Last night a crowd of downtown artists and gallerists, still bleary-eyed from the Miami art fairs but boasting healthy tans (or at least less-than-usual pallor), convened again at James Fuentes LLC in Chinatown for the opening of a show that neatly encapsulates the mentality of the art world in the present climate. Called "8 1/2 x 11 / A4," the group offering featured more than 70 pieces by artists — including Wolfgang Tillmans, Eileen Quinlan, Ryan McGinley, Nate Lowman, Becky James, Daniel McDonald, and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — who'd been asked to use an empty sheet of white printer-type paper as the starting point for their work. Most of the pieces were unceremoniously taped up against the tiny gallery's Masonite wall boards, though a few pricier items, like a Henry Darger drawing of a harlequin-esque flag bearer (courtesy of the Darger estate), were framed. The works ranged from a chewed-paper piece by Fluxus artist Allison Knowles to a drawing of a Dial soap bar by Mathew Cerletty to a stack of Scott toilet-paper rolls that artist Devon Dikeou had stripped of sheets until they all fit perfectly on an eight and a half-by-eleven-inch base.
"The concept was, what is the one material that you find in every artist's studio? A blank sheet of paper," said Fuentes, who had organized the show as a celebration of his tenth year in the gallery business, asking for contributions from artists he had admired or befriended along the way. (No one from his own gallery roster was included.) "What if all the money runs out, and what if artists have no more materials — what is the most maximal possibility with the most minimal means?" he asked. "It's basically it's a core sort of material, a lowest-common-denominator element to what everyone is doing. It's the ultimate blank canvas."
Among the clutch of artists crammed into the one-room gallery, sipping bottles of Grolsch, were Fred Tomaselli, Olaf Breuning, Agathe Snow, Rita Ackerman, and Darren Bader; representatives from Deitch Projects were there, as was 303 Gallery director Mari Spirito. Most people were talking about the dismal art fairs. "Nobody did well in Miami," says Fuentes. "Basically the essence of the art fair is that you invest X amount of money and you get quadruple your investment in a weekend, and that paradigm has been totally shattered."
The dealer said that while he "made ends meet" last week, it was time for the gallery — which had done five art fairs in the past year — to put the breaks on participating in them. "For me I have one of the lowest overheads of any gallery, so if I sell four drawings in a month, I cover my rent," he said. "I want to channel all of the resources that we would put into an art fair and put it in over here and see what would happen from that. I think what's over is overfabrication, overproduction, overcommercialization, the Bloomingdale's that Chelsea has created, this kind of strip-mall environment that Chelsea has created."