It was a big weekend for Colombian artist Carolina Gutiérrez, who was showing her work for the first time internationally at The Other Art Fair in Brooklyn. Displaying a series of “skin stories,” which included oil paintings on animal skin, Gutiérrez was surprised at the eagerness of people to come close to her admittedly unconventional work.
“I paint these hands doing sign language on top of the Spanish Braille engraved into the animal skin,” Gutiérrez said as she described one of her pieces with the painted hands, running her fingers over the surface. “I know it’s not common to sell to blind people at an art fair but let’s see.”
The Other Art Fair filled the looming glass structure of the Brooklyn Expo in Greenpoint from Nov. 8 to Nov. 12, drawing young hipsters and seasoned connoisseurs. Started seven years ago under Saatchi Art – an online gallery created by collector and businessman Charles Saatchi – the fair is also held in Chicago, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Australia, and Bristol, England. Its goal is to help emerging artists gain recognition.
This weekend was the fair’s last event of the year. While half of the talent in the room was local, the fair also brought in artists from all over the world.
“We just had a curator from Puerto Rico purchase a piece from one of our London artists,” said Sophie Lucas, the fair’s director, on Friday. “There’s a real variety of people in here.”
Gutiérrez was just one of many first-time exhibitors at the fair. Ruth Mora, a Venezuelan-born artist based in Toronto, displayed delicate layered work of abstract anatomical prints. Each hand-crafted piece was made using a combination of different mediums, including meticulous threadwork and fine-line drawings that mimicked embroidery.
“I want to show the feelings of rebirth and protection,” said Mora, who was an architect before she became an artist, and is inspired by anatomical images because her parents are doctors. “I think I became a more intuitive architect after working on my art and a more structured artist after architecture.”
While Gutiérrez and Mora both displayed contrasting forms of art – Gutiérrez more realistic and Mora rather surrealist – the two had one thing in common that set the tone for the entire fair: their work is experimental but approachable.
“I always had this nagging dream to create something in a visual way,” said the Toronto-based artist who goes by the name Tahsin The Good. Her background is in fashion, and before becoming a full-time artist, she ran an agency that worked to inspire kids through art. “I saw how simple creative things can empower [kids] in such a wonderful way… and now millennial women are my biggest audience.”
Most of her work includes messages of self-love and she makes them stand out by creating collages that layer hand-drawn contour portraits over text and cut-out faces. She gets her work out to her audience mostly through social media platforms such as Instagram, so for her, being able to share her work with people outside of the social media world was the most valuable part of the fair.
“The organizers have been very accommodating and friendly,” she said, echoing the rest of the talent around the floor. “It’s been so much fun just meeting so many artists and having conversations with them.” Throughout the night, Tahsin could be seen laughing and chatting with artists from neighboring stands. Some artists in adjoining stands walked potential buyers through their workstations together, suggesting they welcomed collaboration.
“Before we opened up to the public, the organizers got us all coffee and gave us some time to get to know each other,” Mora said. “It was nice to be able to learn from other artists what their process is like and what difficulties they face.”
The artists weren’t the only ones enjoying the open and welcoming qualities of the space.
“It’s so profoundly inspiring to have the work of so many talented artists in one place,” said Cali Yost, a 53-year-old consultant from New Jersey. Yost had only been to one art fair before and had only recently started purchasing art. “My favorite part of this fair is that it allows for real conversations between the artists and the buyers. I get to ask them what inspires them, and get inspired myself.”
The fair also included stands hosting a DJ, free cotton candy and a tequila tasting. A seating lounge in the corner of the floor was the site of panel discussions and the starting point for guided tours. The center of the show bustled with a large four-sided pop-up café that served beverages, alcohol, baked goods and sandwiches to hungry artists and viewers. There was even a tattoo artist with a makeshift parlor in the corner, with a long waiting list of people who wanted to get flash pieces at about $200 each.
“I’m just taking everything in,” said Ajani Nanabuluku, a 24-year-old audio technician and musician who was given tickets to the fair by a friend. “It’s so great seeing other artists doing such great things using different methods.”
The venue’s 60,000-square-foot space was split up into seven passageways, with stands set up on either side Although artists had the option of having their stands painted any color, most left their walls white.
“I like this space a lot because the layout is egalitarian,” said London artist Robert Robinson, one half of an artist duo with his husband, Alexander Korzer-Robinson. The couple creates intricately carved narrative scenes out of old encyclopedias or comic books. This was the 11th time they’ve had a stand at The Other Art Fair but their first time selling in New York. Robinson said the Brooklyn Expo setup allowed for an easier interaction with clients than shows in London.
List prices on individual pieces were as high as $10,000. Artists paid $1,680 plus sales tax for the smallest available stand and gave 30 percent of their sales to Saatchi.
With such high prices, many younger attendees had to settle with just enjoying the event. “My fantasy is to come back here one day with lots of cash so I can get everything,” said Nanabuluku.
Purchasing the artwork wasn’t a problem for Yost. She said that a friend named Heather, a long-time collector, had brought Yost to the fair when she had started showing some interest in buying art.
“Heather has picked something up at each and every one of these fair,” Yost said. “Oh, there she is now!”
Yost waved at Heather, who was walking towards her from the Saatchi sales counter with a smile and a pink docket slip. She was going home with a pop-expressionist portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.