There’s something about entering a school that always gives a feeling of déjà vu, with the pastel-hued hallways and orderly lines of desks likes ghosts of the past. That’s something that makes the SPRING/BREAK Art Show‘s return to the Old School on Mott Street something of a challenge, in that the curator-driven art fair feels like another semester rather than a completely new experience (although that’s a common feeling with art fairs, and this is only SPRING/BREAK’s second year). However, like any return to school there are new faces, new ideas, and in the mix of 22 curators and 80 artists there are some compelling moments, particularly with the installations (the involvement of Paddle 8 with an online auction is obviously a component more focused on the less site-specific work), although there are a fair amount of geometry-heavy pieces and the sort of sleazy chic work that seems spawned from a hidden chamber of a Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe installation.
The 2013 SPRING/BREAK theme is “New Mysticism,” asking: ”We have entered the future. It was inevitable. Now what?” There’s a heavy focus on the digital, with plenty of “old relics of the 20th century visual culture” (in the words of the fair text). Some of this is expressed in the transcendental, some in the monumental. Z. Behl, for example, has a sprawling installation curated by Ted Barrow of life-size painted images that elevate the artist’s friends into icons. Behl does some interesting work with these figures to engage them with everyday space, such as photographing them on the subway or even performing with them.
What I found to be the most impactful “on theme” curation was by Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori who focused on repetitions and ritual. One of their artists, Annabel Linquist, creates paintings that are meant to rewire her collectors’ brains as “neurological portraits,” which relate to a series of sound experiments (charmingly called “love songs to her darker parts”) which she did in trying to alter her own mind’s subconscious. In the closet area of their school room was probably one of the most powerful pieces of SPRING/BREAK with an encompassing mural by Melissa Godoy Nieto, a Mexican artist based in Brooklyn who painted a vibrant mix of mystical South American imagery, with half centering on life and the other half on death. Just to the side in another room was a completely different toned mural by Julia Chiang with meditative teardrops of paint filling a tranquil space.
I found the mix of Sarah Bereza’s botanical-focused paintings with Fall on Your Sword’s intense installations, also curated by Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori, to be a really enjoyable rumination on nature. Fall on Your Sword adapted a 1950s lawnmower into a piece where if you press down on its accelerator a projection turns on of a lawn being mowed, but go too fast and the daylight switches to “an alternate nighttime reality of garden witches” (screaming and dancing young ladies in matching track suits). With Bereza’s paintings alongside, which she states are “a slowing moving psychological revenge thriller where nature reclaims what was once rightfully its own,” it is all highly ominous.
Maybe there is just something about darkness in an old school that just works really well, because I also was pulled into the haunting space curated by John Morrow with work by Avery McCarthy and Sarah Hindsgual, illuminated only by the lights over McCarthy’s photographs and the flicker of Hindsgual’s videos. McCarthy creates digital negatives of objects that are impossible to photograph, because they are just too giant, too tiny, or “visually nonexistent,” and then creates a silver gelatin print in the darkroom, making a dark visual of something that originated on Google image search. Hindsgual’s shaky videos also felt outside of new digital technology, even though they were taken with her iPhone, with each around a minute long piece showing brief glimpses of life, like worms wriggling from the earth after rain, as reflecting “the thoughts flying through [her] head.”
There are several video installations in SPRING/BREAK, but I felt the most interesting and involved to be Yorgo Alexopoulos’s “Transmigrations,” which has 24 channels of shifting images of nature and new age shapes, going from photographs to paintings of waving wheat in the block frames at one point and the large form of the moon breaking out in another, all shifting over the huge space of a double chalkboard. The video was curated by Maureen Sullivan who is also showing the late Jeremy Blake’s “Winchester Redux,” part of the artist’s focus on the Winchester Mystery House in California with animation and video exploring the mental instability and paranoia that drove the rifle heiress Sarah Winchester to construct a maze of a mansion with 160 rooms designed to confuse the spirits she thought were stalking her.
Entering the room curated by Angela Conant the theme of pencils immediately jumps out, but how exactly they work into all the art isn’t evident until you read further and find that Conant is playing off a 1998 experiment that asked subjects to keep pencils between their teeth while reading funny statements, discovering that they found them more funny with the pencils than without (the pencils triggering smiling muscles). The artists performed similar tests with actions of their choosing, with a couple of them, Grayson Cox and Jennifer Dayton, turning out some pretty impressive drawings using pencils held in their mouths.
Out in one hallway, Peter Dudek’s installation, curated by Eve Sussman, is a clever mix of architectural ideas, including a lenticular image of construction site dreaming of becoming a house. Dudek was inspired by modernist architects like Louis Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright, and the idea of things popping up in a grid on a computer screen.
With its three stories and art stretching into the halls, SPRING/BREAK has some explorable depth, and one that’s less daunting that other art fairs. While not everything is immediately arresting, like any school assembly there are those who stand out from the crowd, this year with a bit more of the mystical lacing the spring semester.
SPRING/BREAK Art Show is March 7-10, 2013 at the Old School (233 Mott Street, Nolita, Manhattan).