Outside the Box


Left: Pattie Lee Becker's puppet show. Middle: Peter Krashes. Right: Linda Ganjian's sculptures.

Low expectations have been at least partly responsible for some of my happiest experiences in art, and they didn't let me down on Saturday afternoon when I dropped into Parker's Box, in Williamsburg, for what the invitation had billed as a weekend “international art market.” I expected the sale of something, I guess, but all I found was a bunch of artists sitting around talking at an art fair that was nothing short of soulful. The artist-run gallery has survived on Williamsburg's Grand Street for five years. To celebrate, directors Alun Williams and Allyson Spellacy opened their doors to a funked-up fair lacking not only sales booths but also their own artists. “It's our birthday,” Williams said, “so we just invited guests.” At this parallel universe-fair, visiting artists represented their respective galleries, rather than the other way around. All were encouraged to make presentations specific to the occasion. Spontaneity ruled. I met new people, saw new things. I had my portrait taken. In other words, I had a blast.

Just inside the front door, a small television monitor displayed a video by Guy Richards Smit (Roebling Hall), while a family sat before a makeshift puppet theater waiting for the show to begin. A simple sign on the wall high above the stage identified the artist as “Pattie Lee Becker (Klaus von Nichtssagend).” Yet my eye was drawn to a corner crammed with stuffed bunny rabbits and framed snapshots of people caught in the instant when a camera flash makes them blink. The sign for this amusement said, “Joyce Pensato (Galerie Anne de Villepoix).” And Joyce was there, camera in hand. Across the room, Stefan Nikolaev (Galerie Michel Rein) stood by an easel full of posters advertising a “smokers-only” transatlantic flight on his “Gravy Plane,” an expression of freedom “for a world gone mad.”

I laughed. I felt bewildered. It was all very 112 Greene Street—112 Greene being the freewheeling early ‘70s alternative space in SoHo (founded by Gordon Matta-Clark and Jeffrey Lew) that later became White Columns. But this was definitely not the ‘70s. There were nearly forty artists in this show, spread over three locations, including Lunarbase, down the street from Parker's Box, and Commune, a spacey beauty parlor next door. The elusive David Hammons was around, somewhere, as was Mike Ballou, Nayland Blake, and Ted Victoria. Other artists kept changing wigs and costumes and parading out in the street. This was Brooklyn.

Left: Jacob Stein. Right: Joyce Pensanto's installation.

On their wall, Prospect Heights housemates Oliver Herring (Max Protetch) and Peter Krashes (Derek Eller) had photo-documented their careers and were mapping connections between them, many they had only just discovered. Diana Cooper (Postmasters) tacked parts of a work-in-progress to another wall and sat at her table drawing and talking at once. Brian Maguire (Kerlin Gallery, Dublin) told stories about the remarkable lithographs he had made from drawings by mental patients with whom he works when he's not teaching at Ireland's National College of Art and Design. Hajoe Moderegger and Franziska Lamprecht, or eteam (Momenta Art), traced visitors’ portraits in projected light for later display on a website, and Artists Space kept a poker game going in the basement. Somehow it all felt uplifting—and useful. At Commune, you could get your hair done and talk to Linda Ganjian (Eyewash Gallery) about her partly edible sculptures or to Philippe Meste (Le Cube Ensemble) about the shares he was selling in a store of frozen sperm, for which he also seemed to be accepting donations. (There might have been a language barrier here.)

So let the Chelsea galleries bring out big guns like Jasper Johns, Richard Prince, and Gregory Crewdson to entertain collectors in town for the spring auctions. That's fine. Parker's Box offered a genuine alternative to their increasingly homogenized sheen, trading high stakes for high spirits and collectibility for down home community. And that was even finer.