This is the third year the Texas Contemporary Art Fair has been in Houston, but my first time attending. The art displayed here differs greatly from what is exhibited at the Fine Art Fair. It’s less traditional, more experimental, and as I would expect, pushes the boundaries further. Contemporary Art is one of my favorite types of art to experience. Sometimes I want to experience art that makes me think and is relevant to the world today. While there is beauty in more traditional ideas of art, I’m not sure all of those ideals still apply today. To be able to view art from recognized artists such as Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Ann Hamilton, and Andy Warhol is always a fun experience for me. Immediately walking in, there was a huge pink sculpture looming in the entrance created by Ann Wood. A small structure with animals on the roof, everything was covered in layers of pink rubbery goo oozing down the sides. Also covered in flowers, this piece was very tactile, alternating between tacky and smooth plastic. It was pink, girly, shiny, and attractive, yet grotesque all at the same time. The animals are very skinny, showing ribs, and covered in this goo as well. When something is entirely covered, I always think of suffocation and being restricted. I have previously discussed this particular feeling regarding a sculpture by Cy Twombly and a photograph by David LaChapelle. My thoughts are also about the objects being merged together, bound by this goo like substance. The structure itself may be a shelter for hunting, but I’m not entirely sure. With no other explanation but the title, One More Reason to be Good, I am left to decipher what this piece is about. Walking further into the entrance, was another building, a laundromat covered in graffiti. A familiar place to most people, the inside is lined with brightly colored bottles of detergents that extend to the playful and colorful imagery taking over the walls, spilling out from within. This has a more welcoming environment that’s well lit, inviting the viewer to enter. The ritual of doing laundry is something the average person would experience on a regular basis, going to a laundromat to perform this cleansing. Created by the Clayton Brothers, this piece is titled Wishy Washy. I get the sense that something should be cleansed, all the components are there to do a load of dirty laundry. This idea of a structure, a familiar place, a shelter, domesticity were strong concepts presented in these two very different installations. The 1st is a sticky, layered mess, while the latter is a clean, organized location that serves a specific purpose. The 1st structure is a curious type of place, not existing prior to it’s creation while the other represents a familiar place where you would clean your clothing. The choice to juxtapose these two different structures as you enter is an interesting choice that I hoped was the beginning of an engaging display of art throughout the fair. There were many major art dealers here. The Kristy Stubbs Gallery from Dallas had an impressive roster of artists that included Damien Hirst and Robert Rauschenberg. The Hirst butterfly pieces were priced at $225,000 each. Well known artists with familiar pieces at serious prices. This is only the 2nd time I have seen his butterfly pieces in person, the other time in a small gallery in New York that represented more modest pieces by Hirst and Jeff Koons. In contrast with my 1st experience, these pieces were more intricate. One of my new favorite light artist was presented here, Chul Hyun Ahn. I had included his work when I wrote about last year’s Houston Fine Art Fair. His work appears endless, creating repetition with the use of lighting and mirrors. A new element existed that I don’t recall seeing last year, was the lighting changed through a spectrum of colors. His work is now ever changing, both in color and depth, each view point offering a slighting shifting perspective. Every time I have seen his work, people are always drawn to it, enjoying the illusion created, looking into infinity. Another great neon piece is by Tim Etchells. I have written several times about light pieces, including art I have experienced by James Turrell and Dan Flavin. I am very drawn to them and will take every opportunity to view them. The contemporary use of a message is something I am particularly interested in. Bruce Nauman is one of my favorite pioneers, smartly displaying similar words or shifting text, changing the original context. Neon has traditionally been used to give information, such as open/closed, enter, XXX, etc. Now it is often used to express a sentiment, another type of information that is now documented. With so much intriguing art, it is difficult to just discuss a few pieces. One thing that did stand out was the amount of art that sold. Many limited edition pieces sold out. Red dots seemed to be everywhere. It is always a good sign to see many pieces of art being sold. The fact that it is contemporary art also says the art market is currently playful and open minded. Art fairs are an experience. The opportunity to visit with many galleries from different locations is a rare opportunity. However, it is just a sample, as most are small spaces displaying a quick view of their most sell-able artists. My goal is to get to Art Basel (Basel Switzerland or Miami), Pulse (New York), and Frieze (London) someday. All of these fairs exclusively exhibit contemporary art. This is just one way to experience art. I recommend mixing art fairs in with studio visits, as well as regular visits to the museums of any city you are in or visit. The more art that I experience, I find I am able to have a better understanding of contemporary art, a better idea of topics being discussed, and often am introduced to new ideas I have not come across before.
Deciding to go to the Houston Fine Art Fair, I was excited to see what all the galleries had to offer. This is the 2nd annual fair in Houston. I wasn’t able to attend last year, so I was eager to go this time around. Only three hours away, my friend and I hopped on the Megabus for about $10 round trip for the both of us and arrived into town. One of my employers, The Southwest School of Art is hosting a booth there, so I stumble upon a free passes as well. With 80 galleries in attendance, over 500 artists were represented, displaying a diverse amount of mediums in this huge space. Fine art fairs are interesting. You get to see so many galleries in a single space, yet they have a limited area to show in and represent themselves with one to maybe five artists. It is a fun, yet exhausting experience. Once you sort through the ‘bad’ art, there are still plenty of great artists trying to sell their work and share their ideas. I need to believe that galleries will show great art from great artists, not just be a showcase for people with connections or money. There was a combination of both, luckily, still with plenty of interesting artworks to explore. Walking into the huge arena, we find the art fair and immediately see this fantastic huge light piece by Matthew Schreiber in the front ticket area of the show. One of my favorite mediums to view is light, I love the way it works with the environment. By deciding to use untraditional materials, I feel an artist needs to use push it to react or engage with the viewer in a different way than traditional mediums, and using the environment is a good way to do this. This should be a particularly important issue for light artists. This piece is maybe five or six feet tall, the same in width, exuding a simplistic, beautiful light. There were other light artists being shown as well. The pieces by Chul Hyun Ahn were amazing. Even though they were bound to the wall, it still felt like they went on forever. The piece on the floor, again, gave the illusion of a bottomless well. The materials were listed as plywood, lights, and mirrors. That seems so uncomplicated for something that looks so complex. Another fascinating use of light was an installation by Jay Schinn. His media was listed a latex paint and light projection. It was much more luminescent in person. Cheech Marin was there in association with Thomas Paul Fine Art. He was actually just sitting at the booth, talking to who ever wanted to have a conversation. The work the gallery was promoting was Carlos DonJuan. I am familiar with his work, most recently having seen him in a graffiti group show in Austin, but originally as a grad student at UTSA when I was there. Since then, I have see his work around, always with a different names – Carlos DonJuan, Carlos Sour Grapes, Miguel DonJuan. That doesn’t really matter, but I wonder if he will ever eventually choose one name to show under or if he is differentiating between different bodies of work. If he is, it is not clear to me. I can always recognize his style before I even see the wall label. I did attend a lecture by Marin, discussing his collection of Chicano art and why it was important to him. While not having an education in art, he was always attracted to art and studied it in books at the library as a child in East LA. By the time he started to make money, he felt he was able to distinguish the good art from the bad, and not just like something. His collection took a particular focus as he started purchasing Chicano Art. Marin goes on to discuss how you can not be born Chicano, it is something you claim, a culture to connect with. This is when he directly hit the stigma attached to the word Chicano. Nobody wanted to show his collection. However, his tenacity paid off and he finally got a major corporate sponsor. His collection then did a huge fifteen city international tour. The story was very inspiring. Art is so subjective, it can be very tricky trying to negotiate unknown or experimental projects if people can’t, or won’t understand the vision. But great artists won’t back down from their ideas and the persistence can be greatly rewarded. Marin was funny and very insightful to listen to. The work of Laura Ortiz Vega catches my eye immediately. This past year my interest in street art has really peaked. I began to realize urban artists are far more visible in the public eye in everyday life than fine artists. Not to mention street art has slowly been creeping into galleries begging the question is it still street art if it’s in a gallery. But looking at the fine detail of Ortiz Vega’s work, there is no question this is fine art. While small in size, the detail of her embroidery is amazing. If I ever put together a graffiti show, I would love to work with her in the future. Always a fan of great hyperrealism, I was excited to see the work of Luciano Ventrone, represented by Hollis Taggart Galleries in New York. I was mesmerized by how this artist could accomplish turning paint into a image that looks so real, like a photograph. I have always been a fan of Richard Estes and other photorealist painters. The watermelon was so visceral, smashed up, referencing the decaying and used items of food in Dutch Realism paintings. The only sign that it is a painting is the weave of the canvas when reflected in the light. This installation by the Art Guys is great! Their art is always witty and fun. Beginning their collaboration at The University of Houston, they continue to work in Houston in many different mediums, including sculpture, performance, and installation. They also gave a great lecture at UTSA when I was a student there. With over 500 artists being shown, I could obviously go on forever. These were just a few of the highlights of this art fair for me. Much more commercial than studio tours, this was an interesting experience. Finding great artists, ideas for shows to curate, as well as new galleries to add to my list was the objective of this trip. It is my ambition to get to the Pulse Fair in New York and eventually Frieze in London. I’ve been to both locations before, so it’s not too crazy of a goal, however, the main obstacle is financial. But this is my Catch 22. I can get a full time desk job and have money for all of these trips but I would not have the freedom to actually go. I think I’m doing ok right now. Besides, I may be in New York soon enough.