By John Held, Jr.
It was a two-ring circus this year, not a three-ringer like last year, but there was still plenty of excitement at the two surviving art venues. ArtMRKT moved from the Concourse to Fort Mason and ArtPad remained at its funky Hotel Phoenix location. Cultural aficionados attending ArtMRKT were met by picketers at the entrance protesting unfair labor practices. Inside it felt a bit corporate, as is the want of any mid-size art fair these days. Over at Hotel Phoenix the vibe was more laid back, the art more affordable, and decidedly more contemporary in feel.
The advantage of ArtMRKT was its draw of more upscale galleries both local and national, exposing rosters of contemporary masters. Gallery Paule Anglim was there with its heavy guns – Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Deborah Butterflied, Jess, and Marioni. Forum Gallery showed Arshile Gorky. Paul Thiebaud Gallery rolled out an excellent Wayne Thiebaud oil on canvas. New York’s Nancy Hoffman Gallery showed a couple of Joseph Raffaels. Meyerovich presented an alluring Baldessari print. Susan Teller Gallery from New York showed a slew of William Baziotes drawings from a exhibition held at the gallery last year. B. Sakata Garo gallery from Sacramento presented several Richard Shaw ceramic works. Volakis Gallery from Napa and other ports of call showed one of my favorite works in the show by one of my favorite artists, a 1983 etching and aquatint with pastel and crayon by Chilean modernist Roberto Matta.
There was nothing like this to be found at ArtPad. This was a decidedly Juxtapoz tinged affair and examples of Surrealistic Pop were rife. San Francisco’s Bash Gallery had outstanding examples contributed by Nathan Ota, Christopher Ulrich and Bob Dob. Three Point Nine Collective, also of San Francisco, contributed an acrylic and spray paint work by Sirron Norris. Claire Rojas, who has shown with Gallery Paule Anglim, was represented here by Electric Works. Gauntlet Gallery showed a Frida Kahlo parody by Fab Ciraolo and a Matthew Grabelsky takeoff on “Birth of Venus.” Los Angeles Walter Maciel Gallery contributed an acrylic, glitter and mixed media on canvas work by Carolyn Castaño, “Narco Venus,” to the unending orgy of Juxtapoz gene pool spew. Must I go on? I’d rather not. But here’s a couple more – Casey Weldon at Spoke Art and Scott Williams “Untitled (Nancy),” spray enamel on cardboard offering at Steven Wolfe Fine Arts. The onslaught of these dreamlike hardedge pop works derived from Robert William’s successful magazine catering to street artists the world over is enough to make me feel sorry for Artforum, which feels so old and tired, like a hobbled circus elephant, here at ArtPad.
Indeed, the old masters of ArtPad are confined to the likes of Andrew Schoultz from Marx & Zavattero Gallery and Sandor Birk, who showed works at Charlie James Gallery. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was at Art Collectors Forum/George Krevsky Gallery. But the thrust was emerging artists and that’s not a bad thing. I was especially drawn to the work of Peter Harris, represented by NIAD Art Center of Richmond, who offered 20” x 40” unframed mixed media works on paper for $50 each. They were a steal. It was a great opportunity to take in emerging galleries, as well as artists. The setting, each gallery taking up one of the hotel’s guest rooms, inspired interaction.
It was decidedly less intimate in the larger big top of spacious Fort Mason, much more a business hustle for the gallerists trying to win back their substantial entrance fees. Not that it didn’t have it’s own share of funk. San Francisco galleries like Fouladi Projects, Eli Ridgeway, Ever Gold, Park Life, Creativity Explored and Spoke showed work having the bite of ArtPad with an added touch of maturing sophistication. Omar Chacon at Fouladi Projects, Cordy Ryman at Eli Ridgeway, Mark Mulroney at Ever Gold, Daniel Green at Creativity Explored and Crystal Wagner at Spoke all shone in the spotlight. A more established San Francisco gallery, Rena Bransten, was not to be outdone, showing funkmeister supreme, John Waters, who contributed a surreal assemblage composed on fiberglass, urethane, silicone and both human and synthetic hair.
Galleries outside of the Bay Area also brought their funk to ArtMRKT, most notably Red Truck Gallery of New Orleans, who contributed a wall of works by Bryan Cunningham, and Sundaram Tagore Gallery of New York/Hong Kong/Singapore, which showed Kamin Lertchaiprasert’s acrylic on canvas, “Birth-Death, Woman-Man, Right-Wrong, Husband-Wife, Good-Bad, Nothing.”
In contrast to the Lertchaiprasert’s diametrically opposed titling and despite the disparate venue settings, it was not all yin-yang offerings at Art Pad and ArtMRKT. While upscale collectors could find blue chip moderns more easily at ArtMRKT, they could also sample up and coming contemporaries. And if they were smart, they would have joined more adventuresome collectors in seeing what was just around the curve at ArtPad.