September 10, 2013 · Print This Article
In about a week the city of Chicago will be upturned with contemporary art fervor. The art fair, EXPO Chicago, returns for its second year, along with a satellite, Fountain Art Fair. Already the city is buzzing with preparations. In the midst of all this I had a chance to email with Elizabeth Tully, Fountain Art Fair’s official Producer, about the history and aesthetic of the organization along with what we might expect at Fountain.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about the history of Fountain Art Fair? What is Fountain’s ideology?
Elizabeth Tully: Fountain was started in 2006 as a platform for three galleries (Capla Kesting Fine Art, McCaig Welles Gallery and Front Room Gallery) to access collectors, curators and critics during the New York Armory weekend. We have grown to represent over 100 international galleries, artists and collectives. Our model is “alternative” because we give free-reign to our exhibitors, and are not exclusive to just galleries, or just independent artists. Our mission is for people to come to Fountain and connect with whats happening inside through installations and performances that engage visitors and push boundaries. Of course, people want to sell art, and they do. But the overall vibe is one of community and goodwill as opposed to commercial frenzy.
CP: How do you facilitate a community vibe?
ET: There is something special that happens when the Fountain Team gets together, and all the exhibitors show up. I’m sure part of it is the type of art we showcase tends to bring in exhibitors that are open-minded and down for adventure (and the Fountain Team certainly personifies that as well) People start installing their art, checking out their neighbors, borrowing ladders, lending drills, etc. The energy is palpable and really starts to build, by opening day its reached a fever pitch. That sense of “we’re all in this together” is really what Fountain is all about. For Chicago especially, we are working with Johalla Projects as our partner out there. They have been incredible, making connections and fostering relationships to help get this show off the ground and build a new Fountain community in Chicago. I think visitors can feel that goodwill when they come, and its something we take a lot of pride in.
CP: What was it like shifting the fair from something created as a satellite to the Armory, in NY, to a fair that travelled?
ET: Fountain has always operated as a satellite to these larger fairs (Armory, Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Platform Los Angeles). Our purpose is to provide a platform for these alternative spaces to showcase their work during these major weekends, but as an affordable art fair, our budget is always tight. The challenge is to keep the show affordable while still creating an environment that is going to be conducive to our clients selling art. Working as a satellite allows us to take advantage of opportunities created by the large shows and the audience they attract. It also gives us the freedom to explore new markets in new cities, and bring Fountain’s particular brand of art + vibes around the world. CP: This is related, I think, to the last question — but your name, Fountain and logo, point back to the infamous Duchampian urinal. Is that a moment in art history that the fair is particularly inspired by? And what bearing does it have on the contemporary art fair model? ET: Just as people were shocked by Duchamp’s Fountain, we aim to bring that refreshing spirit into everything we do. We want visitors to engage with art they wouldn’t normally be open to, and break from the things they have seen at all the other fairs. This spirit of “art for art’s sake” is at the heart of the Duchamp/DADA paradigm.
CP: Do you have an example of a work or a couple of works from Fountain that managed to turn your audience’s heads?
ET: Where do I even start??! Over the years there have been some amazing moments that have happened at Fountain. Many of them center around the performance programming, which has been curated by Bushwick-based Grace Exhibition Space for the past few years. They invited a world-renowned group of artists from Estonia called Non Grata to Miami in 2010 that resulted in a car almost being blown up! Non Grata returned to Miami this past December with incredible programming involving live branding. (See photos attached). During my first Miami show in 2009, I remember Russell Young pulling silkscreens live using viles of his own blood. I remember watching him, disturbed but so intrigued. It was a defining Fountain moment for me. New York 2012 exhibitors Creamhotel also brought in an amazing performance involving aerialist Seanna Sharpe and her team suspended from the ceiling of the Armory, 130′ above the crowd. Watching that with a couple of thousand people on the floor was breathtaking, we were all just looking up with our mouths hanging open. Performance art for this show will be curated by chicago-based performance space and I’m really excited to see what they bring! We will be announcing the lineup next week.
CP: How do you encourage your galleries to be experimental? Is it simply the result of the ecology you have developed over the years — for instance do you all try and work exclusively with galleries prized for their experimentation — or do galleries apply with specific projects in mind, projects that you vet from your end?
ET: I think its a little bit of both. Fountain has a reputation for showcasing progressive, sometimes challenging work, so we do attract exhibitors who like to think outside the box. I love when potential exhibitors reach out to us with a wild idea(examples above), bringing all the elements together to help them realize that vision is, for me, one of the best parts of producing a show like this.
CP: What brings Fountain to Chicago?
ET: Fountain staged an exhibition in Chicago back in 2007, and we have been waiting for the right time to return. We were very excited to see EXPO Chicago launch in 2012, signaling a renaissance in the Chicago market. Then this spring, our now-partners at Johalla Projects reached out to us about organizing an alternative fair during EXPO week. There were so many amazing, progressive spaces in Chicago who were interested in participating in a fair, but there was no fair to represent them. The timing was finally right and everything has been clicking into place. We are excited to showcase our unique take on whats happening in Chicago, Brooklyn and beyond!
CP: Often I feel like fairs inadvertently reflect a trending icon or strategy — like a deer’s head cropped up repeatedly at the last Chicago Merchandise Mart fair, for instance, last year several galleries at EXPO featured paintings with holes or tears in the canvas — are there any trends you anticipate this year at Fountain?
ET: I suppose there may be a trend towards accessibility in art. If that’s the case, I’m glad we’re on the front lines! I think more and more people are realizing that it is possible to have fun with art, and that they can bring amazing, original work into their home or office without breaking the bank. That’s a beautiful thing, for both the artists and art-lovers.
CP: You all are planning a benefit for the DIA, I believe. Can you talk about how that decision came about?
ET: We were alarmed by reports of Christie’s valuing the DIA’s collection and the possibility of these works being hawked to pay off the city’s debt. Fountain co-Founder David Kesting has a long-time affinity towards the City of Detroit and the DIA. We believe that these works have been given in trust to the people of the Detroit and that legacy must be upheld. By pledging to funds from our VIP Preview day, we hope to ensure that this conversation continues, and that support builds momentum.