by Erica Varlese
The Empire State Building wasn’t the only attraction drawing tourists Midtown this Spring. From May 5th to 8th, the Affordable Art Fair was open to those interested in acquiring contemporary, affordable artwork. Will Ramsay held the first Affordable Art Fair in England in 1999. Since then, the fair has expanded and takes place annually in 10 different cities around the world. Artwork is available to buy throughout the fair for anywhere from $100 to $10,000. With roughly 80 exhibitors from around the world, there are options for all tastes, styles, and budgets.
What was most unique about this year’s AAF was the Art x Women series. Nine galleries collaborated to host the first-ever section dedicated to work by women artists at an art fair. Though the feminist art movement rose to prominence during the cultural revolution of the 1970s, many hurdles continue to exist in publicizing and popularizing contemporary feminist art. More recently, through the effort of feminist artists, curators, and organizations, women-produced art has seen a resurgence with large-scale exhibits, such as WACK and ELLE@centrepompidou.
Upon entering AAF, visitors who exited from the middle elevator were greeted by the pop art paintings of two naked women by artist David Bromley. In the midst of a crowded fair like this, one couldn’t help but think that the ironic positioning of these pieces was rather apropos, further proof of the necessity of a specifically feminist space in the large event hall. At the very left of the showroom, Lauren Simkin Berke’s mural marked the entrance to the Art x Women series. Berke’s The Irregular Pattern is typical of her vintage inspired illustrations that imbue the viewer with both a nostalgia for that which is past and a desire for a connection to the people depicted in the work. Featuring two women in a rural setting walking their bicycles, The Irregular Pattern is a bright, multi-panel wall installation that prepares visitors for the diversity of artwork to sample ahead.
To the right, Nancy Cohen’s P(n,k)Combinatorics lightly covered the wall like algae. With its blue- and green-hued glass connected by metallic wires and shaped into flower-like compositions, it is like a depiction of a futuristic nature that comments on the growth of and interaction between nature and technology. From this installation, the fair led into the booth of A.I.R. Gallery before moving on to eight more galleries representing feminine fare. The Art x Women booths followed one another down a long—and crowded—hallway. The artwork was diverse, ranging from conceptual sculptures to pop culture-inspired collages to large print photographs. While most of the vendors were based in the tri-state area, the ARC Gallery and Educational Foundation came all the way from Chicago, IL to feature unique work from artists like Amy Zucker who’s Where in Healthcare series, consisting of articles of clothing made from medical supplies like latex gloves and syringes, brought new voice to the U.S. healthcare debate.
The recent graduate booth, situated at the very end of the Art x Women corridor and curated by Sam Vernon, was one of the Fair’s highlights. It was the most diverse in content and, arguably, the most forward-thinking. The new, raw talent was exciting, whether it was Hanna Herr’s large print of Unnamed Ritual III, featuring a young woman with a raw fish and blood on her face, reminiscent of some sort of hazing, or Erica Wessmann’s multi-media sculpture I didn’t recognize you, at first?, incorporating light and telephone wires, commenting on modern forms of communication. Brooklyn-based Concrete Utopia showed off Cibyl Delaire’s series of perle bead portraits, including renderings of Oprah and President Obama, that stood out as one of the most unique pieces in the show.
Walking through Art x Women was intense. With a large crowd of people, an auction-esque feel, and hundreds of pieces to process, the Fair was almost overwhelming. The friendliness of the vendors, however, made up for the chaos and any questions about the artwork were easily answered. The first of its kind, Art x Women was a fantastic glimpse of what major art fairs can look like when making a conscious effort to include marginalized artists from a variety of backgrounds. Based on the success of this premier, women-centered selling space, surely many more are on the way.