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Taking Stock at Pulse

Vadis Turner, "Reception," installation at Pulse. Via C-Monster's flickr stream.
Vadis Turner, "Reception," installation at Pulse. Via C-Monster's flickr stream.

I used to think of Pulse as the hip, younger cousin to the Armory, the one who you feel weird about admitting any familial relations. Now I think it's more like the rich aunt: very kind, generous, always perfectly put together, but a bit cold and aloof. In no way is this a judgment on the art or the presented projects but just a general overview of the scene. In fact, as far as art viewing and the constraints of space go, Pulse does not disappoint. Nearly every booth is straight up curated and perfectly contained, using just the right wall-space-to-art-work ratio, while presenting works on paper, canvases, photographs, installations, video, and even performance. Much like the general air of a slightly defeated, somewhat despondent, but mostly just optimistically reinvigorated air of New York City in the wake of our oft-discussed economic gutter, creative energy abounds. Gallerists are friendlier, perhaps knowing that while uber-success may not be in the cards, exposure and zealous curiosity is still the underpinning that draws the bulk of the spectating hordes. Don't get me wrong: tight-faced, bedazzled ladies still make their appearance but perhaps less so at Pulse this year.
Cody Ryman, "Tan Can", at DCKT's Pulse booth
Cody Ryman, Tan Can, at DCKT's Pulse booth

DCKT Contemporary's presents a meticulously curated show of work by Cordy Ryman -- whose small abstract paintings, sculptures and installations use a variety of material to poke fun at the contrivances of visual language while exploring the nuances of "artistic" versus everyday material. Prague's Vernon Galerie shows a very complicated project by Jakub Nepras that, while intensely gripping, was too complicated for my short attention span. The gallery brought an impressive array of work. Like an Olympic triumph, Pulse victoriously passes the torch by showcasing galleries from distant lands, including notables Chi-Wen Gallery from Taipei, Space from Bratislava, Habana from Havana City and Silver Lens Gallery from Manila. Adding to the fun are the numerous installations, as part of the Pulse Installations series, for which individuals artists were commissioned to do a slew of diverse work, in case viewing art in contained booths is simply not your thing. Clifton Childree's hilarious abandoned tropical shack titled Miamuh Swamp Adventure, is a dilapidated construction that viewers enter to find a slapstick silent film about Miami real estate scams from the turn of the century -- a perfect piece during which to take a break, check your email or make out. Laure Prouvost's Close your eyes, you are the only one is a sound piece that serenades you with spam and chain mail. Miriam Cabessa meanwhile spent hours painting her performance piece Slow Motion Action Painting, which admittedly lacked in action but delivered on the "slow."

Miriam Cabessa, "Slow Motion Action Paintings," via Lyons Wier Gallery.
Miriam Cabessa, Slow Motion Action Paintings, via Lyons Wier Gallery.

Another wonderful bonus of early art fair attendance is the presence of the artists themselves. I spoke with Vadis Turner, whose installation piece Reception is a fantastical melange of her many different works that explore the tacit social codes of good manners and decorum while exposing the nuanced reality of being a woman. The installation features a veritable tea party made of various kitchen detritus, a tampon wedding cake, an exquisite chandelier and candelabras made of kitchen materials and wine-stained stencils on the wall. Her installation is part of Lyons Weir Ortt Gallery's booth. I asked Vadie what she thought of art fairs in general, the curated element in particular and how everything is, in fact, actually for sale. She agreed that art fairs do feel like "shopping malls": "Chuck Close said that when artists go to art fairs it's like taking cattle to a slaughter house," a very dismal but succinct comparison. Given the opportunity to do an installation, Turner concedes that "in this economy, it really makes sense to take risks, just put work out there that's going to stand out because who knows if anyone is going to sell anything."

Risk taking or not, the general consensus seems to be high on the communal energy of the fair, an ambiance that is hopeful but not delusional. A great program is lined up for the entire weekend.