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Art of Darkness

March 28 - 29, 2008
Presented by Milwaukee International
495 Broadway, 3rd Floor

Considering those aspects of Armory Week in New York which might be remembered in days to come, I predict Dark Fair will resonate in the annals of art history, and not just for the central conceit of doing it off the grid — of using no plug-in electrical devices or overhead lights at its Swiss Institute venue, instead substituting candles, flashlights, battery powered laptops, kerosene lamps and other glow-in-the-dark initiatives — but for its subversive stance as an anti-fair, an event that emulated the form but not necessarily the mandate to sell. It opened on Friday, closed on Saturday, and in the interim attracted an audience that stretched around the block.

To be sure there were certain similarities to the “adult” fairs — exhibitors and rows of booths separated by aisles — but said booths were more in the Joe’s Diner vein, a table and benches fashioned from plywood sheets painted matte black. Four persons (including the dealer) huddled closely together was not just a crowd, it was SRO. And there was art to be purchased, although often of the head shop variety: Spencer Sweeney dressed as a ghost, hawking an edition of dildo candles in black wax at the Gavin Brown booth; lava lamp-like efforts by Sue de Beer at Marianne Boesky; a Martin Creed 7 inch on a battery powered turntable at White Columns. Day-glo drawings, bootleg DVDs, black light prints and limited edition T-shirts were standard fare, available at very low prices.

Dark Fair was the brainchild of the same Midwestern crew (which includes artist brothers Tyson and Scott Reeder, James Riepenhoff, Nicholas Frank, and Elysia Borowy-Reeder) who organized the notorious Milwaukee International in October 2006, a similarly modest but cunning event, in a working class Polish beer hall/bowling alley. By bringing their circus to New York opposite the Armory Show, they have upped the conceptual ante and produced the hippest event of the week, a slacker parody of rampant commercialism, a spoof, a prank, pulling the rug out from under the seriously entrepreneurial fairs that had set up shop all over town.

Their insouciance was their great strength, because Dark Fair was all about hanging out, about sharing thoughts and suds. A good excuse for a party, and yeah, dude, you could also buy some art. As such, it was the perfect end run around the parentals, an irreverent smiley face offered to a worried market, a signpost that marked (and mocked) this uncertain moment in the economy. It hardly matters whether we are in the middle of a recession (or a Recession), whether more homes will be foreclosed, whether the art market will implode, whether we are at the bottom and things will soon improve, or whether the inexorable slide will continue. Dark Fair is (or pretends to be) “unplugged” from doomsday culture and could care less.

(This article is adapted from its original posting on Artworld Salon.)