“YOUNG GALLERIES NEW ARTISTS” reads the tagline for the first annual START Art Fair, running over three days in late June at London’s Saatchi Gallery. Eyeing off the production line of increasingly industrialised creative practices, art collectors and prospectors look ‘younger’ for future favourites, across 46 exhibitors from 21 countries, but mostly major Western art centres dominated by the two ‘U’s –the UK and USA. Germany (i.e. Berlin) is conspicuously absent, while there are two representatives from the “emerging” Eastern European markets of Latvia and Azerbaijan. There’s even a Special Economic Zone of art development featuring what’s called Prudential’s Eye Zone, curated to include “some of the most exciting and important work by young artists in Asia today” –in this case ‘Asia’ being Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia.
As self-proclaimed “great collector” and ‘art-flipper’ Stefan Simchowitz understands it, culture is “oil in the ground” which needs to be “mined, refined” and “distributed”. The Saatchi Art enterprise and its Prudential plc business partner appears to agree, with the gallery’s press release-touted focus being on providing “an innovative platform for emerging artists showing their work”, along with its comparatively symbolic measure of cultural diversification. Hence, the suspended relief of art that, for some, remains on the margins but for a brief window of time (and as a clear view through to its inevitable future) is welcomed within the white walls of the objectified outsider art market.
These economically propelled networks of association are probably most explicitly expressed at Bongsan’s Wooson Gallery booth, as Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo waters a pot plant made of money on a wall-hung flatscreen and its single channel video of ‘The Thirsty Garderner’ (2005). Andrei Molodkin’s 2007 series of crude oil-pumped acrylic sculptures take the form of the ¥en, €uro and dollar $igns forming ‘Yes (Ed.AP)’ and the unsubtle east-vs-west signifiers of ‘Untitled (Jesus and Mohammed)’.
The central piece at Taipei’s Art Issue Projects features Hung-Chih Peng’s dog licking miscellaneous magical talismans into existence on five tablet computers presented on stands screening ‘Excerpts from the Taoist Protective’ (2006). Franklin Aguirre’s aptly themed pun of neon light installation reading its own aphoristic title ‘For Give & For Get’ (2012) is presented by Bogotá’s +MAS: Arte Contemporáneo, the destructive side of said reciprocity coming in the malformed metallic structures reminiscent of contorted supermarket roll cages by Jesse Darling, alongside a mound of pink plaster asthma puffers at Arcadia Missa’s booth shared with Preteen Gallery. Also representing Mario Zoots, Carlos Laszlo and Luis Miguel Bendaña, the usual art fair catalogue of itemised objects listing the dimensions and textures of the works under Old Materialism is eschewed here, in favour of a textual tribute to another kind of “objectophilia”. ‘HOW CAN IT HURT WHEN IT LOOKS SO GOOD’ –co-written by the respective London and Mexico City gallery curators Rózsa Farkas and Gerardo Contreras –rejects the “new materialisms” of a generalised contemporary art thrust, instead projecting the notion of object as (rather than ‘of’) desire.
That’s why, while figuratively “flatlining” in the “privatised public space” of an art fair, Darling’s behind-the-scenes labour becomes central to the artist’s installation. It’s one that has been continually rebuilt and restructured across contexts, presenting pieces like the ‘Triptych, Not Long Now,’ (2014) from Not Long Now at Lima Zulu in January, or the taped-up and deconstructed plastic bag of ‘Untitled (Morrisons)’ (2013), last seen at It’s been four years since 2010. These elements are again reconfigured in a new installation for the Saatchi space, thus making it more the product of perpetual labour and less static commodity.
Perhaps the “labour of self-induced catatonia” of START Art Fair, as euphemised by Farkas and Contreras, is more apparent in the lavish photos of UAE performance artist and multi-lingual rapper CHOKRA’s hyperstylised ceremony of ‘Zawaj Al Khaleej (Gulf Marriage)’ at the Kashya Hildebrand Gallery booth. As a dynamic work at the intersection of “electronic art and multi-sensory performance” reduced to a two-dimensional image inside a frame that you can sell, the resulting frustrations of such “self-oppression” comes in the form of Australian artist Abdul Abdullah’s photographic print ‘The disaffected byproduct of the colonies’ (2014). Represented by Brisbane’s Fehily Contemporary, Abdullah underlines an equally despotic (if not more consequential) form of domination, via the representation of Muslim marginality within Western society by a recurring motif of ‘Other’ in a Planet of the Apes mask.
There are several gauche references to logo appropriation and branding throughout the fair, equalling the repetitious Prudential labelling and “All gallery floors by Dinesen” signage –on all gallery floors. London’s Roman Road’s nudge to brand recognition is slightly more stylish in Tom Esam’s bronze-backed mirror featuring a faceless Fido Dido (as licensed to PepsiCo) for ‘Self-Esteem #3’ (2013). At Rome’s Studio Pivot, the effects of Francesco Ermini’s paint and pencil on planks featuring recognisable imagery, the Twitter bird logo among them, inevitably influence my personal perception of Giuliano Cardella’s installation nearby. The wall-hung assemblage of paper and mixed media looms large as a framed notebook reading “Browse Me” at the bottom comes to mind less as a dare to touch the art and turn its pages than an analogue incarnation of the internet search engine.
It’s really all a matter of perspective, and as someone steeped in the digital-to-physical spillover of what you might call ‘post-internet’, it’s apparent that those artists associated with the label are slowly exiting the once wild (now not so much) online space in favour of the more financially viable realms of fairs and commercial galleries. That’s when uncategorisable art naturally becomes categorised under a single hegemonising umbrella-brand, at the same time as accepting the terms of access to the economic capital an artist needs to live. After all, in the words of Farkas/Contreras, “cringe at art galleries ‘doing’ disruption in a fair” because “a sit-in on catatonia at times becomes a means of generating what we actually want”. **