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Would you hang this on your wall?: Contemporary art fairs in New York City

On the first weekend in March, thousands of artists, gallerists, curious viewers, art buyers and celebrities annually converge on New York City by way of the nearly dozen art fairs taking place all around town. This year is no different and it seems the art fair hype is just as high as ever.

Volta NY: Siri Berg
Jennifer Eberhart

The major fair that has brought art lovers to the city for the past fifteen years is called the Armory Show, broken up into two separate venues, hosting Contemporary Art and Modern Art at Piers 92 and 94 on the West Side. Other fairs taking place this weekend include Volta, SCOPE, the (Un)Fair, Independent, Fountain Art Fair, SPRING/BREAK, the Moving Image Fair, and ADAA: The Art Show. All fairs last until Sunday, March 9, and cost from nothing to $40.

Examiner, as in past years, had the opportunity to stop by a few shows and we're here to give you the highlights, just in case you can't make it yourself. There were a few themes running through many of the works on display, including the application of thick swabs of paint, the naked/nude body, the shock factor, and color. One other thing noticed in each of these fairs is that artists are becoming more bold with each work they create. Most of the items on display, we could never imagine hanging in the living room - or even the bathroom, for that matter. The definition of art is constantly being pushed, and that is no more evident than in the art fairs taking place this weekend.

SCOPE Art Show, located in the Skylight Room at the NY Post Office's Moynihan Station (312 West 33rd Street), has been around for 14 years now, but they produce more than one fair per year both in NEw York and abroad and therefore boast a total of over 65 shows produced in just over a decade. Today SCOPE exhibits 66 international galleries from over 20 countries. A "Breeder Program" also introduces new galleries to the art market, a program which has taken place every year since SCOPE's beginning, aiding in the future successes of galleries - this year there are 20 of these galleries exhibiting in the space. The audience inside the Skylight Room was diverse - ranging from the wealthy international art owners to lower class individuals simply curoius in the art at hand.

Here's what we found at SCOPE: floor sculptures of writhing rabid and beaten black dogs from Hans Alf Gallery (Copenhagen), a sphere of artificial turf and wood (worth a whopping $2000) from Beaux-arts des Ameriques (Montreal), funky painted sneakers from bucketfeet, medium-sized bronze sculptures commenting on man and woman and their presence within the world (each worth over $60,000 a pop) from Halcyon Art International (London), eerily real-looking sculptures of human figures huddled close to or into the wall created by Mark Jenkins and offered by Fabien Castanier Gallery (Los Angeles), and concentric rings of small tango dancer figurines hand-painted in varying degrees of color with accessories made from scratch by Claire Shegog on view by Auereus Contremporary (Providence, RI).

Another show examiner visited last year was the SPRING/BREAK fair, which again takes place in Old School at 233 Mott Street. Last year, we wrote

SPRING/BREAK presented some of the edgiest, most unsettling, yet thought-provoking works. ...the show should be gaining greater acceptance in the art world in future years, especially if it continues on the track it’s on now. This fair is creepy, experimental, and experiential.

Well, this year it seems the show went a step further in the creepy factor, this year featuring artists who seem to want nothing more than to disturb their viewers. SPRING/BREAK is a fully curator-driven show, this year developed around the theme PUBLICPRIVATE - important to note before stopping by! Here's how they describe the theme: "PUBLICPRIVATE surveys how the high visibility of the self in the 21st Century everyday – via social network, selfie ubiquity, jealous vacation landscape, video-game avatar, and surveillance M.O. – activates and disinhibits the artist practice, and that contrary or complementary production of self which is the artist process." What also sets the fair apart form its counterparts is its technology-savvy additions: buy each and every art work you see right from the fair's website or see it through their partner site, Paddle8.

Would you put any of the items in your house for proud display? Likely not, but here's what we saw (and quite possibly would rather not have seen): Björne Schülke's "Spider Drone #3," a robot with moving arms and a camera on the end of one; Rob Swainston's "Redacted" series of uninspiring and overpriced black woodblock and silkscreens on paper; Sigrid Sarda's "Rule 34: Charm," a crude disjointed wax image of young blond woman half skeleton and half flesh who holds her cellphone and herself in either hand; Walter Robinson's series of painted 50s-era pin-up girls and movie-star-type men; and Grace Villamil's commentary on Andy Warhol, a series of cans with the image of various well-known individuals on them.

Volta is just a short walk away from SPRING/BREAK, and is decidedly less provocative but just as questioning of the definition of art itself and "good art." Volta NY is an invitational solo project fair with a focus on contemporary art. Located at 82 Mercer, Volta is less than a decade old but is still a popular fair to visit. This year over 90 galleries from 5 continents and 30 countries (many of them Asian) are exhibiting works in the wide halls. Volta is user-friendly, allowing visitors to create their own catalog from brochures left at the entrance to each gallery booth, and visitors can probably spend at least an hour or two traversing the halls.

When last year the works offered seemed to be more fun and energetic, this year's works are much more serious and less exciting. Here's what we discovered, nonetheless: Siri Berg's "It's All About Color" as a row of panels each in a different gradient was pleasing to look at; Kim Dorland and Bobby Matheson both used thick paint to distort or entirely wipe out the face of the painted men and women they created; Christy Rupp's "Walrus Tusks with Greenhouse Gases" and similarly crafted pieces were made of steel and wax, almost looking like the real thing, with scientific formulas painted on them; and Akihiro Higuchi also got back to nature by actually using specimens of moths and beetles then painting them to his liking.

This year's group of works from fairs all around town have taken the idea of art and turned it on its head. What do you think of as art? Oil paintings of beautiful things? Sculptures of nature? Black and white drawings of a midnight rendezvous? No longer is beauty used to define art. Art, and "good art" is entirely up to the viewer and the artist, one and the other working together. Let us know what you think of the works we've highlighted or if you've seen any shows this weekend - leave a comment in the space below or update us through facebook or twitter!

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