Other works simply got lost. Work hung in hallways tended to take on the feel of hotel art. Zach Rockhill, a Brooklyn-based artist, seemed intent on fighting the generic nature of hospitality space with a large gray block of concrete, bisected on an angle with a diaphanous curtain. It was big enough and odd enough to be clearly out of place, but it too struggled for presence in a room that also featured a tape loop of chanting, an appealingly decorative abstraction in gray, red and silver by Katherine Mann, and a complicated but opaque installation by James J. Williams III.
The fair is divided into two platforms: In guest rooms on two floors of the hotel, galleries presented selections from the artists they represent, while in social spaces on the ground floor, around the pool and in the garage, individual artists and some local art schools and organizations were given space. The social areas were freewheeling and tended more to conceptual and documentary work, performance and installation. Several artists focused on the social nature of the art world, conceived ideally as a place of intellectual and creative exchange. Jennifer Mawby, a Vancouver-based artist, covered a large wall with a grid of small trinkets, hanging on hooks. “Give and Take” invited viewers to take one of her strangely moustache-shaped curios and leave something behind in exchange. Many were leaving their business cards, a sad comment on Washington’s inexhaustible supply of self-promotion.
The strongest work was in the gallery rooms, and not surprisingly, it was the most finely crafted, visually satisfying and tactile. Maskull Lasserre, represented by the Montreal-based Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporarain, carves things out of axe handles, including a finally detailed snake skeleton. Another work joins an axe with the tuning pins and scroll of a violin, thus fusing one of the brute tools of civilization with one of its most refined. Jeremy Dean’s work, seen in the room devoted to Aureus Contemporary, was political, but sharply conceived and beautifully executed. By unweaving fabrics representing the American flag, then stretching the remaining threads tightly above other images, Dean creates ghostly comments on the divided and rancorous state of the American polity. He also designs horse-drawn retrofits of gas guzzling cars, a laugh-out-loud comment on our shared and imminent dystopia.
The hotel layout, its long, shotgun halls crowded with people, creates a brutal, egalitarian environment. In four hours you might see everything twice. About ninety percent of it makes little impression. Five percent lingers, and a small percentage of the remainder will last and recall you for a third look. In today’s contemporary art world, that’s not a bad success rate.
(E)merge Art Fair, located at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, 10 I Street, SW, continues Friday and Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $15. For more information visit www.emergeartfair.com