Rodrigo Cañete gives us his honest opinion about The Other Art Fair for our Crític vs. Critic Experiment.

GATEKEEPERS, OFF YOU GO!: The Art Fair Where Artists Love To Connect
London - MAY 02, 2013

Critic vs. Critic ExperimentRodrigo Cañete

ArtDiscover sent Rodrigo Cañete and Agnieszka Gratza, two leading art critics, to The Other Art Fair in London. We wanted to find out what happened when two very different art critics visited the same event together and wrote about it. The resulting articles show the imprint that the author's subjetivity leaves in art criticism.


In its second edition, The Other Art Fair is all about artists selling directly to the public. For me, it was both an aesthetic and a cognitive experience. I would say that it allowed me to understand which kind of artist the gallery system often excludes and why. Without artists being virtually kidnapped by their agents, this fair had an atmosphere of friendliness and human connection that was there to enjoy.

Frieze: Including to Exclude

Flagship gallery fairs such as Frieze or Armory are, by definition, a contradiction in terms. They are led by an oxymoronic drive towards to gaining exposure as well as exclusivity. In other words, they attract people only to push them away. The result is that the experience is many times painfully cruel for both artists and collectors.  Aiming at showcasing a divide, the gallery-led art fair makes of anxiety its own architecture. This might be the reason why I never enjoy them because one is too busy wasting one’s own energy on the wrong things. By contrast, The Other Art Fair needs that connection between the artist and the buyer to happen. The result is a shockingly friendly and fluent atmosphere where people talk to people and behave like what they are... people! 

GATEKEEPERS, OFF YOU GO!: The Art Fair Where Artists Love To Connect
Alberto Fusco

A Friendly Face

The quirkiness of the venue (Ambika P3 on Marylebone Road) and those MICE (mice in ice) point towards the fair’s entrance made it cool from the very beginning. The security guy at the door was actually friendly, smiled at me all the way and recognised me when I came back. Have I died and no one told me? No. This was art happening and, in a way, this is the point of my blog So let’s talk about art...

Upon arrival, the visitor enters a mezzanine platform where the information desk, the logistics people and the Curator’s Public Commission are. This Commission was wittily bizarre for dozens of portraits of the participating artists’ mothers are hung facing the main exhibition area. With a rather bleak idea of motherhood, artists such as Lee Maeltzer, who framed her mother with bats, Wen Wu’s delicately commodified her in an Indochinois kind of way and Peter Lloyd alegorised her though an ornate skull. It is ironic that this Freudian mosaic of motherhood rules over a room that contained, at least, a hundred artists claiming ownership of their own artistic lives. From this point of view, this fair was about daring to grow through ‘killing’ our (arts) mothers (the galleries?).


Killing Mom

So I went for the experience and joined the crowd downstairs in the main exhibition room. First unavoidable stop, Phoebe Stubbs’ booth that had been centrally placed to welcome the viewers as a statement of, what the curators clearly understand as ‘contemporary art’. To my surprise my colleague and companion for the day, top art critic Agnieska Gratza, who shares the taste of the curators, did not like it. I believe that by placing Stubbs here the curators wanted to set the tone of the fair as a ‘we-can-be-edgy-too’ art fair. Miss Stubbs who had been butchered by The New York TimesRoberta Smith when showing with her Rhode Island School of Design course-mates back in the States made literally a splash of paint by fisting a bucket full of it. Two problems here. Her work discusses ‘object-hood’ which means that, like Carl Andre’s bricks, it demands a theatrical construction of the art experience through an arrangement of setting (the white cube of the art gallery or museum) and through being viewed by an art viewer. The problem is that this is not a gallery but a very honest art fair so her mix of modernist photographs and minimalist neon objects failed to keep it together. The market said no. 

GATEKEEPERS, OFF YOU GO!: The Art Fair Where Artists Love To Connect
Phoebe Stubbs

A Very Subtle And Dark Man

Not far from her, in my opinion, one of the three best artists in the show. Mr Allan Martin is a refined, subtle and fine painterly painter. His palette ranges from black to black with almost monochromatic hues. His iconography borders asphyxia by placing women against a wall, cornering and dwarfing them in a proportion of one to two thirds which through portraiture places him very near Dutch landscape painting and I am thinking about Ruysdael, for example. The result is wonderful. He sold an amazing print where he manipulates darkness and shadows in a way that reminds of me of that third dimension that we can see in the Old Masters’ handling of shadows and here I am thinking about Diego Velazquez’s backgrounds and walls. This fair proved me that talent like Allan Martin’s had been overseen by the gallery system because it is just too subtle and, in relative terms, inexpensive. Working in a smaller scale, he might need to speed up to the point of compromising the quality of his art in order to sustain a commercial relationship with a gallery. This is why, this kind of fair is the perfect distribution channel for him. What he needs to do is to build a loyal collector base and he is getting there.  I believe this is the strongest point in favour of The Other Art Fair. I am sort of a fan.


A Delicious and Resilient Lady

Metres from him, the lovely Dianne Kaufman who sublimates her preoccupations about time and age by manipulating pigments in a sculptural way that reminded me of Rembrandt and Frank Auerbach without being derivative. Her lavish gourmet-like brushwork (which reaches the point of handwork at times) is Wayne Thibaudesque. One is both repelled and attracted to these images. Her portraits are mask-like and again, the reason for an artist like her not to be in an art gallery might also reside in the small scale in which she works. It became clear to me through this visit that in order to be in the gallery system artists must be young in order to produce at a larger scale and fast. Larger paintings allow the middleman to get his cut. That kind of system would push people like Allan or Dianne aside and that would be such a terrible pity so good for them. Keep painting small, darling!  With their experience they bring subtlety and they allow art and artists to connect with the public in a different way. Viva! 

GATEKEEPERS, OFF YOU GO!: The Art Fair Where Artists Love To Connect
Mo Coppoletta at The Other Art Fair

Keep Keep It Together Forever and Ever!

Mr.Frederic Daty is from Chartres and his work is definitely one of my favorites. Trained as a graphic designer, his visual language would too Art Povera-ish and almost  unacceptable for the mainstream art world. They are metal constructions depicting self contained worlds or cities where everything manages to hold together. His Canadian wife was there helping him and the family effort makes this a lovely experience. She was so supportive of her husband and so charming that I wanted to talk and talk and talk.


Spanish Kink

At this point, Agnieska was getting uneasy about figuration and wanted to take me to the more abstract artists. Amused but excited, I asked her to come to my last artist of choice so I took her to Alicante born Maria Murga’s booth. There, the centre was pierced by a painting of a woman emerging from an Al-Andaluz islamic setting framed with an ‘almond’ which in Italian (religious) art is called ‘mandorla’. I need to remind the reader that, in the history of art, the ‘mandorla’ functions as an allegory of the Virgin’s pudenda which is her main attribute as ‘Mother of God’. To this, Maria Murla added a nipple positioned in the hemispheric centre of the painterly surface. Framing this image, she hung two drawings of vintage male pin up models posing as rather well endowed Saint John the Baptists. Trained in Florence and a very skilled practitioner of drawing and painting, I fell in love with her very voluptuous depiction of the Torso Belvedere at the Vatican Collection. Sex and erudition in one viewing. I love Spain when it goes in this direction! 

So at this point Agnieska grabbed me by the arm and took me to the other room. On the way, I did not fail to notice a very naughty tattoo parlor with Mo Coppoletta painting in situ on skin. All this, should I remind the reader, happened under the surveillance of the hundred portraits of mothers (from the Fair Commission). Guilt rush? Having said this and trying to indulge into my own Freudian guilt, I must confess that I love Coppoletta’s designs and I am actually considering doing one. Middle life crisis? Yes, of course! At least, it is cheaper than a Porsche and it lasts longer. 

GATEKEEPERS, OFF YOU GO!: The Art Fair Where Artists Love To Connect
Lee Maeltzer's Mother for the Curators' Commission
Art as Utopias To Avoid Pain

One of Agnieska’s choices was Michelle Abbot’s in-between exercises of weaving, painting, drawing and why not... interior design. Abbot images are the outcome of OCD channeled as labour of love. Her iconography is much more than what it seems at first sight. She injects a rhythm to life that is all about dedication and hope to avoid dullness. Her work is about managing life though a very feminine pace of imperfect perfection. Nearby, sweet Seungmi Lee took me away of my initial dislike and converted me into her Frugeterianism where Archimboldesque fruity portraits become characters of a story. Miss Lee’s life is represented as a surreal fruit salad where no one gets hurts. Art as a proxy to avoid pain...


Art that Heals

In the XV century, Leon Alberti said that art is therapeutic and can actually heal. This fair achieves that by focussing on the connective aspects of art. So, on my way out, I met lovely Margherita Isola with whom I had so much fun that we kind of staged a show of trying her worded clothes. I left the fair and did not need to go to the gym to feel good and that’s a lot.

Rodrigo Cañete

Part II of Critic vs. Critic: 
Agnieszka Gratza. The Other Art Fair, the artist-friendly fair in London


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