The sheer square footage of Pulse's fourth New York show belies any sense of anxiety over the economy. Downtown, on Pier 40 at the western terminus of Houston Street, the venue comfortably houses more than 100 exhibitors and installations -- not counting the 43 large-scale light boxes leading up to its entrance, an installation by R. Luke DuBois titled "Hindsight is Always 20/20" (2008), which plucks the most common words from each president's State of the Union addresses and presents them as a Snellen eye chart. Perhaps an after-effect of the cool sterility of DuBois's installation, or a consequence of the wide expanse of its football field-sized space, but once inside, Pulse feels like a country ramble: One will often have a piece of territory all to oneself while roaming its wide aisles.
The collections, however, are rich with the exact sense of vivre that the space lacks: Jordi Bernadó's large-scale prints, which toy with the juxtapositions between reality and entertainment, and Markus Linnenbrink's on-site Wall Painting (2009), which is impressive for the sheer audacity of its colors, are two fine examples. Kristian Kozul's pink Mechanical Bull (2009), adorned in foil streamers, tinsel, and beer cans, feels like a morning-after scene, rather than the life of the party while on the opposite side of the great fair, the Glue Society's giant pigeon sculpture, I Heard They're Dirty (2009), reigns with a decidedly "I told you so" stature.
Comparatively, Scope's tent at the Lincoln Center is a crowded, warren-like arrangement, complete with a rabbit's hole that leads to the coat check and a multipurpose performance, bar, gallery, and boutique space fittingly called "Cheap Fast & Out of Control." (You can't miss it: Hang a quick right at the taxidermied deer head suspended overhead.) A youthful sensibility runs through many of Scope's exhibits: Artist Zhu Yiyong's endearing oil portraits of Chinese children playing Cat's Cradle, for instance, or Juan Francisco Casas' hedonistic Bic pen portraits of twenty-something's frozen in mid-celebration. Sebastian Denz's 3-D photographs of skate boarders, and Comenius Reothlisberger and Admir Jahic's illustrations of stills from YouTube videos appeal to the predominantly under-35 crowd that ebbs and flows between the fair's nooks an crannies with bottles of Grolsh lager in hand.
That terse, vaguely anxious expression prevalent among gallerists at Pulse warms up a little at Scope. Don't read too far into this phenomenon, it doesn't suggest much about ultimate profitability of the fairs - any of them, for that matter. It just means that revelry is contagious.
PULSE New York 2009. Photo credit: Liz Ligon