By Robert Egert
Fountain Art Fair, which was held last year on the Frying Pan, a retired light ship docked on the West Side of Manhattan, graduated this year to the 69th Regiment Armory, on 25th Street. The irony is that the “Armory Art Fair” is held at the piers at 55th street while the scrappier “Fountain” is in the actual armory building.
This year’s Fountain attracted over ten thousand visitors in three days, according to publicist Brianna Green, and had a packed opening that featured a 17-minute aerial performance led by performance artist Seanna Sharpe. “The opening night party was stupendous and packed to the gills. There was a line around the block to get in, and we did get Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith at our booth!” said artist Patricia Fabricant.
Fountain takes its inspiration from Marcel Duchamp’s famous sculpture of the same name (It consisted of a urinal inscribed R. Mutt) and from the Armory show of 1913—a signal event in art history, where European modernists like Picasso, Duchamp, and Cezanne were first introduced to American audiences.
Since its first incarnation in 2006 in a FedEx warehouse adjacent to the West Side Highway, Fountain has moved through a number of venues and locations. “Obviously the Armory is a step up from last year’s Frying Pan, with twice as many galleries, very big booths, and a very accessible location,” said Daniel Aycock, one of the founders of the event.
“Since the current Armory Art Fair (on the pier) is not related to the historic Armory Art Show 99 years ago, we thought it would be in the spirit of Duchamp to stage our own rebel fair across from the institution and use his ‘Fountain’ as our logo,” added Aycock.
In this big, brightly lit venue, it was a lot easier to see what was hanging on the walls than on the dimly lit Frying Pan—a blessing for some and curse for others. Twice as large a space, there were twice as many galleries represented this year. It is a relief to get away from pristine white galleries and overproduced art extravaganzas and at Fountain you could take comfort in a simpler, direct approach to exhibiting. But bright lights revealed both strengths and weaknesses, and even the best work can be difficult to discern when it’s crowded or poorly hung.
Nevertheless, Fountain represented an opportunity for some lesser-exposed but excellent artists to garner some well-deserved exposure. Among the independents, Brooklyn artist Patricia Fabricant’s spellbinding biomorphic gouaches were a stand-out from among the Hullabaloo Collective booth as was Seoul-based surrealist artist, Soo-Young Moon’s, otherworldly Some Dream 24.
A few galleries stood above the rest as well. Such as Front Room artist Thomas Broadbent’s large watercolor paintings of books (yes, the paper kind) and Stephen Mallon’s images of retired subway carriages in the process of being dispatched to their watery grave. Kesting / Ray gallery presented layered resin-embedded drawings by Stephanie Dobson and the offhand, effervescent canvasses of Danni Rush.
Next February will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the first Armory Show, which was officially known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art and rumor has it that Fountain organizers hope to hold the exhibit at the armory building again next year.