The Inaugural FLUX Art Fair and the “New” Harlem Renaissance.
By LEIGHANA WAIGHT, MAY 2015
Harlem’s first contemporary art fair, the inaugural FLUX Art Fair, kicks off during FRIEZE International arts week May 14th -17th , and intends to broaden the scope of New York City’s art scene. The curator-driven fair exhibiting over 50 renowned and emerging artists, will take place at the historic and newly restored Corn Exchange building on Park Ave and East 125th Street. I met with FLUX Fair organizer and Director, Leanne Stella, to discuss the fair’s objective and the grounds for focusing her curatorial practice in Harlem.
After a delicious lunch of moules mariniéres at Chez Lucienne, on Lenox Ave and 125th, Leanne and I walked around The Corn Exchange Building’s surrounding area, engaging with the burgeoning contemporary art community and culturally rich milieu in Harlem. As soon as we embarked on our “tour,” we randomly bumped into several of the artists whose work will be on view at the fair.
Stella seemed to have close relationships with every artist we met; she clearly took the time to learn about their personal lives as much as their artistic practice. As we walked along, we discussed Stella’s background, her work in the Harlem community and her love of being a Harlem resident. She intermittently pointed out her favorite spots in the neighborhood- the best spot for live jazz on a Monday night, a speakeasy with excellent mixology, amongst many other locations in the area. She was clearly active in Harlem’s intimate art community, but also a great specialist and enthusiast of the area’s offerings.
In 2012, Stella launched a curatorial program named Art in Flux, geared towards utilizing untraditional and underutilized spaces in Harlem for pop-up galleries and art events to promote the arts and artists in the area. As stated on Art in Flux’s website, the program’s initiative was to merge "commerce, art and community as well as expand the perspective of where collectors and enthusiasts can find art.” She saw empty store fronts in her neighborhood as excellent venues for different Harlem artists to showcase their work as well as making the arts more easily accessible to members of her community. In 2013, her efforts earned her the Women’s Caucus for Art’s President’s Award for Art and Activism, an award honoring women in the arts whose work represent the WCA’s initiative to foster community through art, education, and social activism.
Extending the initiative of her Art in Flux curatorial program, for the FLUX Art Fair Stella invited a roster of well-known independent curators to exhibit one significant artist’s distinctive works for a portion of the fair called FLUX-X. Stella also organized a fair selection committee comprised of herself, FLUX-X guest curators, and No Longer Empty’s Chief Curator, Manon Slome. Out of hundreds of applicants, the fair’s selection committee chose over 30 emerging artists. All artists in the fair were chosen based on their global reach and one’s whose work responds to the fair’s curatorial theme, “The 21st Century Artist is a Nomad.” The theme explores the effect of one’s nationality, ethnicity, gender or religion, as well as the globalization of society, politics, culture, and technology, on the visual and theoretical direction of the artist’s evolving creative practice.
The concept of having a curator- driven fair has become increasingly popular in the past few years. With fairs like the Spring Break Art Fair, the objective is as much to share experimental installations, as it is to sell unique works of art. The curator-driven fair as opposed to the common market-driven fair also revisits the original purpose of exhibiting art- to benefit the public and to provide a space for creative thought. Director Leanne Stella hopes to open up different dialogues in art and culture coming from these different curatorial perspectives. Inviting artists with global reach creates a space for a broader community to experience art from many different viewpoints. Having the fair in Harlem could not be more appropriate, being the most culturally diverse and artistic community in New York City.
Another curatorial objective of the fair is to juxtapose established artist’s work with that of emerging artists; as stated by FLUX-X guest curator Kristen Sancken in the FLUX Art Fair press release “…In doing so [juxtaposing established artists with emerging artists], it inserts their work into a larger discourse and provides them with greater exposure- thereby opening up new opportunities.” Sancken, an independent curator, writer, and art advisor has curated several exhibitions in New York City, is the Editor of Fluence Magazine and is a contributing writer in several other publications. Sancken chose to feature world-renowned artist Michael Anderson’s intricate large-scale collages as her significant artist to contribute to the FLUX-X portion of the fair. Bronx-born and working and living in Harlem, Anderson’s work reflects his deep connection to the street. His collage process involves the collecting and recycling of advertisement posters and billboards, transforming these advertisement images into detailed painterly and sometimes tapestry like narratives. His compositions form a balance between abstraction and direct representations; the shapes and abstract patterns set the stage for flow diagrams and layered images which move throughout the pieces, purposed at capturing contemporary life coming from a macroscopic perspective of cultural aesthetics. As Anderson describes in his artist statement, “As a sort of puzzle map of the collective unconscious, I make art about the world we live in, a document to show what it’s like to be alive today.” Often setting up studios in different cities for extended periods of time, such as Mexico City, Berlin, Athens in Greece, and Rome in Italy, Anderson’s nomadic artistic process involves collecting and sourcing material from whichever environment he chooses to immerse himself within.
Anderson’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Art in America, Vice Magazine, Huffington Post and his solo exhibitions include shows at Marlborough, Chelsea, New York, Paul Rodgers/ 9W Gallery in New York and Morten Poulsen Gallery in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has shown at fairs including The Armory Art Fair, Modern, New York, Art Basel, Miami, Pulse Art Fair, New York, Scope Art Fair, New York, The Spring Break Art Fair, New York and has large permanent graffiti sticker installations at the Ace Hotel and Weiden & Kennedy Ad agency. His public commissions include Billboards for Target, with the Mother Ad Agency in Times Square.
FLUX Art Fair director, Leanne Stella, invited me to tag along to a studio visit with artist LeRone B. Wilson, whose work will be on view at the fair. His studio was filled with his encaustic paintings and displayed the artist’s deep relationship with his choice material as much as form; as Wilson describes in his artist statement “…my work explores the possibility of working creatively without disrupting the purity of the material.” While we were there, Wilson pulled out huge clear plastic bags of the very costly wax and enthusiastically described his process of pigmentation and carving and sculpting the wax. His process, which requires a great deal of patience and careful execution, results in pieces with many different textures and patterns, all representing time and continuity. Some of the works I saw in his studio resembled coral reefs and sea urchins while others were more abstract in their representation of naturally existing forms. The viewer travels through these different depictions and perhaps, even on a subconscious level, connects with the images as something inherent to their own environment and experience. Amongst my favorite of Wilson’s work were four beautiful black encaustic pieces, ranging in size and shape, which will all be on display at FLUX Art Fair.
Wilson’s work has been featured in publications such as the Architectural Digest and The Wall Street Journal, and has shown in galleries around the country including Rush Arts Gallery in New York, Kim Foster Gallery in New York, White Box Art Center in New York, G.R. N’Namdi Gallery in New York and Chicago and art fairs including Scope Art Fair during Art Basel Miami and Cutlog Art Fair In New York. His works have also appeared in live auctions at Phillips de Pury and in museum shows, including the Museum of Biblical Art in New York and the African American Museum in Dallas, Texas.
FLUX-X guest curator Raul Zamudio has curated over 100 international exhibitions and his writings and contributions have been published in numerous well-known periodicals. Zamudio chose Iranian born artist Shahram Entekhabi’s work to feature for the FLUX-X portion of the FLUX Fair. Entekhabi produces video art, photography, painting, drawings, installations, and performance art. His body of work is based within an urban environment and often focuses on the marginalized, migrant-figure and their communities. Entekhabi moved to Western Europe in his late adolescence and the representations and situations exhibited in his work are often taken from memories of his own personal circumstances and struggles. The work explores what a migrant-figure experiences when faced with another culture’s social mores and stereotypes. Entekhabi’s solo exhibitions include shows at AARAN gallery in Tehran, Iran, and Pristine Gallery, in Monterrey, Mexico. Entekhabi participated in the 10th Havana Biennale in Havana, Cuba, The Third Guangzhou Triennial at The Guangdong Museum of Art in China, and the Metropolis Biennale in Copenhagen, Denmark.
FLUX guest curator, Manon Slome, a former Guggenheim curator and former Chief Curator of the Chelsea Art Museum, is now the Founder and Chief Curator of No Longer Empty, a curatorial program focusing on site specific exhibitions in untraditional and underused spaces, all throughout New York City. With No Longer Empty, Slome has curated 14 exhibitions since 2009, using spaces like the Clock Tower in Long Island City and the Bank of Manhattan. The Bronx born artist Linda Cunningham recently created an installation at No Longer Empty’s Bronx Freedman House exhibition and her work will be featured in this year’s FLUX Art Fair. Cunningham utilizes architectural and structural elements of current and older cultures, creating large scale, abstract installations and mixed media works on paper, made from and/or inspired by mostly found urban elements. Her mixed media sculptures are comprised of items and techniques such as collage, dry wall, broken windows, and are almost always created out of objects she finds through a process of “urban mining.” Her work questions our 21st Century relationship with the environment, often depicting objects and structures based out of a post-apocalyptic milieu. Cunningham recently exhibited a large installation at The Bronx Museum and her solo exhibitions include shows at Abington Art Center in Philadelphia, the Fundacion Euroidiomas in Lima, Peru, Statt Museum in Cologne Germany, and 2 x 13 Gallery in Chelsea, New York.
During our walk through the Harlem neighborhood, FLUX Director Leanne Stella and I passed The Maysles Cinema, restaurants specializing in a broad range of international cuisines and several jazz lounges. Just as significant were a couple large “diamonds in the rough”- turn of the century buildings, waiting to be remodeled or restored by the right investor. Our last stop on our mini Harlem tour was to view the exterior of the Corn Exchange where the fair will take place. A team from Danois Architects and Artimus Construction Company won the bid to redesign and rebuild the Corn Exchange building, a seven-story structure built atop the original 1889 masonry foundation (all that stood from the original structure). The structure matches the original Queen Anne- style building, copper façade and all. According to the New York Times, the $14 million dollar development will house retail and office spaces, offering the vastly growing community further access to a great source of commerce.
The FLUX Art Fair taking place in the newly constructed Corn Exchange landmark building marks a new chapter in the Harlem community. The goal with endeavors like FLUX Art Fair is to help preserve the existing diverse and deeply rooted cultural landscape in Harlem, but to also help foster and rebuild a community, which has long stood as a hub of artistic expression. Partnering with other high profile initiatives, such as world renowned Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s EatUp! Festival, which intends to celebrate the food and culture of Harlem, FLUX Art Fair will be an excellent contribution to the newly emerging renaissance occurring there. Stella intentionally chose to mount the fair during FRIEZE International Arts week as to include Harlem in the contemporary art dialogue and usher in a new wave of collectors and enthusiasts to the Harlem arts scene. WM
Leighana Waight is a writer, independent curator and publisher of OF THE zine. She lives and works in New York City.view all articles from this author