PHOTOS: The best of Fountain Art Fair 2013 – a showcase for NYC emerging artists

Be afraid, be very afraid… for your child’s future.

That’s one of the key takeaways I gleaned from this year’s Fountain Art Fair, an annual showcase of emerging artists held in Manhattan’s historic 69th Regiment Armory.

Fountain is a fun, offbeat fair and is less stuffy than its Armory Arts Week counterparts, the Armory Show and Volta. Visitors stroll the aisles sipping cocktails in plastic cups, snapping cell-phone pics and chatting with artists. It’s a unique opportunity to get close to emerging artists in a major Manhattan venue.

After spending five hours at the Fountain Art Fair press preview on Friday– every time I tried to leave, I ended up speaking with another artist whose work stopped me dead in my tracks– a clear theme emerged. Mainly, the future is bleak for the next generation of kids. Internet porn, vanishing resources and even scary clowns contribute to their questionable fate.

Read on for highlights of this year’s Fountain show.

10 Reasons to Fear for Today’s Youth:

Predictions from Fountain Art Fair

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#10. An End to Green Spaces, Water and All That Good Stuff

Buying a home is a rite of passage for many Americans. But have you thought about who actually owns the natural resources on that land, like the precious water supply? It’s a question that New York artist Kathleen Vance explores in her series Traveling Landscapes, in which natural and artificial landscapes are created in partially opened containers like steamer trunks or cosmetic cases. Vance was inspired by her own experience growing up in Maryland, where her family had a farm and the water table was in jeopardy. The whole concept of owning land and natural resources is something of a contradiction, she explained at the Fountain Art Fair on Friday; “you can’t take it with you, [so] it’s not yours.”

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Vance is part of the tART Collective, a group of female New York artists who share ideas and lend support to one another’s projects. All of Vance’s work at Fountain touches on perceptions of nature, from issues of ownership to the ‘authenticity’ of landscapes. Her cosmetic case garden is precious– I would love to have it in my apartment as a decoration and conversation piece– but it also inspired me to think about how my attitudes and behavior impact the land we all share. It’s an important conversation to start, since the next generation will have to deal with the consequences of our environmental actions.

#9. The Threat Level Will Return to Orange

Remember the years immediately following the September 11th terrorist attacks, when George Bush’s administration would make a weekly announcement of the threat level by saying “we’re at orange” or “we’re at yellow”? Yes, I’ve tried to block out the memories too. Like most New Yorkers, I had no idea what these colors meant and proceeded with my life as usual. I had completely forgotten about the hysteria until viewing Cathy Wysocki’s Lumplander sculpture at Fountain, which embraces the color-coded system of “fear” levels.

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After noting my interest in the sculpture, a rep from Davis Art Services demonstrated how the threat level can be changed by placing a different color card in the visor. On her website, the artist writes that “fear is the transforming and mutating agent which has caused a pustulation of the population into lumpen masses of submission.”

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While this small figure looks a lot like a cyborg child from the future, it is actually a “Lumplander”– a new species identified by Wysocki that was ostensibly created from a mass of tissue removed from a dog and spurred to life by the BP oil spill. The Lumplanders highlight political, social and environmental issues that currently affect humans. Hopefully our children won’t have to deal with the dreaded code red, which is among the Lumplander plate colors.

#8. Internet Obsession Will Keep Kids Glued to Screens

You don’t have to be a parent to notice that children are obsessed with Internet-connected devices. We’ve all heard about the epidemic of toddlers trying to swipe the pages of a magazine or stationary TVs like they are iPads. Even elementary school children now own cell phones, and can’t fathom a life without a blazing fast Internet connection. Brooklyn artist Lori Nelson comments on this screen addiction with a massive and ever-evolving mural, which she was painting at the Fountain Art Fair on Friday.

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Using quick drying oil paint, Nelson has created a dreamlike landscape of children who have been hypnotized by the Internet. Like moths to a flame, they huddle around brightly lit mobile devices and are drawn to a strong Internet signal emanating from the center of the piece. Although peppered with fantastical elements the setting of Nelson’s work looks a lot like New York City and even features the Brooklyn Bridge.

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It’s clear that the Internet is the new opiate for the masses, as dazed children ignore their environment in order to focus exclusively on their screens. (Plus, you can’t miss the giant mushroom at the center of the painting). This art work is ever-changing, as Nelson exclusively works on it during art fairs; she started creating the piece last summer at Governor’s Island and adds a panel or two every time she paints at an event.

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In the ultimate irony, I couldn’t wait to snap photos of the work with my iPhone– a digital screen I am hopelessly addicted to. I captured this shot of curator Krista Saunders viewing Nelson’s work through her own lens at the Arcilesi/Homberg booth.

#7. Online Porn Brings an End to Innocence

Wow, what is up with kids today? The Internet-is-destroying-our-kids theme was prevalent at the Fountain Art Fair  this year; after speaking with Lori Nelson about her work, I picked up a similar thread in artist Brian Leo‘s paintings.

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The bright colors of Leo’s paintings are eye-catching and, at first glance, could be described as cute. As the artist acknowledged on Friday, the “candy coated” appearance helps draw viewers in; when they get close to the paintings, they realize the work features deeper subject matter. Represented at Fountain by David Kesting, Leo packed his booth with artwork touching on explosive topics: 9/11, HIV and AIDS, slavery, Internet porn and international attitudes about the education of women. I was drawn to one of his larger works, which looks like a giant yellow snowman; the artist informed me that the figure is actually a condom.

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“What will happen to the future generation of kids?” Brian Leo asked on Friday, while discussing the ubiquity of online porn and how it is shaping kids’ perceptions of sexuality. Leo’s commentary isn’t limited to children; one of his most eye-catching images is of a panda with the word “SEX” scrawled over it. He was inspired by news articles reporting that a zoo created and showed panda pornography to inspire its animals to mate, bringing up issues of fertility and, once again, pornography.

#6. Clowns Are Getting Even Freakier

The first of two entries on this list by artist Dave Tree, who seems to have a lock on creepy imagery, these sexy clowns may inspire a generation of kids to seek therapy,

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Tree’s paintings, on display at the GreyEgg “Seaside Carnival”-themed booth, show scantily-clad women in retro burlesque poses with clown makeup. It looks like a 1950s pinup had a head transplant and received the face of a depressed Bozo The Clown.

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Tree’s work fit right in with the other GreyEgg artwork, which played on iconic American symbols and imagery. Artist Rob Servo, who was featured last year in Downtown Traveler, showed one of his takes on the American flag, riddled with bullet holes.

#5. Adults Are Appropriating Ice Cream Trucks

While kids are acting more like adults (e.g., searching the web for porn, chatting unsupervised on their cell phones), adults appear to be reverting to childhood. Surrounding the Uprise Art booth, artist Mitchell Schorr created a 3D tribute to childhood pleasures.

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A miniature ice cream truck dangled from the ceiling, a dozen paintings of trucks covered a wall, and a woman in 1950s drive-in attire served frozen energy drinks from the cut-out window of an ice-cream truck painting.

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The slushy drink provided a nice boost (and counterpoint to the free cocktails available on Press Day), but I’m left wondering… what will the future be like, when children act like adults and adults just want to revert to their childhoods?

#4. Mutant, Cyborg Baby Dolls… ‘Nuff Said

Clowns have always been creepy, but what could be more innocent than a little child’s doll? For generations, children have sought comfort in dolls and stuffed animals… until now. With children exploring their newfound independence– thanks to the Internet and mobile phones– it only seems appropriate that their baby dolls take on adult characteristics too.

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This figurine at the Arcilesi/Homberg booth caught my eye but I didn’t get a close look until I checked out my photos after the fair. As a result, I don’t have any artist info on this one. However, I’m guessing this is the work of someone who lives in an old Victorian mansion, collects porcelain dolls and has a secret S&M collection in the attic. The doll’s head is encased in a netted mask, while its body has the contours of a grown woman. This isn’t a baby doll you’d want to cuddle at night for a sense of security.

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Taking this theme a bit further, Korean artist Misson Park actually placed a baby doll head on an adult mannequin’s body in a painting on display at the Gallery Luv booth. One of a stretch of Korean booths at Fountain, Gallery Luv did not have any English-speaking reps on hand to explain the artwork. However, this looks to be a comment on perceptions of female beauty and sexuality.

#3. A Future Filled with DIY Breast Implants

Did you ever think about getting a nose job as a kid, but couldn’t afford one? In the future, children may be able to take matters into their own hands with DIY plastic surgery. Artist Nikki Schiro envisions a time when even breast implants are “do it at home” procedures.

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Schiro takes the ‘ladies night out’ concept ten steps further by painting groups of women performing surgeries on one another. The depictions of semi-nude women are often quite explicit and draw spectators (especially men) to the work, the artist noted on Friday, but the issues she explores are ones that women can relate to: body insecurity, the promotion of plastic surgery to ‘improve self esteem’ and the rising popularity of these procedures. Schiro is a member of the tART Collective, a group of female artists founded in 2004 that organizes studio visits, stages fundraisers and provides resources for members who need help with their exhibits.

#2. Guns, Guns and More Guns. And Shovels

Just when I was headed out of the Fountain Art Fair, this pulled me back in: a wall of bizarre looking machine guns, framed by a rusty shovel painted with a skull. And the award for scariest booth at Fountain goes to artist Dave Tree! Looking at his custom guns, I can only imagine that a future of Terminator 2-level destruction is in store for the next generation.

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Also the creator of the clown pinup paintings (see #6 above), Tree’s work seems to hit on several current trends: doomsday prepping, the rising debate over gun control and the popularity of the horror genre. Dave Tree explained on Friday that these guns are “automatic muskets” that combine features of traditional and modern weaponry.

Scariest booth at Fountain Art Fair? Shovels and guns, with artist Dave Tree

With the American public split into two opposing groups– gun control advocates and gun owners who defend the right to bear arms– Tree’s work is certainly timely, and explores the role of guns in American life today versus when the founding fathers drafted the Constitution.

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Tree was showing his work as part of the Murder Lounge, a collection of four artists working with a lofty mission to “bring beauty and truth from the darkness and give light to the creative spirit of Mankind.” Another member of the group, Victor Cox, showed a much different execution of this theme; his “adult and child friendly” drawings take inspiration from street art and focus on characters he created. Cox’s work does not make me fear for the future of humanity, but he was a very nice guy so merits a mention!

#1. An Empty Shell of An Existence

The 2013 Fountain Art Fair has painted today’s youth as hopelessly Internet addicted and facing a bleak future with limited natural resources, bizarre weaponry and very scary dolls. No wonder they are turning into shells– just piles of clothing with no readable emotions, like this mannequin in a hoodie spotted at the fair on Friday.

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Displayed in the booth of the Kaboose Gallery, a New York pop-up gallery, this set of clothing did not appear to have anything inside, and certainly not a human being.

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.