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The Verge Art Fair:

by Tony Fitzpatrick
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Man, I don’t like art fairs. I swore off the fuckers a long time ago. Only the borough of Brooklyn could get me to be part of one -- in any other case -- I’d rather pick up hot coals with my ass-cheeks.

It was different 20 years ago before the internet and the whole art world wasn’t available at a keystroke.

Then art fairs seemed somehow more innocent and not completely driven by finance -- before the Art Market became a beast unto itself.

The big one was in Chicago and around every corner there was something you hadn’t seen before -- a little less like an issue of Artforum come to life.

They were kind of cool.

It was still show-business for ugly people and high school with money, but it seemed more like at the center of these shindigs were some ideas about Art.

Now, not so much. Every swinging dick in the village has an art fair. Pool, Pulse, Red-Dot. . . yadda, yadda, yadda.

So why am I camped out in Brooklyn this week manning a booth at Verge?

Because I’m an idiot. Six months ago I opened a gallery in Chicago -- Firecat Projects -- that takes no percentage from sales. About two years ago my partner, Stan Klein, and I were driving across America wondering why so many of the artists we liked and admired were so little known. A lot of it was that they didn’t have any idea how to make themselves more visible and we decided to open a space and hang out our shingle. Like I said -- I’m an idiot.

I’m proud of the booth we’ve put together. Though our gallery makes no money, we’ve done enough hustling with other stuff to pay for it-- and a few more artists have been able to make a few more dollars and have some pretty wonderful exhibitions.

Lauren Levato is 33 years old -- she makes exquisite drawings of insects -- sensual, silent and pristine -- her cicadas remind me of childhood summers that were too short and too long ago -- they have a yesterday kind of beauty, like an old violet saved in a book. She is a tough Irish hillbilly from Hobart, Indiana -- the daughter of a steelworker, who spent all of her summers wandering tall prairie grass and the Indiana dunes collecting crickets, cicadas and grasshoppers, and beating up boys. Her drawings are truly special.

Alex Blau teaches at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, Colorado -- her new paintings are bright, candy-colored wonders inspired by a trip to Tokyo and the weird toys, flair and packaging she saw there -- they evoke the same kinds of feelings Murakami (the writer) elicits in novels like The Wind-up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Shore. There is a light and otherness that speaks to the Japanese tradition of the “Floating World,” though without any narrative elements -- her paintings are as seamless and beautiful as an Issa haiku.

Damara Kaminecki, 28, is a printmaker and collage-maker from Chicago’s Logan Square. Her new pieces also have their genesis in a recent trip to Japan -- perfectly executed linocuts melded with handmade paper and other hand-drawn paper elements that remind one of everything from traditional Japanese Tattooing to Hiroshige’s The Tale of Genji. Kaminecki has made her bones as a much-in-demand artist’s assistant and learned a lot from each artist she worked with -- including Jane Hammond and Leslie Dill.

These are three of the artists we brought -- I chose women because I think as progressive of a place as the Art World is supposed to be, women still get a raw deal -- the Art World, in the power department, is still pretty much a Boy’s Club.

I’d forgotten what it was like to start a career -- to be at the beginning -- and wondering if I’d measure up.

Is Verge the smoothest run art fair I’ve ever seen? Hell, no! But none of them are, and after some opening day panic, I’m having a good time. The spirit of this thing is community-driven and all of the Brooklyn kids come out for each other. I’ve always admired this community -- I’ve shown with Peirogi for seven years and I always loved that having an opening there was like walking into a living room full of your friends -- it is a community about what is possible and it’s optimism is infectious. I like this side of the river; its old history as visible as its new. It is a city of tribes, stories and grimy hopes -- poets, spray-paint and desire.

The great Loren Monk is curating an all-Brooklyn show down the street. Monk is the ubiquitous gallery-goer who makes marvelous videos of the art-world under the moniker James Kalm, very often capturing its preening self-importance. Monk is a terrific painter, in fact one of my favorites, who is also a poetic soul of Brooklyn, with a keen sense of its Art History and brick-by-brick development as its own Art Scene.

What I learn from the young artists I’ve brought to Verge is just how goddamn much courage it takes to be a young artist -- without any real support system -- with just your desire and your tidally shifting confidence -- this Brooklyn Show is full of those kids --and some of them aren’t kids -- but journeymen and women who still find the journey a thing worth taking. There is a bigger crowd, and more money, across the river. In fact, Goliath is across the river. I am in a place of underdogs -- a borough known for them. We got our slings, and we got our stones.

All Hail Dirty Brooklyn!

Verge Art Brooklyn, Mar. 3-6, 2011, has gallery exhibitors at 81 Front Street / One Main Street, and “Brooklyn Art Now,” curated by Loren Monk, is at 111 Front Street, Brooklyn, N.Y.

TONY FITZPATRICK is an artist from Chicago. For his blog, click here.