PULSE Art Fair is getting a makeover this year as it welcomes contemporary art market vet Helen Toomer. Toomer is known for her former Lower East Side gallery Toomer Labdza (now closed), her role at the helm of the Collective Design Fair, and her development of international lifestyle blog Artlog. The newly appointed Director will be shaking things up as PULSE enters its 10th year on the scene. We spoke with Toomer to get the inside scoop on what’s on the docket this year for PULSE NYC.
Allyson Parker: As a gallerist, what attracted you to this position?
Helen Toomer: I actually worked for PULSE back in 2007 - 2009, as the Communications Manager and it was the reason I moved to New York from London. So I’m pleased to have come back full circle.
AP: What kinds of new things we can expect from PULSE under your directorship?
HT: 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. We are also looking to PULSE Miami, where we will be celebrating ten years with a move to the beach. Our new home will consist of custom temporary pavilions to house over 80 international exhibitors, located on Indian Beach Park in the flourishing area of Mid-Miami Beach.
AP: How did you first get involved in the contemporary arts?
HT: Francis Bacon's Three Studies for the Base of a Crucifixion. That was it—I was 15 at the Tate and it changed my life. Sounds cheesy, but it's true and every time I'm in London I go and spend some time with it.
Daniel Temkin, Glitchometry Circles #4, 2013, Digital C-print on Duratrans, 36 x 36 inches; Courtesy of the artist and TRANSFER and PULSE Contemporary Art Fair
AP: How will your background influence the direction PULSE moves in going forward?
HT: I understand the "pain and pleasure" of owning and running a gallery. Exhibiting at an art fair is an exhausting experience, so I’m working on ways to make the experience better overall for our exhibitors and visitors. Personally, I have encouraged our exhibitors to treat their booth spaces as their galleries and present focused exhibitions and as such, over 80% of exhibitors will be presenting only one to three artists in their booths. This will ensure a cohesive and curated vision throughout.
AP: Have you made a distinct cleave from generations past or will you uphold the fair's original mission?
HT: I am excited to 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 ten years ago. As with any business, evolution is needed to adapt to a changing market and we’ve all witnessed the significant growth within the art fair market. So PULSE will continue to evolve and differentiate itself, especially as we head into the 10th anniversary this December in Miami.
AP: How do you see the role of the art fair in context to today’s market and do you see that relationship changing in the near future?
HT: This is an interesting time for all of us. The term "fair fatigue" has become quite relevant within the industry. With a market that can feel over-saturated, there seems to be a need to focus, purify, and redefine. I would consider my mission at PULSE successful if I could provide a steady platform for that community in hopes that vital discoveries and long lasting connections are made.
AP: What are you most looking forward to experiencing at PULSE in the coming week?
HT: All of it—from the exhibitor installation to the VIP Brunch, special projects, programming, and the announcement of the PULSE Prize winner…then de-installation on Sunday night! And immediately afterward, we look ahead to PULSE Miami to do it all again!
AP: What role does the physical installation play in the viewer's experience?
HT: This will be the fourth year that PULSE New York has been at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We commission site-specific projects for each edition of the fair, and this year is no exception. Tamara Gayer’s window installation will change the façade of the space, and inside, visitors can look forward to performance pieces by Sean Fader, Shantell Martin, Samuel Jablon, and others.
Tegene Kunbi, Runaway 2, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 39.5 x 33.5 inches; Courtesy of Margaret Thatcher Projects, New York and PULSE Contemporary Art Fair
AP: Any plans of opening another gallery since closing Toomer Labzda?
HT: Not for now—my focus is on PULSE.
AP: Is there a specific message you’d offer to the next generation of Gallerist/Curator/Fair Director?
HT: Work hard—then work harder.
(Image on top: Ruby Anemic, You Are Not, 2014, Neon Light, 5 x 32 inches; Courtesy of Ruby Anemic and De Buck Gallery and PULSE Contemporary Art Fair)