By Irene Clouthier
After three intense days in New York at Frieze Week, a lot of standing on my feet and a couple of blisters later, I sat down ready to translate my experience onto paper in an effort to deconstruct the art fair phenomenon. Trying to describe or summarize the experience of all the art fairs that have I visited was more complex than I had originally anticipated. The memories and images of these experiences have many layers and a mix of emotions and feelings.
In 1995, I attended my first art fair, Expo-Arte Guadalajara in Mexico, back when I was in college. It was the first attempt to establish an art fair in Mexico. I went with three classmates who were also eager to see, to learn, and experience art and to find out what an art fair was all about. It had imagined that it was going to the biggest, most diverse supermarket where you could find anything you wanted and other things you did not know existed but could certainly appreciate it was a big encounter with contemporary art for me. I even bought my first artwork.
My next art fair was FIAC in Paris in 1996, a great experience with exhibits almost resembling what one finds in a museum only of all the art and artist that did not make it in. I saw some big names and got to know a lot of contemporary artists for the first time. Then, in 2000, I moved to Washington, DC and starting in 2002, I went to the Armory week for the first time followed by the Affordable Art Fair in 2003 and 2004; Art Expo and Scope NY in 2003; Diva NY in 2004 and; Art Basel Miami week where I participated at Pulse and Scope in 2005 Finally, Zona Maco Mexico City in 2005. Ever since then, I attend at least two or three art fairs per year, I feel that is a great way to see what other artist are producing, to train de eye and see what’s out there.
Each time, the experience is similar—I see a lot, I try to visit three to four fairs at a time, walk them and see as much as I can. I always end up seeing at least five artist I like, and probably two to three works that just blow my mind; the kind of art that shakes me to the core and makes me believe that there is still a lot that I have not seen, that has not been done yet or that can be presented in a completely different manner. I clearly remember Nick Cave’s sculptures four years ago in Basel Miami, Los Carpinteros Installation two years ago at art the beach in Miami and the first time I saw Ivan Navarro’s work at the armory which absolutely knocked me off my feet!
Initially I thought about covering DC galleries and the artist from DC showing at Frieze week. However, only Ada Rose and the Curator’s office exhibited this time around. The Ada Rose Gallery booth was spacious and well hung with many interesting pieces. It always makes me feel good to see people I know doing well, because I know how hard they have had to work to present at an art fair.
I have to say that I loved pulse this year. It had lots of great artists with accompanying proposals. It was fun, accessible and easy to walk. One of the artworks I enjoyed the most was Peter Sarkisian from Miami’s Zadok Gallery. Sarkisian created a video installation of 3D printed robots and a fly using video projection that animates the gears and parts of the robots. One can clearly see the use of new technologies and media in his work and its application to art. Also at Pulse, I also enjoyed the flat bead projection of Laurent Lamarche’s kinetic sculpture installation of creatures made out of reused materials shown by Artmur Gallery.
Despite several DC galleries closures or galleries changing the way they operate in the past year, Washington, DC was still present at the New York City fairs. Whether at Pulse with Ada Rose Gallery, or at The Salon Sürcher with Curator’s office Art Fair or at the Whitney with Terry Adkins who was born in Washington DC, DC’s presence was felt.
Frieze was a pleasant surprise. It was my first Frieze New York fair (I have never attended Frieze London). The space was voluminous, welcoming and bright with an easy to read layout, high ceilings and a lot of interesting art! On the first day, I did not see anything that left me speechless; then, on the second day of my visit, I walked through the middle aisle to find fresh proposals that were bright, more socially charged and more conceptually daring.
The food and the VIP room enhanced my experience. Oddly, the organizers requested I complete a survey as they were very interested in feedback on the VIP room and the food. This gave me the impression that these days that the art at fairs does not stand on its own accord but rather is part of “the experience.”
My art fair experiences end the same way— I come back home with bag full of catalogues, brochures, postcards, and handouts, a bunch of business cards and countless pictures on my phone allowing me to put together the pieces of a puzzle and reconstruct the experience, as a backup of my memory which is trying to digest the saturated consumption of art which ultimately leaves me feeling very inspired.