ArtPadSF 2012, Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

SAN FRANCISCO — A flurry of art fairs took place in San Francisco this past weekend, with three concurrent events filling up space in an exhibition hall, festival pavilion and motor lodge. The last of these three, the Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin neighborhood, took great delight in opening its guestrooms to the whims of gallerists and exhibitors, some of whom took the opportunity to suggest, with more than a wink and tongue in cheek, the sensuous and provocative.

ArtPadSF is the smaller yet debonair competitor to the much larger artMRKT San Francisco and SF Fine Art Fair. Vacated of its furnishings, the guestrooms and suites of the Phoenix Hotel hosted paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works to create intimate spaces curated by galleries from around the country. With visitors sitting poolside with drinks in hand, ArtPadSF reminded me of how an art fair can be fun and accessible without shirking its essentially commercial function.

Unspeakable Projects booth: Rose Eken, “Enter Night” (2012), various glazed ceramics

Echoing the rock ‘n’ roll theme of the hotel, Unspeakable Projects exhibited the work of Danish artist Rose Eken, whose ceramic renderings of cigarette cartons, guitar pedals and empty liquor bottles resembled the early pop replicas of Claes Oldenburg, had he been fixated on symbols of rock ‘n’ roll excess.

In the nearby Spoke Art Gallery guestroom, Scott Scheidly’s Portraits series of oil paintings depicted some of the world’s most famous authoritarians — Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong-il among others — in emasculated pinks and violets. One visitor to the gallery, however, took offense to Scheidly’s potrayal of Pope John Paul II wearing leopard-print regalia.

Spoke Art Gallery booth: Scott Scheidly, “Portraits” (2012)

“The response to the work has been overwhelmingly positive. We did get an angry tirade about our questionable pink Pope over there. A very, very angry woman had a lot to say about it last night, but I take that as good feedback,” said Ken Harman, owner of Spoke Art Gallery.

In a large corner suite, Denver-based Carmen Wiedenhoeft exhibited a miniature retrospective of work by photographer Richard Peterson, a former San Francisco resident who documented the city’s early punk scene for the seminal fanzine Search and Destroy. Over his 48-year career, Peterson photographed the likes of Patti Smith, Nico, Iggy Pop and the Ramones.

“ … [The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver] is celebrating old-school San Francisco punk rock right now and is trying to point out that this early incarnation of punk was actually more an art movement than it was just a music scene. Most of the musicians I knew from then were artists. In fact, everybody was an artist or writer or some kind of creative person,” said Peterson, who was present at the gallery.

When asked if he felt uncomfortable about being at an art fair as an artist, he replied, “Yeah, but that’s the part of art you have to deal with. I’m trying to make my living from this so I don’t have to work at a real job.” His statement was followed by a laugh

Although the majority of galleries hailed from the Bay Area, the fair hosted several Los Angeles galleries, such as West Hollywood’s New Image Art, featuring work by Brazilian street artists Os Gêmeos, and Robert Berman Gallery, exhibiting photographs of last year’s Occupy LA by photojournalist Ted Soqui.

Beta Pictoris Gallery booth: Willie Cole, “Downtown Goddess” (2012), bronze

The only gallery from the Southeast, Beta Pictoris Gallery featured the concept-driven work of artist Willie Cole, among them his readymade assemblages of women’s shoes. Given the historical and conceptual roots of the works represented by the gallery, I asked founder Guido Maus whether he found it difficult to engage new collectors with more concept-driven art.

“I’m a one-man show here at the booth, so you cannot engage everyone. Sometimes, the blood-sucking art dealer wants to push for the sale, but a [monograph] can bring you to a level of understanding for a particular body of work which I can never bring. So is it difficult to engage people here because of a certain content? No, not at all. There’s a very educated and cultured audience here in San Francisco that is sensitive to racial identity, gender identity, as well as pure beauty,” he said.

The sensual and visceral can ignite interest, too. In “Hasn’t Happened Since,” an installation by artist and San Francisco Art Institute MFA James Mitchell Perry, visitors view a set of surveillance videos of Room 14, a lurid mise-en-scène of hotel room deviance. In the hotel bathroom are video projections of a young man and old woman masturbating. The shock of seeing a naked septuagenarian is only mitigated by the amount of sheer pleasure the woman seems to derive from her exhibitionism. She’s having so much fun, I couldn’t help but feel happy for her.

Perry’s installation brought to mind artist Andrea Fraser’s infamous “Untitled” video piece from 2003 in which she and an unidentified collector are taped having sex. It evoked the old metaphor of selling art as prostitution, although in the general context of the fair, anyone present was welcome to spend some private time with the art, some of it hanging from bathroom walls. Not everyone can afford to buy art, but quite often, my experience at ArtPadSF reminded me that not all services rendered, like the experience of being challenged and titillated by art, require payment.

ArtPadSF ran from May 17 to May 20 at the Phoenix Hotel (601 Eddy St, San Francisco, California).

Abe is a writer based in Los Angeles.