Three tiers of jars filled with spools of threadFor the second installment of the new Blanton Blog, assistant curator Risa Puleo reports on her recent whirlwind trip to NYC for “Art Week,” and the sanctuary she found in a new installation by Dario Robleto.

Returning to Austin as it amps up for South by Southwest after a week spent in New York during Art Week, I’ve been thinking of the pros and cons of amassing great amounts of anything—art or music—in an exposition format. For those of you unfamiliar with art fairs, imagine a trade show, but for contemporary art. Art galleries from all over the world set up temporary shop, displaying works from their stable of artists in niche-like spaces in civic spaces and hotels across Manhattan. The Armory show is the largest among them, taking up two piers along the Hudson River. There are also the satellite fairs like Volta, Scope, Pulse, the Independent, the Dependent, and the Art Dealers Association of America. I went to them all. A day at the fair should be an opportunity for getting a pulse on the state of contemporary art production. However, after navigating crowds of people and trying to take in, let alone entrench into one’s memory, booth after booth of disparate objects, more so than not, art fairs are the worst kind of ocular overload.

There were standouts, nonetheless. At the Armory, Carrie Moyer at Canada Gallery’s booth and Katerina Grosse at Galerie nächst St. Stephan, and at Volta, Elizabeth Subrin’s video at Sue Scott Gallery and drawings by George Kuchar—an artist better known for his films—at ADA Gallery, all provided moments of respite among the hubbub. The Dependent, the newest and most edgy of the art fairs focusing on smaller project spaces and artist-run initiatives, was refreshing. Cleopatra, a curatorial collaborative, made over their hotel room with a Polly Apfelbaum duvet and closetful of flowers arranged by artist Alex de Corte. At Recess, which offers residencies for artists to interact with the public, I got a haircut as part of a performance by Brown Bear duo AK Burn and Katie Hubbard.

Outside of the fairs, there were studios, museums and galleries to visit. Lynda Benglis is still my hero, reconfirmed by her retrospective exhibition at the New Museum. The Whitney and The Guggenheim’s current focus on collections meant early 20th-century favorites came out of storage: George Bellows, Paul Cadmus and Charles Demuth playing for American realism and Kandinsky, Delaunay and Kupka on the side of European abstraction.

A real intimacy with a work of art is almost impossible to have at the art fairs because of the ways in which the displays are constructed. But there was one moment amongst all the cab-hopping, cheek-kissing, and generally running around, that will stay with me for a very long time. On the way to the Independent art fair I stopped into a few Chelsea galleries. At D’Amelio Terras, I was fortunate to run into Dario Robleto, an artist whose work is in The Blanton’s collection and whose show The Minor Chords are Ours had just opened at the gallery. Here, the gallery was refuge from the hoards of people outside, and Dario walked me through his exhibition.

It’s been a while since a work of art has made me cry. But standing in front of two works –I Wish The Ocean Sounded More Like Dusty and I Wish The Ocean Sounded More Like Muddy Waters, I did. Full on. Crying in public. During Art Week no less! For the work, Robleto amassed a collection of apple blossom seashell halves, each with a pale pink blush. He then went about the arduous task of pairing disconnected seashells together, lovingly reconnecting the other’s missing side while serenading them with a soundtrack of Dusty Springfield and Muddy Water’s music. Once reconnected he separated the shells again, returning one half back to the ocean and using the others to write out the names “Dusty” and “Muddy” on paper to create the works.

This experience was a gentle reminder to me when I left the gallery to fight the crowds again—one that I hope I can recall while battling traffic during South by Southwest this week—that ultimately, across any medium, whether art or music, these are products made by people trying to communicate. When we are part of an audience we are putting ourselves in a position to receive, and in doing so are able to forge a connection that exists beyond ourselves, the work, and the artist into a new space in between.

So I encourage you to look for those moments of connection among the masses at South by Southwest, when it seems that we are inundated with so much music that we can no longer hear. If you are in search of quiet connections, come to The Blanton and sit vigil with Josefina Guilisasti’s La Vigilia, one of my favorite works of art in the museum right now.

Image: Dario Robleto, The Minor Chords Are Ours (detail) 2010, 60 x 23 x 23 inches, mixed media

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