Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Scope on the Half Shell



Scope (a.k.a. –scope) is the little art fair that could. A scrappy competitor able to roll with the punches and come out ahead on points, it gives proof to a central precept of natural selection: survival through mutation. One of the obvious mutations of the recent Scope Hamptons (July 13 - 16, 2006) was a significant change in personnel. This overhaul came a scant four months since its last outing in March, when the fair took place in an Eleventh Avenue warehouse just one block from the Armory Show’s Hudson River piers.

Scope was given a difficult initiation on its first foray into the wild west side. Shut down by NYC fire marshals just hours before its VIP preview, the fair was summarily schooled in an axiom of NYC trade union etiquette: you have to pay the bagman when you set up shop. Or to retool the old saw: a penny saved (up front) is a penny (that can get you) burned. In any case, once the fair was allowed to re-open, it reported record sales and attendance.

Alexis Hubshman maintains his pre-eminent position as "Global Director". After all, it’s his purse and his project. But former special events coordinator Michael Sellinger was nowhere to be seen, and co-founder Robert Curcio, while still an exhibitor and member of the Selection Committee, was no longer on staff. They were replaced by the eminently equipped Helen Brown (in exhibitor relations), Daniel Lechner (the Produktions Oberführer: "If anyone would ask that question, I think it would be you!") and Sadie Weiss (the amiable princess of PR), with Lee Wells doing double duty as art director and chief curator.

Originally conceived as a hotel based fair scheduled opposite larger enterprises (like Art Basel Miami Beach, the Armory Show in New York, and Frieze in London) from which it would borrow attention and the occasional collector, Scope managed to establish a bit of difference through a sly conceptual wrinkle. Its exhibitors were requested to showcase the work of a single artist in their hotel rooms, which served as gallery by day, crash pad at night. Seemingly a winning combination: economy in the service of art, and party central all the time. Even if the "one artist in one room" rule was often cheerfully flouted, it lent a certain intimacy to the proceedings, as did the cramped quarters and slightly louche character of art viewed on a bed.

Scope first arrived in the Hamptons last summer as a singleton: all alone on the beach, and looking for love. Although there was no concurrent fair to lend support, the market strategy was simplicity itself. Follow the collectors from the sweltering city to their beach homes on Long Island. Distract them briefly from their sybaritic summer of boats and lawn parties and antiques. Sell them some art. Because when the seasonal doldrums of the art market have settled upon us, who does not feel the need for a true Profit? If the mammon will not come to Manhattan, then Manhattan will go to the Hamptons.

In its sophomore edition, Scope Hamptons expanded on its original theme, with 20,000 square feet (three times the space of last year’s Hamptons Hall), 60 international exhibitors, plus special curated projects that included the Perpetual Art Machine, the Queen Bee Snake Bar & Tea Room, Future Perfect, and CinemaScope. As well as a Silent Auction (to benefit Guild Hall) and a Patron’s Lounge, where Lilah Freedland ruled over the fair’s performance schedule.

All of this was housed in a hangar-like soundstage on an industrial strip in the mid-Hampton hamlet of Wainscott, just a stone’s throw from the local airport. Convenience for the jet setting collectors that Scope hoped to entice: those lucky few who live life in the fast lane.

For most of us, though, there was a long drive to the east end via the Montauk Highway, Route 27, a two lane blacktop notorious for interminable traffic jams that can occur just about any hour of the day or night, but are essentially guaranteed over busy tourist weekends. It certainly lived up to its reputation last Friday morning, when members of the press were bused out on a chartered Hamptons Jitney, and crept behind a backhoe all the way from Hampton Bays to Watermill. (Undoubtedly on its way to dig out a basement for a new McMansion, rather than a new earthwork by Michael Heizer. Who knew that Caterpillar made such slow earthmovers?) Although we did have pretzels, cookies, bottled water, AC, the NY Times crossword and six channels of easy listening music in the press bus, to help us endure the stop-and-go.

Scope Hamptons has decidedly outgrown all three of its founding principles – the hotel venue, the one man show, and the piggybacking on other fairs. But as it starts to resemble a real grown up art fair -- booths and all -- it still claims to retain its impudence, its famous commitment to the "cutting edge." And it generally succeeds in this effort.

But there is an inevitable dumbing down in the summer art market. Realizing this, some dealers tend to bring more recognizable, less challenging work. Chuck Close prints and de Kooning etchings. Photos from Annie Liebovitz’s Alice in Wonderland Vogue sessions. Paintings and photographs of a certain manageable size and decorative allure. Over-the-couch eye candy catering to conservative tastes, and to the shorter attention spans of collectors, dazzled by midsummer bling. And less installation art. Fewer conceptual objects. Less video.

Still, there was enough "emerging" work in the gallery booths, and also in the curated portions of the fair, if you knew where to look. Some personal highlights follow.

Magnan/Emrich Gallery had an archly named booth of "Hot Latin Artists" from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Brazil. Alejandro Almanza Perada’s sculptures challenged our assumptions about the strength of materials, with heavy concrete blocks supported by a grid of vanity light bulbs. Thessia Machado presented sheets of vellum, etched with the ghostly traces of evaporated water. ElSoca and Fabian used the dried wings of flies and roaches as their painterly medium, rendering maps of the world and other ruminations on the biosphere or geopolitics. exit (with a small "e") executed detailed, satiric drawings that conflate street fashion with the bird flu epidemic, all with a sub-Burroughsian trenchancy reminiscent of Naked Lunch.

Cynthia Broan Gallery showed smart, conceptual paintings by Daniel Sturgis. Abstract work from Gary Stephan and Frank Holliday (both new additions to the gallery). A Michael St. John sculpture that re-interpreted a Basquiat crowned head from painting to pole. C-prints of leaves and branches, with stark black backgrounds, by Sebastian Lemm. And was that a Ray Johnson ceramic sculpture in the corner, looking like a double spouted Kool Aid pitcher?

Eric Doeringer’s pushcart of mini bootlegs, outside the fair’s main entrance, was a welcome blast of the irreverent and the ersatz. Available were a tasty Marcel Dzama (the figures conflated from several drawings), a fleshy Lisa Yuskavage, two micro Damien Hirsts (one a spin, the other a dot painting), a Chris Wool text painting (with drips intact) and many other amiable forgeries. With his participation fully sanctioned by Scope, he did not have to worry about a repeat performance by Mike Weiss, who viciously ratted Doeringer out to the NYC police when D dared to sell his bootlegs too close to the door of W’s gallery on West 24th Street in Chelsea. And yet it was again Weiss who was inside, renting out exhibition space, while Doeringer got a free ride al fresco. Touché!

Ingrid Dinter. The first exhibitor at Scope Hamptons to request my attendance at the fair. Thanks Ingrid. Without your urging, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to go, and this article would not exist. In her booth, a selection of photographic portraits by Brett Bell: stunning archetypes of America at work and at play. Plus new drawings/collages by Hampton habitué Diane Blell, shown on well placed shelves.

Jane Hart’s Miami-based lemon sky: projects + editions. A limited edition silkscreen of K2 (the world’s second highest peak) rendered by Torben Giehler in his signature neo cubistic topology. Magazine collages by TJ Ahearn. Small sculptures, of natural materials, by John DeFaro. And did I see a Damien Rojo in the distance?

The hilariously named White Trash Gallery from Hamburg, Germany, presided over by Nils Grossien and Ute Thon. Graphic work, including hard edged magic realist paintings by Julien Rouvroy. And a large, multi panelled computer print by Oliver Ross, combining the size and look of Assume Vivid Astro Focus, the organic, digestive obsessions of Philip Guston and Carroll Dunham, and a dash of furious anarchy borrowed from Wim Delvoye’s luncheon meat arabesques.

Postmasters. A strong assortment of work, in various media, by gallery artists, including an older Steve Mumford car painting, a three-part tabletop/video installation by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, a photograph by Anthony Goicolea, and some pirate sculptures by Australian feminist/conceptualist Sally Smart. Magda Sawon, the Postmistress, has done so many fairs, she can seemingly pull together a diverse, good looking booth like this in her sleep.

Jack the Pelican. Proprietor Don Carroll (who named his gallery after a mispronunciation of "Jackson Pollock") fronted with spooky photos by Justine Reyes: self portraits, her face obscured in sewn over masks. Plus a horizontal series of photos of her friends posed around a western lake, edited to create a faux unified landscape. Dread, cult and kink amid the sagebrush. Rodney Dickson’s aforementioned Queen Bee Snake Bar, his recreation of a Saigon cathouse serving the needs of American GIs during the Vietnam War, was first shown at the Pelican back in March. It was too big for the booth, but was funkily installed among the curated projects at Scope.

Cutts/Malone. A love story, and a conjoined entity of a gallery that only exists at art fairs. Christopher Cutts (Toronto) and Begona Malone (Madrid) operate separate galleries, and had separate booths when they met at a recent ARCO fair. Now they try to do everything together, in life and in art, including their current booth at Scope Hamptons. Here we found large allegorical canvases by Matias Sanchez, examining contemporary Spain via bug eyed, Picasso-looking protagonists, and small, photorealist paintings of domestic interiors by Drew Simpson.

Also sharing space are two galleries from LA’s Chinatown, across the street from each other on Chung King Road: Mary Goldman (with her eponymous space) and Lexi Brown (from the Happy Lion). Their combo booth featured sculpture by Ron Fischer and Alex Arrechea (a former member of Los Carpinteros), large figurative paintings by Allison Cortson, and smaller panels of floral imagery, verging on abstraction, by Monique Van Genderen.

LA veteran Kim Light (of Lightbox on LaCienaga) was just next door, with sculptures by Analia Saban, paintings by Zachary Wollard, and a friendly glass of sun brewed tea. In the very next booth was NY’s Moti Hasson Gallery, with strong work by Dan Rushton and Hans Aichinger. And around the corner, Sixtyseven scored with a series of conflagrant canvases by Ben Grasso, of various buildings appearing to explode before our very eyes. An image of one of these paintings was used by Scope in their brochure (and also appears at the top of this article).

One of the arcane pleasures of Scope, once you left the central gallery area, was the wild and woolly periphery of artist’s projects, which constituted the fair’s adventurous, experimental side. Noncommercial, if you will, although isn’t everything shown at an art fair for sale?

Among these special exhibits, presided over by Lee Wells, was the Perpetual Art Machine, back for a return engagement from the last Scope. PAM, a project of Mr. Wells, Raphaele Shirley, Aaron Miller and Chris Borkowski, is a travelling interactive installation that allows the viewer to select images from a large (and ever expanding) database of video art. Selections are made using a touch screen grid, enabled by custom designed software. The viewer/user can navigate via subject and other tags, allowing each viewing to define a unique pathway through the imagery. The projection at Scope was PAM’s public interface. As a community resource of images, it is also available online: www.perpetualartmachine.com

Ms. Shirley was also represented by a series of b/w drawings of public art arenas and projects, and by a multi-panel piece (black paint on large wooden sheets, accented by grooved white lines) that strained the limits of walls and ceiling. It was exceptionally huge.

Lining both walls of a side corridor at Scope were twelve b/w photographs, of figures swirling in motion, by Hasty + Hasty. A collaboration between photographer Allan D. Hasty and his cousin, Richard D. Hasty (a nuclear physicist, who set up the lights on moving shutters, where they fire sequentially), these pieces capture displaced time on film. They are accomplished fully in the camera, do not employ any computer manipulation, and inhabit a fascinating experimental interface, somewhere between Muybridge’s proto-cinematic studies and the intimations of fractal geometry.

What else was out in the Hamptons? The Thing’s own G.H. Hovagimyan had work there, which I somehow missed. Like everything else I was unable to mention, it lies beyond the scope of this article. Perhaps I will have more room when Scope London sets up opposite Frieze, from October 12 – 15, 2006.

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