Artists to Watch at the Governors Island Art Fair

Detail view of Brian Jobe's cable tie installation outside Building 12 at Governor's Island Art Fair.


Last year’s Governors Island Art Fair was an experiment for its founders, the 4heads Collective. The New York-based artist group had never organized an art fair before, and they had less than a month to prepare. “It could have been a grand failure,” laughs Jack Robinson, a digital collage artist and 4heads member. Instead of a failure, however, the first GIAF was a modest success, featuring 52 artists in one building and bringing in 5,000 visitors on its busiest day.

This year’s fair, which runs every weekend through September 27 on Governors Island in the New York Harbor, has expanded considerably, with 113 artists mounting their own solo shows, each in his or her own room in five of the island’s historic, multi-story military buildings. While official numbers haven’t yet been tallied yet, opening weekend on September 5 and 6 was bustling, and the 4heads estimate attendance at more than 6,000. The organizers also instituted a formal submissions and selection process for the 2009 GIAF, resulting in higher quality works across the board.

Here are our picks for must-see exhibitions at this year’s GIAF:

Alicia Rothman

Rothman’s oil paintings and mixed media works on paper play on pattern, light, and movement and are notable for their delicate texture and subtle but straightforward shapes. A New York native, Rothman says she was attracted to GIAF because of the fair’s offbeat style. “There’s no hype,” she said. “It has a spontaneous, fresh quality; it doesn’t feel overworked.”


Ernie Sandidge
Sandidge’s eerie oil on canvas portraits are striking, but the setting he’s created for them at GIAF is as much of a draw as the works themselves. Sandidge, a member of the 4heads and one of the fair’s founders, constructed a sumptuous “Poetry Brothel,” complete with custom wallpaper, spooky antiques, and Sandidge’s own bed in the center of the space, in which a group of “poetry whores” read to one art fair guest at a time for between five and 15 minutes. “Although I still consider myself a painter I’ve been longing to create something total,” says the Tennessee-born, New York-based artist. “I’m so in awe of the complete feeling of a cathedral or an opera. There you have everything, architecture, sculpture, performance, painting, ritual, incense, singing, and movement. Context is everything when you’re making paintings and I am acutely aware of the difference between studio walls and gallery walls, the walls of an ancient temple or the walls of a period room. I always want to move into the period rooms you find in museums.”

Cynthia Ruse

Ruse uses yarn and the notion of string to explore themes of repetition and continuity. The Brooklyn artist’s knit and mixed media sculptures, including “Twisted Sister” on display at GIAF, embody a sense of dark humor and nightmarish beauty. “Most of my work is real-time based,” Ruse says. “Each piece stands alone, but each one is also a small part of a continuing thread, a narrative that runs through all of my work.”


Caroline Cox

Cox is participating in GIAF for the second year, showing one of her diaphanous installations. Sculptures of dyed vegetable packaging net crawl up the walls and creep from behind the door of her exhibition room. “Transparency, translucence, and light are essential,” says Cox, who was born in San Francisco and lives in New York. “It also relates very much to the architecture of the space.” In fact, the spaces at GIAF were one of the main reasons she wanted to show her work here. “It’s fascinating,” Cox says. “I really like the idea of these structures once functioning as military buildings, now being used for something so expressive and idea-oriented.”


Brian Jobe
Jobe drove all the way from Knoxville, Tenn. to install thousands of red cable ties on the iron railings outside Building 12. His site-specific installations focus on repetition and order in nature, creating “skins” for existing structures. The artist takes into consideration fractal geometry, chain reactions, and context when planning an installation. “It’s essentially being aware that there are complex, repetitive structures already at work and just tapping into that,” he says.


Tine Kindermann
Tine Kindermann’s creepy-cool mini dioramas based on dark fairytales haunted a musty corner of the basement at last year’s GIAF. This year, the New York-based German artist moved upstairs and is exhibiting just one diorama, “The Handless Maiden.” The rest of her exhibition consists of archival prints. “The photographs show the adventures of a stern Barbie-esque doll in a post-apocalyptic world,” Kindermann says. “She is naked, because who cares? Certainly not the monkey and the deer who become her friends. It’s very tongue in cheek and a little nasty.”


Kikuko Tanaka

One of the few performance-based pieces in the fair, Tanaka’s interactive “A Tragic Bambi: Mother’s Tears” is both visually and conceptually stunning. Tanaka sits surrounded by white light and crumpled paper, slowly, methodically attaching pearls to a bloody, cartoonish deer head. “It developed out of a single image that persisted in my mind for a long time: the image of a mother who keeps gluing pearls on a decapitated head of Bambi, suggesting links to a diverse range of sources, such as mythologies, the Bible, primitive rituals, Japanese and American history, ” the New York-based Japanese artist says. Visitors are invited to participate by helping Tanaka glue pearls or feeding her milk from a bottle. Tanaka will end the fair with an additional performance, “The Hour of Urination,” at 5 PM on September 27. (LEFT: IMAGE COURTESY THE ARTIST)

Admission to the fair is free and free ferries leave from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan and Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn. The fair runs 11 AM–6 PM, Saturdays and Sundays, through September 27.