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Most art fairs in New York City this week are bombastic affairs. New City Art Fair stands in stark contrast to that trend. The mission of this fair is to feature original artwork by contemporary Japanese artists. To achieve this goal, Kentaro Totsuka, the director of New City, invited eleven Japanese galleries to display their wares. From brashly expressive to quiet and reserved, the fair’s artwork ranges in style, medium, and format. If I had to choose a unifying theme it would be scale — the majority of the works on view could fit in a briefcase.
Art-U room’s installation features several artists from the Gutai group, an avant-garde collective in postwar Japan. Atsuko Tanaka was my favorite artist by far. Her canvases of colorful orbs spattered by gooey bands of paint, bring to mind bull’s-eyes, targets, evil eyes, and lollipops. The vibe is psychedelic bukkake playground. Gross, I know, but also beautiful, with so many bright colors!
Gallery Kogurue features traditional and contemporary work. Much of it did not appeal to me, but I did enjoy the out-there drawings of Soi Yuko. Her visionary landscapes take their influence from Persian miniatures as much as Paul Klee and Henry Darger. The works are kaleidoscopic dreamscapes populated by hairy eyeballs and animal heads. Mounted directly onto the wall, the drawings had a humble, straight-from-the-studio vibe that reinforced their relationship to “outsider” art.
Shusuke Ao and Ichiro Irie, of Eitoeiko Gallery, both create eye-catching work, but the two are appealing for different reasons. Shusuke Ao’s “Operation A” features 2,450 paper airplanes suspended from the ceiling. Each plane may be identical in shape, but not in appearance. I cannot put my finger on it, but the work is menacing — in a good way. It brought to mind Chris Burden’s room-sized installation of model nuclear submarines.
Irie is represented by a suite of photographs that show him urinating on a series of museums from Los Angeles to Mexico to Japan. At first glance, I thought these photos were funny, but shallow. Yet the more I think about them, the more they resonate with me. Maybe I spend too much time watching my dog piss on trees, planters, curbs, and sidewalks, but I totally get the need to claim space for one’s own, even if it means peeing on the floor.
Hidden in the back of the gallery space are two small watercolors by Yuichi Hirako. If Hansel and Gretel dropped a tab (or two) of acid, they’d feel right at home in his spooky forest scenes.
New City Art Fair is humble, but worth checking out if you are in the neighborhood. If I didn’t get there, I never would have been exposed to this quirky array of artists little known in the US Sometimes, good things come in small packages.
New City Art Fair ran March 7–10 at hpgrp Gallery (529 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).