Helen Toomer Rediscovers PULSE Contemporary Art Fair
In her first year as director of the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair showing May 8-11th, Helen Toomer is bringing a new look to the antiquated art fair model, and a fresh vision to the art world as whole. We catch up with the woman behind the rediscovery of the fair and get a sneak peek at the exceptional work on display.
I am excited to take the reigns and breathe new life into PULSE. This upcoming edition in New York presents an opportunity to reestablish PULSE’s foundation of quality and discovery, characteristics that were established nearly 10 years ago. We’ll be making noticeable changes to the look, feel, and energy of the fair so that visitors and exhibitors are really encouraged to engage and not be overwhelmed by what is presented in front of them.
What were you doing prior to becoming Director of PULSE?
Most recently, I was Director and part of the team that launched the Collective Design Fair last May in New York. Prior to that, I owned a gallery in the Lower East Side called toomer labzda, which was devoted to highlighting emerging artists, and has provided me with a unique perspective as a fair Director. Ironically, what brought me over to the US in the first place was PULSE, as I served as the fair’s Communications Director during its infancy years.
Do you think your decision to change the solo show requirement for IMPULSE will change the audience’s overall interactions with the work?
I think that freeing the emerging galleries from the restriction of a solo show is doing exactly that—allowing them to exhibit the artists they choose. Some IMPULSE galleries are still presenting solo shows, so it’s now a mix and a choice. Also, opening up the PULSE Prize to all the exhibitors presenting a solo artist in a booth creates an incentive to take this risk and to introduce one of their artists to our audience. We are celebrating these artists further by introducing the PULSE Presents the 2014 PULSE Prize Winner, event on Friday, May 9th, 6-9pm, with drinks and performances and the winner will be awarded a cash grant.
Art fairs seem to be focused on exhibiting work represented by established galleries, what do you think your involving “fair-newbies” to the experience will do to enrich the exhibition?
I’d like for PULSE to present a cohesive overview of the contemporary art market today, and that includes established and emerging galleries, non-profits and alternative models (artist-run spaces, pop-ups, dealers, shared spaces). While established galleries will still make up the majority of the fair, people are questioning whether the model of a traditional gallery brick and mortar space is sustainable and as a fair, I believe it is our responsibility to confront these issues.
For example Tinca Art, was an IMPULSE exhibitor during this past edition of PULSE Miami and her artist, Justin Orvis Steimer, sold out of his works completely. Simultaneously, she built a reputation and a following by showing work from her apartment, salon style. Now, she is renovating a space in the Lower East Side, opening soon and showing at PULSE New York. So the model of a gallery always has the potential to change, and change successfully.
Can you speak a bit about the special and new section POINTS?
Well there aren’t sections anymore—I want the fair to be about integration. POINTS is a new concept which incorporates non-profits and alternative models as I mentioned before.
Should we keep an eye out for any work in particular?
There’s lots to see and it wouldn’t be fair for me to pick “favorites.” I think your readers should come enjoy the fair and experience the changes themselves.
What’s on tap after PULSE New York?
PULSE Miami will be our ten year anniversary, so it is a significant and celebratory milestone for the team. We will also be continuing our PULSE Presents programming by hosting off-season events throughout the year.
What is your WILD Wish?
To click my heels and be anywhere in world in the blink of an eye—England for a cup of tea with my family, Rome to gaze at the Sistine Chapel, Brazil to watch a World Cup match, Paris for a stroll in the Pompidou or Prada Marfa.