With each passing year, Art fairs seem to proliferate and spawn new iterations of themselves throughout various cosmopolitan cities in the world. Many of these fairs can be defined by their host city and possess a regional swagger due to the participating galleries and the parallel programming produced in collaboration with local institutions.  Art fairs have become so influential that they largely drive the art market, not unlike the auction houses and the stock market. That said, one premium fair in particular, Art Basel (originally founded in 1970 by local gallerists in Basel, Switzerland and the creator of Miami Basel in 2002) will be under close survey this spring as it merges into a potent triumvirate with the launch of Hong Kong Basel this May.

 

Jin Shan, Retired Pillar, 2012 Masters and Pelavin Booth

Jin Shan, Retired Pillar, 2012, Silicone and inflation device, Installation view at Scope NYC 2013, Masters and Pelavin booth

Jin Shan, Retired Pillar, 2012, Silicone and inflation device, Installation view at Scope NYC 2013, Masters and Pelavin booth

I was fortunate to have met Jin Shan during my travels abroad last spring in Shanghai.  Upon speaking with him for a few minutes, I quickly learned he has a great sense of humor and artfully applies it to almost every aspect in his life.  Jin uses humor to unsettle accepted value systems and notions of power, whether it be within society at large, sub-groups such as the art world, or on an individual level. Having grown up in post-Mao China, Jin has witnessed firsthand the radical changes that have taken place both politically and geographically in his nation. Specifically, he described his formative years to me–growing up surrounded by farm land and arriving at adulthood surrounded by “overnight” cities–like a compressed version of his grandmother’s multi-decade lifespan.  The concept of “reverse cities” in China (as the famous Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei describes them) is backward in the sense that they are built out first, and then become the centers of cities. Places like the Bird’s Nest in Beijing (the Olympic National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Games) or Ordos 100 in inner Mongolia (100 suburban villas in Ordos China designed and built by Ai Weiwei and Swiss Starchitects Herzog & de Meuron) are in essence artificial environments that have no history or resonance.  These constructed spaces are unlike the areas that have evolved out of the hutongs of Old Beijing such as Zhongguancun, China’s Silicon Valley, whose humble beginnings as an agrarian society have skillfully blossomed and expanded into a successful commercial enterprise. In the 20th century, Communism in Asia seemed to be a way of matching Western power through Western methods: growth and abundance, rapid industrialization and the depletion of natural resources. During this period of time, America was perceived as a tastemaker and provided an “internationalization of taste” to many other countries and nations that were experiencing an economic upswing.

Upon seeing Jin’s cast silicon slumbering column at Scope, I instantly sensed the customized blend  of humor that was undoubtedly imbued within his work. A ridged Roman column lays supine on a white plinth like a bear that forgot to rouse from hibernation. The pillar is motorized, and is set on a timer executes a three part cycle: bloat to inflation, gyrate at capacity (while the column head undulates), deplete into flaccidity. Repeat. Adding to this cheeky three-step act is the aural track of the muffled motor that sounds much like labored breathing. In speaking with Todd Masters, Principal and Head of Exhibitions at the gallery, he confessed to having to muffle the sound of the motor so that artfair visitors would not be distracted by or disturbed by the reverberations. Todd continued to share that Jin’s ideas for the installation had centered around the fact that he would repeatedly see Roman columns throughout Chinese Contemporary architecture and he naturally began questioning why such an anachronistic design was relevant in these environments.  This platform encouraged many Scope visitors to interpret the column as the “fall of Western Civilization.” In many ways, it felt as if I had accidentally stumbled upon a lost relic from a Western mausoleum.

 

Sophia Wallace, CLITERACY, 2013 Baang & Burne Booth

Sophia Wallace, Installation view of CLITERACY: 100 Natural Laws at Scope NYC 2013, Baang & Burne booth

Sophia Wallace, Installation view of CLITERACY: 100 Natural Laws at Scope NYC 2013, Baang & Burne booth

I recently met Sophia at a friend’s birthday party in the West Village. She arrived on the later side, and like most guests that appear just shy of the stroke of midnight, they have an air of intrigue. I found I had to know where she was coming from, and perhaps where she may be going to next.  We engaged in conversation and she began to uncover to me the body of work she had been very busy creating, CLITERACY: 100 Natural Laws.  The large-scale installation is a panel spanning 10′ x 13′ with “100 Natural Laws” listed as text art, replete with a 6′ white neon hanging sign that reads “Cliteracy.”  The work beautifully deconstructs the notion of a dusty, leather-bound text by unbinding and unfolding pages into a vast codex of witty truths and statistics. CLITERACY is a new way of talking about citizenship, sexuality, human rights and bodies. By choosing text instead of imagery, Wallace pushes the work into the conceptual realm two fold: she intellectualizes the issues while simultaneously making the personal more conversational.

As a composite, CLITERACY explores “the global obsession with sexualizing female bodies in a world that is maddeningly illiterate when it comes to female sexuality;” as individual components, each law “entangles statistical facts with wit, blending together media mis-representation, historical misconceptions of female anatomy and international atrocities of female genital mutilation.” The individual laws titles are incendiary, and topics like Orgasm is a Fundamental, Inalienable Human Right and Freedom in Society Can Be Measured in Distribution of Orgasms are two examples that make me wonder what forward thinking female literary figures like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Gloria Steinem might have to add to this fascinating dialogue.

In speaking with the gallery Principal Charlie Grosso, she expressed that Baang and Burne holds a unqiue position in the art world because it operates as more of a social good platform than a commercial gallery model. In that sense, they are more like a nonprofit. Charlie also explained that the gallery made a choice to select one artist to represent them at Scope, instead of having multiple artist works on display.  This singular display style is more in alignment with Volta, which is also concurrent with the artfairs this week.

 

Hiroko Tsuchida, From Myself to Myself, 2013 Gallery G-77

Hiroko Tscuchida, From Myself to Myself, Installation view at Scope NYC 2013, Gallery G-77 booth

Hiroko Tscuchida, From Myself to Myself, Installation view at Scope NYC 2013, Gallery G-77 booth

As a person who has worked in the jewelry department at Phillips auction house, I have come to appreciate the many facets of a gemstone or the technical mastery of making a Tourbillion Swiss watch.  I confess to walking by Hiroko Tsuchida’s performance piece and being transfixed as my mind began to decode the metallic mystery transpiring in the Gallery G-77 booth. Was it a modern day version of Princess Leia chained to Jacob the Jeweler? Was it homage to Saks Fifth Avenue legendary floor of shoes–so great that it was crowned with its very own zip code by New York City? Was it a delicious spin on a Fractured Fairytale? Upon closer inspection, I gleaned cursory information about the work from the artist’s statement that was propped up on the floor next to the reflective pool that was growing out of the booth floor:

Hiroko Tsuchida, From Myself to Myself artists statement, Scope NYC 2013

Hiroko Tsuchida, From Myself to Myself artists statement, Scope NYC 2013

I embraced Tsuchida’s conceptual bent on jewelry, as I own pieces of jewelry that have been carefully chosen to reflect “myself to myself.” Furthermore, I possess certain jewelry items that gain strength and power as an object the more I wear them, such as my mala beads and my mystical rings from Nepal.  Tsuchida’s statement offers a poetic sentiment “We can change our perception of the world and of ourselves by creating something new with our hands…” which ultimately causes us to view ourselves differently by looking at our reflections through the eyes of another. Perhaps a deeper take on the work is the importance of having people in our lives that act like shining, brilliant, multifaceted mirrors into our souls and being. But also knowing when to survey things as a whole, and when to break then apart.