Moments of Glory at Art on Paper by Rhea Nayyar

When I arrived at Pier 36 in the Lower East Side for my first-ever walkthrough of the annual Art on Paper fair, I was looking forward to a celebration of paper-derived work unbridled by the constraints of two-dimensionality, scale, and standard materials and techniques. Instead, I found myself weaving through dozens of booths showcasing what I can only assume were the most applicable pieces for Crate and Barrel’s wall-art category. Perhaps I tricked myself due to the fact that the fair is called Art on Paper, not Art from Paper, but I was really hoping to see work that embraced paper as a versatile medium rather than just the conventional base to be built on top of with colored pencils or acrylic paint.

It was a slog to weave through booths of eyeroll-worthy “edgy” text art and run-of-the-mill paintings on gessoed paper, and the worst part is that every lap around the event venue brought me back to this giant installation of warped planks haphazardly covered with twists and scrunches of Kraft-yellow tissue paper that reminded me more of a squirrel’s drey rather than connoting the image of a wildfire. But I was determined to comb through the fair and find some stand-outs nestled between what felt like endless examples of objectively benign but inherently uninteresting wall decor that didn’t warrant a second look and a surprising amount of art that wasn’t on paper.

Just beyond the cafe area, the fair was activated by a buzzing pop-up art book fair orchestrated through the fair’s partnership with the Center for Book Arts which I found to be a more relevant alternative to the open-air gift shop, and just beside that were live printmaking demonstrations from Shoestring Print Workshop. There was a warmth of genuine excitement emanating from that corner of the venue that I couldn’t ignore. That same warmth was quietly cached in smaller doses across the rest of the fair, starting with WORTHLESSSTUDIOS’s nomadic Airstream dark room trailer.

I was also charmed by the tiny prints shown at the Inky Editions booth. I’m a bit like a moth to a lamp when it comes to small-scale work, and the Hudson-based print studio and art collective sent me a torch in the form of miniature etchings, aquatints, and monotypes, as well as a little sculpted room by Lothar Osterburg that’s encased in a box and only viewed through a circular lens.

Another highlight of the fair was the work of Shanthi Chandrasekar, a Tamil artist based in Maryland showing her work through Lamina Project. I was drawn in by Chandrasekar’s circular handmade paper discs that were unshielded and fluttering ever-so-gently in the breeze of passersby. I commented that they reminded me of chapatis because of their organically imperfect edges and cream and black palette, and she told me that the work next to it, a large ink drawing speckled with orange circles, reminded her of gulab jamun (a popular West and South Asian dessert made from balls of flour and soaked in rose syrup).

After our shared laugh, Chandrasekar told me about how her multidisciplinary practice weaves a thread (metaphorically and sometimes physically) through the molecular, the cosmic, and what can be seen with the human eye alone. Her obsessive but meditative patterning serves as an attempt in transcribing the universe through naturally occurring motifs rooted in physics, biology, chemistry, and astronomy. Unfazed by mistakes, Chandrasekar both imparts her optimistic passion for understanding the science of life through her joyful, layered, and ever-evolving craft.

Commonweal Gallery presented a compelling retrospective of Anne Minich’s works on paper spanning nearly 50 years. The 89-year-old artist’s ultra-precise graphite hatchings are shown alongside fleshy pink gouache works and etched prints — all of which are radical contemplations of sexuality, desire, family dynamics, and place condensed into balanced compositions. Minich’s dainty draughtsmanship dances harmoniously with her dry sense of humor in a tight but well-flowing venture through her flat files, as demonstrated in “Door Nobs” (1973) and “A Fragile Passion” (1999). This had to be my favorite booth in the entire fair for its intentionality and Minich’s superb material handle.

Last but not least, and shockingly easy to overlook in its confines to one wall amidst an explosion of colorful prints at the Electric Works Gallery booth, was the work of Adam Feibelman. Feibelman’s three high-contrast cut paper collages were the antidote to my waning interest in the fair’s slim pickings. Each of the collages were made up from bits of free-hand cut Stonehenge paper detritus from larger works that are arranged like a mind-map or idea web of past, current, and future projects. Study-sized weavings, skeletal cuts, bent arches, stencils, patterns, foldable models, and inlays are delightfully arranged into larger compositions that flicker between two- and three-dimensional.

Feibelman cites navigating the world with his two young daughters as a major inspiration for these “paper journals” that try to answer their questions of how things work. “My daughter asked me if they designed cars flat, or dimensionally, and I didn’t know,” Feibelman told me. “So that sent me on this journey of trying to free-hand cut these little cars from paper, these little disasters that I started calling ‘car accidents,’ so I could try to explain to my daughter how these things work.”

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