you like.) Another interactive component in Impulse was at the Creative Capital booth, where visitors could look through Eve Sussman’s series Elevated Train, with three-dimensional photographs of the J train revealed through a stereoscopic viewer, giving the modern city a tone of a film noir.
Out of the individual exhibits on the second floor, Jordan Eagles’ slaughterhouse blood paintings with Brooklyn-based Causey Contemporary were receiving the most attention. While I am not entirely drawn to the bombasic aesthetic, I do appreciate how Eagles can take something so corpeal and make it ethereal.
I was intrigued by the exhibit by Alejandro Mendoza with the Miami gallery Kavachnina Contemporary, which had topographical works invaded by planes or submarines. There was something about the little toy military vehicles violent presence on the minimal terrains that had a surprising darkness.
Out of the Impulse booths, I was most drawn to Geoff McFetridge’s exhibit with Cooper Cole, an Ontario, Canada, gallery. The paintings with their geometric forms and straightforward figures are completely within the accessible nature of much of the work at Pulse, yet in their directness was calm beauty that I welcomed in the frenetic art fair.