Steve Keene Thaws Frieze!

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Photo credit: d.Bindi

The Frieze New York 2019 art fair, which ran through Sunday, May 5th, offered over 190 galleries, hailing from over 25 countries. Impractical, from a casual buyer's stand point, as it can be overwhelming (Stendhal syndrome) but always fun for amazing people watching as New Yorkers love to wear their individualism as proudly as any artist's painting on a gallery wall, and despite what some may think, not at all as stuffy as some art gallery shows can be. I always find at least a dozen new artists that I'd proudly display on my apartment's walls, if I had the dollars and the space to do so. But things were different this year. I could actually afford a piece.

P.P.O.W.'s booth presented countless paintings by Steve Keene -- priced between $10, $20 and $50 (depending on the size) -- were the art fair's best deal, even cheaper than some of the food/beverage vendors serving up very edible meals, snacks, and libations. With Keene live-painting like a madman across a giant easel set about 3-4 feet above the art crowd masses, he'd set up about 10-12 plywood boards in front of him and would paint them simultaneously. From simple, colorful images of animals (cats), people (Buchanan above), and many cool album covers by musicians like David Bowie, Depeche Mode, The Clash, Bow Wow Wow, Siouxsie and the Banshees, et al., there was always a crowd ready to jump on one of his pieces as soon as it was finished and hung on the wall opposite of him. There was a "cash-only" wooden box to collect the dollars from willing patrons.

Keen's work has a simple, but inviting illustrative quality, like hip DIY gig posters from the punk rock/new wave era, something you might have found taped to a lamppost or hung in a boutique. As I watched the artist in action, a middle-aged woman next to me was debating which "album cover" recreation her son would enjoy most -- The Clash's London Calling or Bow Wow Wow's Last of the Mohican homage to Edouard Manet's Le déjeuner sur l’herbe piece. (I suggested the Bow Wow Wow, given that album's original controversy. Or buy both for only $40.) She only had to wait an hour until the paint had dried and the paintings were "hung" on the wall behind her. I didn't wait for her final selection(s) as I decided to walk the fair and come back later to make my $20 selection. (See above.)

What an art collector's metaphor, eh? The low price-point meant that any attendee could walk out of the Frieze with a real piece of art by a real life artist. And what a great story to share, too.

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