On the Paper Trail at New York’s Art on Paper Fair

Blaise Tobia and Virginia Maksymowicz visit the Art on Paper Fair in New York and report on good booth presentations by Philadelphia Galleries like Stanek, Commonweal and Bertrand Productions -- and by Billy Dufala's project curated by Nato Thompson and presented by Fleisher Ollman Gallery. Commonweal's booth showcases drawings by Anne Minich, and the booth was a hit with Hyperallergic and the Art Newspaper. Take a little trip into the art fair with the photos and fresh commentary. You will enjoy it!

A view of a busy art fair taken from above looks down on a crowd of people walking and sitting in a large exhibition hall. A center hallway allows traffic to flow through the fairs many booths and to each side are many small booths showing art. The industrial-looking ceiling looms overhead.
Overview of the Art on Paper fair. Photo by Blaise Tobia

Having had just one day available in New York City over the big art fair weekend (Sept. 7-10, 2023), we opted to concentrate on just one fair, Art on Paper. This was partly because art on – and of – paper is of special interest to us and partly because this fair tends to be both more self-contained and less trendy than the others, especially the Armory Show. It was also because we knew that there would be a strong Philadelphia presence: Commonweal, Stanek, and Bertrand Productions had booths; Billy Dufala (represented by Fleisher/Ollman) had one of the special projects; and Nato Thompson, who continues to reside in Philadelphia, was the fair’s Creative Director.

A crowd of people dressed in rain ponchos and carrying umbrellas approach Art on paper, an art fair, on a street under an underpass. Many signs feature in the photo, including a pedestrian walk sign with a hand up and 11 cautioning “don’t walk, 11 seconds left” and street directions to F.D.R Drive North, and One Way.
Pier 35 on a rainy morning. Photo by Blaise Tobia

Art on Paper’s venue – Pier 36 – isn’t very close to the Javits Center on the West Side (site of the Armory Show). It’s on the East River and not near any subways, so it took some effort to get there. Neither is it as large as some of the other fairs but it was large enough (see photo) to take up the better part of a day. This year was the 9th edition.

Within the overall fair, there were the Center for Book Arts-curated Booksmart Fair (including Dieu Donné and 10X10 Photo Books) and Flat Files, which brought in a set of small fine-art printmakers and publishers with a somewhat less commercial focus. The fair is run by Art Market Productions (AMP), which also runs Art Market San Francisco and Hamptons, and the Seattle Art Fair.


We should confess that art fairs are not our favorite form of art exhibition. By and large the exhibitors bring work that they believe will sell and have booths that resemble resale shops rather than coherent galleries. This was definitely the case for the majority of booths at Art on Paper. As well, many of the exhibitors weren’t particularly interested in “truth in advertising,” showing work that had nothing to do with paper (like paintings on canvas, or wall reliefs made of wood or plastic). Most of the work on display tended towards the bright, colorful, decorative and gimmicky – more home décor than serious art.

A man in a dark blue, button-down shirt listens while a woman wearing a mask speaks. They are in a booth by Commonweal Gallery showing drawings by Anne Minich on the walls painted orange and cream.
Virginia Maksymowicz speaking with Commonweal Gallery’s Alex Conner at their booth featuring Anne Minich. Photo by Blaise Tobia

We can happily say that this was not the case with the Philadelphia exhibitors. Both Stanek and Bertrand Productions had displays of serious work, and Commonweal (at their very first fair) had an outstandingly coherent display of very serious work – a 50-year mini-retrospective of drawings by Anne Minich. In fact, reviews in both Hyperallergic and The Art Newspaper named Commonweal as an outstanding booth. (Commonweal is currently also featuring Anne in a very strong one-person show at their Philadelphia gallery.)

Two other booths that stood out for us were Accola Griefen, specializing in work by women artists, and Purgatory Pie Press, a book arts studio that is a perennial favorite among Philadelphia artists.

A silver Airstream trailer with its door open is parked inside the art fair. A cardboard sign announces “Worthless Studios Come In” A woman in silver mylar pants stands at the open door smiling broadly as another person passing on the left looks on, curious. Lettering on the back of the airstream says “1395 Air Stream” above a small window that is open. Several people are inside the trailer.
Worthless Studio’s Airstream trailer (featuring a fully functional photographic darkroom). Photo by Blaise Tobia

Unfortunately, ethnic diversity was almost nonexistent, and the exhibitors (and attendees) were overwhelmingly white. One exception was the black-owned Tanya Weddemire Gallery, which showed the work of Guy Stanley Philoche. Another was the delightfully unexpected Worthless Studios, founded by Neil Hamamoto. This arts nonprofit, based in Brooklyn, describes itself as an “artists’ community space” that works to assist a diverse group of artists in “realizing their creative visions.” They managed to bring an Airstream trailer inside the pier, parking it among the more standard booths. The trailer houses a “mobile darkroom” as part of an ongoing project titled “Free Film” in which they lend a loaded film camera to participants who then return the camera and exposed film to be developed and printed. The photos are subsequently exhibited in certain theme exhibitions. They were doing this at Art on Paper — using B&W film in particular — and exhibiting some of the prints in the non-darkroom portion of the Airstream.

A bale of shredded paper sits on a pallet in a small enclosed windowless space. The paper shreds are all white and the overall appearance is shaggy like a shag rug. The affect is forlorn, with the bale presented like an artifact from the past and cautionary tale for the future.
“Paper Bale” by Billy Dufala (paper waste, stainless steel wire, wood; 2023). Photo by Blaise Tobia

Apart from the exhibitors, art fairs often feature large-scale works that have been curated into the fair by a Creative Director. In the case of this year’s Art on Paper, these pieces were chosen by Nato Thompson, who recently spent five years as artistic director for the Philadelphia Contemporary. Thompson has also served as Artistic Director for several other AMP fairs. These gigs have overlapped with his stint at the Philadelphia Contemporary and with his current position as founding director of the Alternative Art School. Thompson chose large-scale “art-of-paper” sculptural works by Striped Canary (Stephen B. Nguyen and Wade Kavanaugh), Fitzhugh Karol, and Billy Dufala, among others. To be precise, the Dufala piece (a chest-high bale of recycled white paper) was not really that large, but it used scale effectively. It was perhaps the single most beautiful object in the fair.