The NYC Parallax Art Fair: Subverting the Norm
Written By Taylor Tash
This past weekend, running concurrently with the overly hyped Frieze Art Fair, where galleries were required to pay up to $84,000 per booth, was a humbler art fair advertising itself as being far more inclusive. According to the Parallax Art Fair’s website, its mission is to “make a statement about the very real problems concerning knowledge acquisition and objects designated as contemporary art” and recognizes “no ‘superiority’ or extra-relevance of any form of object making of any kind and questions the ability to determine content in this way.” Parallax presents itself as a noble institution that welcomes all forms of art and invites a wide variety of voices to showcase at its fair. So what exactly does this look like?
I went into the Parallax thinking it would be a typical New York art fair, with high-concept pieces evoking no feelings other than alienation and deserving no interpretations besides mental masturbation, but some of the first pieces I encountered were paintings of Native Americans in cowboy hats and photographs of desert landscapes. This jarred me a little, since I never expected to see art that seemed better suited for a gift shop at the Grand Canyon at a Manhattan art fair. Moving further into the fair revealed more art of this caliber, with a lot of the featured pieces resembling what one would find in a doctor’s office waiting room or a hotel, with simple subjects such as seascapes or whisps of pastel colors against similarly saccharine backgrounds. The fair was showcased in a lavish baroque-style ballroom, offering a disjointed display of pretentious Manhattan decadence playing host to art that for the most part would probably get a better reception from the Midwestern mom set. The ballroom was sparsely populated with a few foreign tourists and the artists themselves with expressions of resignation on their faces as they sat in folding chairs and quietly chatted with each other. The artists were excited to discuss their art with patrons, but at times they seemed so desperate to pitch their work that it reminded me of trips I’ve gone on to Mexico and Jamaica and the way souvenir vendors so vehemently presented pairs of maracas or ‘Smile, Mon!’ t-shirts.
But the fact that these artists seemed so disappointed in the fair’s turnout and reception was somewhat beneficial to visitors such as myself, since I was given the opportunity to hear about the intentions and methods of some of the artists whose work I genuinely enjoyed. Houston-based artist Dianne K. Webb, whose kaleidoscopic marine-themed pieces utilize an ethereal, eye-catching palette of light blues and greens, explained her process of making ink look like watercolor and the themes of transformation and renewal her work focuses on. One artist, Matt Cauley, showcased a painting that was the piece I saw at the Parallax that stuck with me the most. It’s a portrait of a young woman standing on a New York City subway platform while intently looking at something in the distance, and her expression is an enigmatic blend of bewilderment and tension. When I asked Cauley about his work, he offered an interesting explanation of how he prompted his subjects to candidly pose for his paintings, but because he never gave me an answer as to why the girl on the subway platform had such an ambiguous expression could be why I couldn’t shake it off.
Because I found so much of the art totally pedestrian it made it easier for me to hone in on the pieces I considered true gems and that shows where the Parallax succeeded. If its mission was to subvert the New York art scene by showcasing work that people of all demographics would actually want to buy instead of merely trying to find what’s most likely to be gushed over in the next issue of Art Forum then hypothetically they’re achieving what they set out to. I say it’s hypothetical, however, since the fair was practically empty. One artist actually approached me to find out how I heard about the show and said she was frustrated that she traveled all the way to New York to show her work to a very meager audience. Perhaps the Parallax’s unpopularity exemplifies that the New York art world doesn’t want to be questioned and a populist approach will be shunned by a scene which so heavily caters to an elite minority. When I asked the disappointed artist for her business card, the one she provided me with featured a painting of androgynous figures in dancerly poses. I couldn’t help but feel it was apropos that this painting was entitled ‘Ignored.’