NEW YORK — Last night saw the opening reception of the Verge Art Fair, which, in its third year of operation, has moved from Brooklyn to Bleecker Street in Manhattan. The fair is situated in the same building occupied just weeks ago by the 2012 Brucennial, an alternative exhibition planned to coincide with the Whitney Biennial on Madison Avenue. Verge director Michael Workman seemed okay with the potential "uptown" / "downtown" interplay that would take place between Frieze — the fair that people actually come from out-of-town for — and his own scrappy shop. Still, a conversation between two visitors couldn't help but catch my attention: "Do you ever notice that the only difference between an 'independent' or 'alternative' fair and the 'major' institutions," one asked his friend, "is that the 'independent' guys are always broke?"
For better or for worse, the man had a point. Formally, the smoothly mapped-off plains of color in acrylic paintings by Japanese artist Tsutomu Nunokawa could be confused pretty easily with oil paintings I saw by American artist Andrew Masullo at the Whitney this past March. The fort made of quilts and cushions made by Chicago's Good Stuff House (artists Kayce Bayer and Chris Lin) seemed like a riff on the late Mike Kelley, highlighted in an underwhelming homage in the Whitney. I'm just as sure that Esmerelda Kosmatopoulos's giant inflated canvas glove, titled "Palm Authority," could fit in pretty much anywhere, no matter how glitzy or drab. The point is this: This work looks like contemporary art, as good as bad as any other contemporary art, but not meaningfully alternative enough, perhaps, to feel really underground — which is what a fair like this needs to spotlight to best serve its purpose.
In a way, what's most admirable about Verge is that hype and self-promotion have been kept to a minimum. When I showed my business card and requested a press pass at the front desk, the person I spoke with sweetly suggested that I buy a ticket anyway. Nowhere in this fair did I feel insincerely pressured to look at and talk about mediocre art. Nothing really caught my eye here, but the overall lack of pretense during a week of big art fairs in New York is also rather refreshing.