Pulse Art Fair in New York: Flatline

Armory week is always an exciting time for New York City’s art community. In addition to the main show that occurs on the city’s west side, there are seemingly countless smaller shows that have popped up all over Manhattan and in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for options … you’ve got ’em. Of course, serious collectors are drawn to the Armory, where you’ll find five- and six-figure pieces from established investment-grade artists who are represented by major galleries – household names for this world. If you’re looking for the next big name, however, the sort of artist whose work has yet to really soar, you need to check out the satellite shows.

Traditionally, Pulse has been among the must-see art fairs in Armory week, and for good reason. This time around, unfortunately, it didn’t measure up. Quite simply, Pulse lacked what its name asserts.

I walked into the pavilion on W 26th Street expecting to see edgy, interesting and engaging artwork, the sort of pieces that stop you, make you think and leave you with a broader perspective. I left the show a tad disappointed.

The greatest problem with Pulse was that few artists seemed to be taking any risks. Much of the fare was conventional, and it felt as though the artists (or, rather, the show’s decision-makers) were trying to play it safe. The exhibition appeared to be catering to a different audience, one that wasn’t willing to put its assumptions on the line. To those inviting a challenge, Pulse fell short.

Much of the work was devoid of expression. Artists either tried too hard to find the abstract – such as a video piece of feet and ankles walking through heavy mud – or they relied too much on shocking color. I haven’t seen so much pink and other bright colors since similarly hued ski jackets were in vogue in the early 1990s. And, the display of an empty wine bottle with “MUTE” printed on the label simply defines uninspired.

There were a few bright spots, though, particularly the exquisite layered video created by David Ellis. Nestled in the “Impulse” section of the fair, upstairs, the previous Pulse standout offered a time-lapse video that encompassed the creation of several pieces, all intricately and seamlessly linked together to create an ongoing narrative nearly 20 minutes long. Called “The Animals,” it provided an array of morphing geographic designs that occasionally stopped to show a (what I took to be) a walrus before continuing on to show further creations. The action didn’t stop, and the work reflected the vision necessary to be a true thought leader as an emerging artist.
Aside from Ellis, Pulse was on life support this year, and my fingers are crossed for something more engaging in 2012. If we learned anything from the art market bust of 2008 and 2009, it’s that we need fresh, original and interesting talent to engage collectors and the public.

Otherwise, art investment dollars will be funneled into the known quantities (a la Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol), driving up the price and creating a new bubble. We also learned that betting on the vapid creations of emerging artists who have “made it” – such as Damien Hirst – isn’t enough. The purpose of Pulse is to give the next wave of artistic geniuses a platform.

Now, we just need the next wave of artistic geniuses …