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by Emily Nathan
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“This feels like a fair for kids,” a middle-aged, blue-haired woman whispered to her mate as they perused the airy aisles of SCOPE New York, Mar. 7-11, 2012. “The grown-up stuff is across the street!” Indeed, the 11th edition of SCOPE, which has set up shop in a white tent along the Hudson River two blocks north of the gargantuan Armory Show, is full of bold colors, bizarre materials and kitschy design -- making up for what it lacks in sophistication and subtlety with a fresh, vibrant energy.

That’s not a bad thing -- and if some of the art verges on just plain hideous, it’s easy enough to ignore. In the maelstrom that is Armory Week, SCOPE is one of a handful of small fairs that sets itself apart from the exhausting parade of big, pricey work by big, pricey artists with a small roster of some 50 international galleries, from San Francisco to Melbourne, Belfast to Cape Town, and a friendly, open vibe.

“The goal of a dealer is to increase the collector base,” explained a beaming Mindy Solomon of Mindy Solomon Gallery, who hails all the way from St. Petersburg, Fla., “and SCOPE has an attitude and energy that is more approachable for, well, regular people.” Though she had not yet made any sales, Solomon reported having had “a lot of conversations” that she imagined would be fruitful. On view at her booth was a long, delicate shelf filled with palm-sized earthenware busts of ladies in vintage hats by Bonnie Marie Smith ($3,800 for the ensemble), and a pair of framed oval acrylic-on-canvas works, reminiscent of old illustrated storybooks, by Marc Burkhart, going for $4,800.

"Regular people," one hopes, will be as willing to buy as the fair’s VIPs, who got first dibs on Wednesday night. Thursday’s public opening was buzzing with chatter about young Miami dealer Anthony Spinello of Spinello Projects, whose booth is optimally positioned at the entry to the fair and who reportedly made killer sales during the preview. Spinello’s booth features Argentinean artist Agustina Woodgates gorgeously simple, sanded-down globes and topographical maps ($1,500-$7,000), one of which the charming dealer is saving for a museum or an important private collection. Also on offer are graphite renderings on black paper by Manny Prieres of the first-editions of censored books, priced at $1,500 each. “Beth de Woody bought two of those!” Spinello said.

“The overall success of SCOPE this year, from the caliber of its exhibitors to its sales so far, is tripartite,” Spinello explained. “First, without a doubt, is our proximity to the Armory. Second is Molly White” -- he gestured towards a sunny, freckled red-head in a flowing dress, who has been director of the fair for one year -- “and third is the weather,” which has been unseasonably warm (previous art-fair weeks have been marked by downpours and, on one occasion, a blizzard).

Good eats might be part of the formula, too, since inimitable downtown eatery La Esquina --  no slouch as far as fair food goes -- does the honors this year.

In great abundance are exhibitors from Miami and sculptures made from unexpected materials -- like buttons and pencils -- as well as evidence of what the eloquent Rachel Rabinowitz of Baltimore’s C. Grimaldis Gallery called the “Millennial light movement -- not to be confused with its cousin, the light movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s.” Mirrors abound, as do LED lights and screens installed in sculptures.

“We are expecting a visit from the Nevada Museum of Art,” Rabinowitz said, “and they are very interested in the light works by our artist Chul Hyun Ahn. You have a number of artists like Ivan Navarro using light to political effect, but Chul takes a more Eastern approach to it -- his work is all about the void.” His holographic light boxes vary in size and are priced between $9,000 and $80,000 (one of the largest and most expensive, called Void, is on view at the fair).

Other dealers include the down-home, New Orleans-based Noah Antieau of Red Truck Gallery, who keeps it in the family -- literally. Exhibited salon-style in his tiny booth are goofy, hand-embroidered tableaus by his mother, Chris Roberts-Antieau, which unite the best of folk with the worst of cartoon kitsch (they are priced between $3,500 and $5,400) -- hung back-to-back with paintings by his best friend from high school and his uncle. Sales had not been great so far, but Noah, dressed in a red t-shirt and denim overalls, isn’t fazed. “We never really kill it with VIP sales,” he said, smiling. “We’re a mom-and-pop shop.”

First-time SCOPE exhibitor ArtMur, who hails from Montreal, shared in that modest enthusiasm, despite having made no sales yet. “This fair is great,” a booth attendant said. “It’s fresh, edgy and accessible. And look, our artist Simon Bilodeau was selected for the fair catalogue!”

SCOPE New York 2012, Mar. 7-11, 2012, SCOPE Pavilion, 57th Street and 12th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019.

EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email