Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zoo 2009-- More Warehouse, Less Wares

This year's Zoo Art Fair moved from the very Royal Academy in London's West End to more decrepit digs in a series of East End industrial warehouses, some from the Victorian era. Although the actual space increased from last year, Zoo was filled with a series of curated exhibitions, and a print selection, to make up for the fact that the number of galleries went from 58 to 22. Aside from the shrunken numbers, Zoo was hampered by its layout--while the spookily unrefurbished spaces lent an air of discovery to the exhibitions, the galleries themselves were squeezed into odd configurations, and the overall effect was of an overhung group show, rather than discrete galleries. I hope that next year they can utilize the space with more expertise, and exploit the adventurous side of London's East End without sacrificing art-viewing.

Mildew on the walls of Zoo.....

The free-flowing champagne at the opening did little to camouflage the relative paucity of decent art. There were some standouts, all British, including Brown Gallery of London, (at left) which covered its space in paintings, and MOOT, an artist-run space in Nottingham.

Bristol's Works/Projects gallery (at right) had an eye-catching booth covered with wallpaper on the floor and walls, and featured photo-based works by Richard Wilson which seemed very sci-fi apocalyptic and yet were made with old-fashioned cut-and-paste and paint.

London's Riflemaker gallery had several old-timey technological works by American artist Juan Fontanive, one using Super 8 film to create an Op-art drawing, and another a hand-drawn flipbook of a hummingbird, both pieces clickety-clacking the artist's clear preference for machines made by hand, as if from 100 years ago.

Left: Richard Wilson, "Earthquake Pavilion."

The message fit right in with the environment: London's East End has gentrified quickly, and yet its underpinnings are as apparent and deliciously unrefined as Zoo's space. There is room for a contemporary art fair that does not require the smooth apparatus of Frieze to function. More art fairs should take risks and find not-ready-for-prime-time spaces. Luckily, London has plenty of them.

Right: Juan Fontanive, "Movement #3".

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