(Joe Pan, Heather Morgan, Michael X Rose: setting up for the Fountain, 2012.)

Last Thursday evening I helped Michael X. Rose set up his wall at the Fountain Art Fair. It took about 5 hours, and we were dealt our fair share of those happy mishaps that somehow make the effort more worthwhile, such as: the electricity in our part of the Armory at 25th & Lexington was out (No problem, our film-worker guardian angel Romaine from the next booth over lent us his power for our own, brighter lights); our wall hadn’t been painted (No problem, Mike brought fabric for the walls); the overhead light trellis we could use could not be extended over the wall, therefore we would have suspended the trellis using guide wires overhead (Which worked wonderfully. If you look at the picture above, you can see that because of the trellis, we were able to use leftover fabric to create a space even more maudlin and caravan-esque and therefore more unique and inviting than it would have been originally); and we were paired with two urban artists who took the wall directly across from us, and whose photoshopped street vision seemed to clash with Mike’s outsider-art-cum-Rueben style and his paintings of ritualistic murder, myth, lightning strikes, rape, Nazis being attacked by gun-toting Amazonians, and the like (The two ladies turned out to be terrific, in conversation, technique, and artistic temper, and we got along splendidly. One of the artists, noting the lone empowered stance taken by one of Mike’s heroines in a field struck by lightning, decided to buy the piece for herself).

Mike had used Kickstarter to fund the booth. Above that, he was able to sell six paintings and a bunch of limited edition books. Walking around after Fountain ended, I learned that not too many people had sold as much work as Mike, although if I had to compare the Fountain show with the Armory show on Pier 92 and 94, there was much more exciting and profound art per square inch in the 25th St Armory than on the Hudson.

Take for example this enormous, beautifully twinned Swoon (Thalassa) in the background and the decidedly more naturalist 70s piece at the fore, being sold by the Kesting Ray gallery off Grand Street. Their booth, piece for piece, which included the mesmerizing resin sculptures of Stephanie Dotson, was better stocked than 80% of the booths viewable in the Contemporary section at Pier 94.

Across from them stood the Cheap & Plastique tribe, whose artist Heather Morgan I know personally and whose work I’ve always very much admired. Heads up, I just received word Artnet posted a few pics of Heather and her work as part of their review on Fountain, part of which reads as follows: Among the fair’s 60 exhibitors were plenty of independent artists, many of them of the Street Art variety, as well as several scrappy Brooklyn galleries, giving the goings-on a distinct DIY feel.

The Fountain was filled with bad art, too, don’t get me wrong, but at least it didn’t reek of the utter banality, complacency, and the thinly veiled nostalgia of a rougher, smarter time most of the Pier 94 stuff I waded through last Sunday did. It was as if the dilemma of art has shifted from the metaphysical to the melodramatic, and from interior space to exterior composition. Surface reigned at the Piers. I’m surprised they served the Diet Cokes with actual diet coke inside. (What a waste of marketing potential, right?) There were very few objects and installations of any substance, and the most interesting pieces were totally baroque and resisted the rushed, flea market feel of the presentation, like the works of Simmons and Burke from the Michael Kohn Gallery in LA, with their collages of hundreds of ripped-off internet images, which asked of the viewer, if nothing else, to slow the fuck down for a second and do a little investigating. Here’s one of their pieces:

Speaking of the metaphysical, have you ever seen the golden mean (or fibonacci spiral) better represented by blue shower tiles? No, you haven’t. I’m not even sure that this is what the artist was going for, but somehow this was the most comforting piece of all the shows, and it was at Fountain.

I guess what I’m saying is, next year I won’t spend $30 on the Big Armory festival, and will instead spend a little more money (or hawk my way in for free) visiting several smaller venues, which makes me a little distressed and sad, given that I may miss the works of some great new artists like Yoshiyanu Tamura, whom I was told was is apprenticing with T. Murakami, whose work (and mind, and essays) I adore.

Unfortunately Tamura can only be viewed at the Big Armory. If only Tamura lived in Brooklyn…