The 2015 Armory Show is barely two months cold, and already another art fair week is upon us. Since creating a list of completely personal and arbitrary superlatives proved an enjoyable and productive way to see the fair then, I decided to do it again, only this time at NADA New York 2015.
But first, a bit of background about the fair: NADA, the acronym of the New Art Dealers Alliance, is held on the Lower East Side, and the art on view, although it’s not all from Lower East Side galleries, generally reflects that sensibility. This means a lot of art about art and process, work that often looks sloppy on the outside but has a formal sensibility at heart. There are usually healthy doses of abstraction, weird mash-ups of materials, everyday objects galore, and many pretty colors. All of which means: there are tropes one finds at NADA, types of art one expects to see. This list will give you a taste of them.
Best Interactive Project: Parmer at Abrons Arts Center
There aren’t very many interactive projects at the fair, so Parmer, a roving feminist space currently housed at Abrons Arts Center, might have owned this category regardless of its substance. But that substance is also great. Curator Amanda Parmer has given over one wall of the tiny Projects booth to artists Liz Linden and Jen Kennedy and their pilot press… The project involves a DIY printing station where you, the fairgoer, are encouraged to “publish your feminist essays, concrete poems, artist’s books, screenplays, speculative fictions, erotic fiction, historical fiction: anything that YOU made, that YOU think is feminist.” And it’s free! All that’s required is you leave a copy behind.
Most Exuberant Sexual Organ: Caroline Wells Chandler at Roberto Paradise Gallery
Is that the happiest vagina ever or a penis so exuberant it’s giving off rainbow rays? We may never know — but who cares?
Most Surreal Casting of Found Objects: Anders Holen at Helper + Lynx
Holen takes found objects and puts them “through studio sculpture procedures,” the gallerist staffing the joint Helper and Lynx booth explained to me. This means using clay to create quick molds, casting the objects in aluminum, plaster, and plastic resin, and sometimes conjoining and abstracting the objects in the process. He then uses the new creations as tools to help shape new works. Holen’s display at NADA comes together nicely with a mix of colors and textures, and a compelling artifacts-of-the-future vibe to it.
Best Drawings of the Human Body: Ebecho Muslimova at Room East
Part of Room East gallery’s booth is lined with a series of these enigmatic and energetic drawings by Ebecho Muslimova. They all feature a muscly, almost Sumo-like naked woman in various surreal poses: lying atop a giant fan, her hair blowing up at 90 degrees, or, as seen here, spouting a mysterious dark liquid from her mouth and catching it in her belly.
Sculptures You Could Most Easily Recreate at Home: Vera Kox at Duve
Before shelling out money for however much these cost, I recommend you just try making them at home. Kox used plaster (which is actually pretty neat, because they look so plush) and anodized aluminum; you could give it a shot with white bean bags and spray-painted poles.
Best/Worst Pun: Chloe Wise at Galerie Division
This piece by Chloe Wise, titled “Ain’t No Challah Back (Pack) Girl” (2015), is built entirely around a pun — which is either good or bad, depending on how you feel about puns. It may not be the strongest candidate for posterity, but it certainly deserves an award of some kind.
Most Morally Ambiguous Art: Sandy Smith at Space In Between
Hanging throughout Sandy Smith‘s Brutalist-inspired solo presentation at Space In Between are three brass mobiles and a silkscreen print that are made up of letters. When I looked at them, I thought for sure that they said “ISIS” over and over again, which seemed odd but intriguing — a comment on the branding of terrorism, or something? But later it occurred to me that they might say “IS,” which is rather more existential … or perhaps they’re merely S’s with solid lines in between, which could stand for Smith’s initials — which would make the whole thing much more narcissistic and much less interesting.
Paintings that Look Most Like Melted Classical Paintings: Genieve Figgis at Half Gallery
Half Gallery has a selection of paintings by Genieve Figgis on view, all of which look like someone’s taken a classical figurative painting, held a candle to it, swirled the paint around, and repainted the figures to look creepy and sad — a successful exercise in enlivening history.
Best Women’s Body Issues Artwork: Jansson Stegner at Sorry We’re Closed
A press release for a show of Stegner’s work at Sorry We’re Closed gallery claims that he paints “languid bodies bent into sculptural forms and limbs portrayed with Mannerist exaggeration.” That may be so, but unless he was aiming for an eating disorder dreamscape (or “nightmarescape”?) here, he might want to give his proportions a little more thought.
Best Photographs-Printed-on-Practical-Objects Art: Michael Assiff at Regina Rex
Scattered around the Regina Rex booth are these pieces by Michael Asiff, for which he prints images drawn from environmentalist websites onto air vents. Asiff’s work stands out in the category of “photographs printed on practical object” because in addition to looking neat, there’s a smart, subtle connection between the images and the things on which they’re printed.
Worst Personification of Inanimate Objects: Leo Fitzmaurice at The Sunday Painter
They’re headlights but they’re human!? No.
Best Plant: Torben Ribe at David Risley Gallery
I wasn’t so crazy about Ribe’s art, but this is a very nice, well-placed plant. And every good art fair needs one of those.
Best Nonagenarian Outdoing All the Youngins: Elisabeth Wild at Proyectos Ultravioleta
This Proyectos Ultravioleta booth at NADA is 93-year-old Elisabeth Wild’s first solo exhibition in the US. Wild, who comes from a family of women artists, was born in Vienna, escaped to Buenos Aires at the beginning of World War II, later moved back to Europe, and then retired to a village in Guatemala at the age of 74. The works on view here are all small-scale recent collages, and while I wouldn’t call them groundbreaking, they’ve got enough enigmatic energy to engage — especially against those bright orange walls.
Least Transformative Use of Everyday Materials: Clive Murphy at Rawson Projects
Back when Marcel Duchamp put a bicycle wheel on a pedestal, or when the Arte Povera artists started making sculptures out of rags, making work from everyday, non-artistic materials was a statement; it really meant something. Now it’s a trend that won’t die, accounting for a too-solid chunk of the work at NADA. This is one of the least interesting or thought-provoking iterations (although I do applaud Murphy for his recycling).
Most WTF: Andrew J. Greene at Michael Thibault
Yeah, I don’t know what the bear means, or why it’s got a harp, or how it relates to the rest of the booth, either.
Best Use of Ikea Art: Amalia Ulman at Ltd. Los Angeles
Ulman got these paintings at Ikea, stuck some sparkles on them, and then added mirror shelves on the bottoms, with lines of cocaine. DIY as fuck.
Most Meta: Water McBeer Gallery
Everything about Water McBeer is mysterious and meta. The gallery is named after the ostensible owner, who manifests as a jolly, chubby white guy driving a nice car and hanging out with Warhol and Basquiat. If the name weren’t enough to give away the joke, the gallery’s website calls McBeer “a focal point within the art world … bringing you the most exceptional programing of the most desirable world class artists, nearly as desirable as McBeer himself.” Yet the gallery does have a website, and it does mount exhibitions online. At NADA McBeer is showing a tiny, miniature gallery booth made by Jamian Juliano-Villani (who appears to be real) that replicates the fair’s full-size booths down to their gray carpeting, Apple laptops, and signs at the top corner.
Most Suggestive Artwork: Elizabeth Jaeger at Jack Hanley Gallery
Maybe it’s because this piece appears right around the corner from another one by Jaeger, of a couple having sex, but there’s something about the circumcised zucchini, the pale, almost icy hand gripping it, and the position of the arm that really make you think.
Best Food-Related Art: Hayley A. Silverman at Bodega
Eight of Hayley A. Silverman‘s bowls filled with human and animal figurines and fake food and broth are on view, and they’re fantastic — just the right balance of familiar and surreal, earnest and ironic, with a use of food imagery that’s clearly purposeful rather than nifty. Fitting that the best food art would be shown by a gallery named Bodega.
Worst in Show: CourtneyBlades Booth
I’m sorry. Art fair harder next time.
Booth Most Easily Mistaken for a Children’s Theater Set: Jonathan Baldock at Vitrine
I kept waiting for all the pieces to spring to life! And it turns out Baldock’s installation is intended as a kind of theater set — albeit one inspired by Alfred Jarry’s absurdist play Ubu Roi, not exactly a tale for children.
Most Surprising Title-Image Combination: Veronika Pausova at Sardine
The title of this slightly disorienting painting by Pausova is “Sunset Through the Clear Curtains” (2015) — a combination, the gallerist pointed out to me, that’s wonderfully cheeky.
Best Re-creations of Everyday Objects in an Artsy Material: Rose Eken at The Hole
Going hand in hand with the wave of art made from everyday materials is the equally prevalent trend of everyday materials made from art — or, more precisely, artistic materials crafted to look like everyday objects. In this installation, Eken displays the contents of her purse in ceramic form, and although it’s the been done before, it remains (for me) profoundly pleasurable to see a MetroCard and Tic Tacs looking so precious.
Best Art Riffing on Traditional Decorative Patterns: Elham Rokni at Shulamit Gallery
Elham Rokni’s drawings are exquisitely patterned mash-ups of images that seem to come equally from dreams and memories. They’re a kind of abstraction that feels distinctly tethered to the outside world — a welcome change in a fair filled with zombie formalism.
Best Reminder You’re on a Sales Floor: Magic Flying Carpets
NADA New York 2015 continues at Basketball City (299 South Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through May 17.