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Materials Mystify at Dallas Art Fair

Tunnel IV, by Chui Hyun Ahn

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is a Commissioner of Cultural Affairs in Dallas, as well as a member of the Public Art Committee.

At the fourth annual Dallas Art Fair, with more than 70 galleries from near and far exhibiting, I found the work that intrigued me the most – where I lingered longer and looked more closely as I conversed with others doing the same -were works which asked the question,  “How did he/she do it?”

Immediately upon entering, I was drawn to the wall installation of … could it be dice, squares of wood, mosaic tiles? No, it was made of discarded computer keyboard keys, which artist Sarah Frost of St. Louis’ William Shearburn Gallery arranged into a lyrical wavelike black, grey and white composition – a color-field

painting about technology (and life) with technological debris. The installation belied the keys’ former utilitarian task and gave throw-aways new life as art. The larger commentary might be that too many of us are thrown away and need to be reused. It was also interesting to note that it appeared the gallery dealt mostly in secondary market art.

Audrey vs. Marlene, by Alex Guofeng Cao

Several booths away was the  fluorescent work of Korean artist Chui Hyun Ahn of C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore. A crowd consistently gathered to figure out how he did it. By merely looking at the mirror manipulated works, the viewers entered a disorienting world of no beginnings and no endings – a world in which the artist takes us on a spiritual journey through mirror magic. The 400-pound concrete and glass table was  a simple, startling and seductive  sculpture. Surely a conversation piece. With a seemingly bottomless top, there would be no glass stains if it functioned as a coffee table. No guest would dare lay down  a glass, fearing it would fall to oblivion.

Tower, by Mary McCleary

And what about  the Audrey Hepburn photograph divided into hundreds of photographic pixels of Marlene Dietrich? When arriving in the U.S. from China, photographer Alex Guofeng Cao of Art Space Gallery fixated on what he saw as important to Americans: celebrities, politics, patriotism and sex. He blew up our foibles and obsessions, as if to say “in your face, America,” with not just one face, but with thousands of mini faces. The gallery offers magnifying glasses and take-away mints in miniature pixel boxes with the reproduced photos as calling cards. Perhaps the mints are to wash away the bad taste of America’s bad taste.

Another American obsession – success – was  spotlighted at Houston’s Moody Gallery. Mary McCleary’s Tower is an intricate, obsessively constructed six-foot collage on paper. The big city businessman is balanced, at least temporarily, on a teetering chair atop a stack of books he has supposedly read. His reading history reflects his being. It is his autobiography, his past. He balances a pencil on his nose as he teeters, while the windows  of the skyscrapers  surrounding him are filled with collaged onlookers. Life, indeed, is a balancing act, especially for the man in the suit in the sky in the sights of others.  Is it that life is a stage show for others?