A Visit to Two Art Fairs

Dominica Phetteplace

In the Instagram era, the consumption of art can become conflated with narcissism. If you can’t take a selfie with, does it even exist? The flip side of this is art that warmly invites the viewer in.

I thought of this as I was turning a music box handle at the FOG Art + Design Fair, which ran from January 16-19 at Fort Mason. The music box was part of Anri Sala’s 2016 installation No Window, No Cry, (Olavo Redig de Campos) displayed by the Marian Goodman Gallery. A freestanding white wooden frame encloses a clear glass pane that is perturbed twice: once by the brass music box embedded within the glass and again by the gentle dimple in the glass’s surface that makes room for the viewer to turn the handle. It’s a friendly gesture, a bid to play. The music box, when turned, plays a tinny version of The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? The tune is soft, a hint that you must lean in and make friends with the art. The choice of song felt ironic. In an installation like this, of course, I want to stay.

The Fog Fair itself had a cozy vibe on opening day. A hard rain fell outside Fort Mason’s Festival Pavilion, and the dark sky and choppy sea of the San Francisco Bay could be viewed from inside, preferably underneath one of the many overhead space heaters that warmed the cavernous place.

Another standout of the fair was Irma Blank’s installation at the Luxembourg & Dayan booth. Radical Writings, Einatman, Austaman II (1987) is a pair of canvases painted with horizontal pink stripes that fade to white in an arching pattern. They looked to me like pretty venetian blinds that had been warped by a trip through hyperbolic space. Something bright felt hidden by all this geometry, and again it made me want to lean in close.

The atmosphere was less comfortable at the Untitled Art Pier, which was held the same weekend as FOG, but at Pier 35. There’s an abrasive sound and video installation right at the entrance. There’s no plush red carpet lining the walkways like at the FOG Fair; the bare asphalt and weathered, uninsulated interior made the indoor space feel chilly and exposed. The cold was mitigated by giant forced air heaters set to high blast. It was a like a hairdryer, but for your whole body.

The art at Untitled was more challenging and took more risks, but my favorite pieces had a playful quality. The Patricia Sweetow Gallery displayed Markus Linnenbrink’s QUESTIONMARKSLINGERANDOBJECTSFALLDOWN / (2019), which was a white epoxy resin surface mottled with carved-out spheres. The resulting negative space revealed an array of stripes in colorful hues. The effect was dazzling and reminiscent of the layering in jawbreaker candies.

I also loved Stephen De Staebler’s Deep Striding Woman (2010), presented by the Dolby Chadwick Gallery. The “Striding woman” is life-size, minimalist, bronze and super casual. Displayed mid-aisle, she looked like a Giacometti that has spent some time at the gym. Or you know, toned like a typical art fair patron. I wanted someone to take a picture of me next to her, but I was too shy to ask a stranger. I plan on returning with a friend.

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