The Fountain Art Fair is a grungier, relaxed antidote to the more upscale Armory Show. The fair has its roots in Williamsburg and connections to Miami but for the third consecutive year, the exhibits were staged on the aging light ship, The Frying Pan, docked on the Hudson at West 26th Street. The Frying Pan has been set up with temporary walls, a tent roof, a bar, and heat, and one walks across a rail bridge and up a gangplank to enter. It took me a while to get accustomed to the slow rocking motion of the ship on the river (one artist, who has now spent a number of continuous days on board, reported dizziness).
Fountain brings together a kindred but diverse collection of exhibitors from Brooklyn and farther afield. What unites them is a passion for expression, immediacy, and meaning that relies on established visual motifs and not on theory. The result is unkempt, unpolished, and direct. Most of the work tends to elude commodification, though at least some of the dealers and artists are consciously trying to develop a financial basis to continue their work—even if many of the artifacts are ephemeral.
The work at Fountain (characterize it as outsider, alternative, punk, etc.) is remarkable in that it has maintained an aesthetic going straight back to the eighties and nineties. In fact, some of the artists have been creating largely in the same vein for many years while other, younger entrants have jumped in and picked up the thread without missing a beat.
But of course patterns are most interesting when they are broken: One of the most compelling pieces in the exhibit is qrc-06i by Ray Sweeten. (Microscope Gallery, Bushwich, Brooklyn.) The artist has created a portrait of Hosni Mubarak composed of QRC codes (these are the bar codes that you can scan with your smart phone). Each code square directs your phone to a corresponding youtube video related to Mubarak and the Egyptian revolution. By integrating the digital codes into his work, Sweeten adds a depth of meaning and breadth of references to his portrait, using information systems to connect his work to a global information space. The celerity with which Sweeten was able to create this piece is also remarkable. Sweeten has found a method and a process that allows him to react and create with speed and precision. And this is in relation to a historic event that occurred just weeks ago.
Leaned up against the other side of the same wall (literally) stands Danni Rash, naked and bound to a lighted crucifix. It is reassuring to know that nude performance art goes on, and Rash employs a relaxed and approachable attitude. This stands in stark contrast to the seriousness of the naked performer that we are used to seeing in, for example, in the work of Marina Abromowitz. Rash approaches his performance with a youthful openness that invites conversation and lingering.
The work in the Fountain Art Fair is another bead in a continuous thread stretching back generations demonstrating that a trust fund is not a requirement to leading a creative life.