Kris Lemsalu, "Father is in Town" at Temnikova & Kasela Gallery

Kris Lemsalu, “Father is in Town” at Temnikova & Kasela Gallery

MIAMI BEACH — Though its space has been downsized by roughly 20% this year, NADA Miami Beach 2015 still manages to cut through the swarms of largely uninspired and secondary market Miami Art Week fairs with its distinctive presentation of less polished, more experimental work — which sometimes seems too rough to sell but gets right to the gut of process-based art-making. For six years, the nonprofit art fair was held at the Deauville Beach Resort (our taxi driver almost took us there by mistake, in hellish I-195 traffic), but this year moved to the swankier, Morris Lapidus–designed Fontainebleau, where it’s housed mainly in the small but delightfully named Sparkle Ballroom (unfortunately there’s a lack of corresponding glitter art). This edition features 87 gallery exhibitors and 17 projects exhibitors — a higher number of overall booths than last year, but the space for each one has been drastically cut.

Amanda Ross-Ho at Páramo gallery

As I walked into the fair, I was accosted by an explosion of fabric — hung, tacked to the wall, draped, tossed casually on the floor — reminiscent of the quilts and tapestries of folk art. The artists at NADA, many of them emerging, seem to use the scale of these almost floor-to-ceiling pieces to show off — though not necessarily in a pretentious way — as well as to create social experiences and even didactic narratives, in the more refined examples. Not all experimentation leads to fully matured work in this case, but a lot of the art rooted in materialism at NADA is honest in expression.

Detail of an Alex Dodge painting at Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery (click to enlarge)

New oil paintings by Alex Dodge at Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery mimic the weaves and folds of checkered tablecloths and clothing in clean primary colors and raised forms, the result of him pressing a stencil on a canvas and then ripping it off post-painting. The effect mirrors the varied texture throughout the rest of the fair. Pieces such as Amanda Ross-Ho’s giant hanging T-shirt piece, created on-site at the Páramo booth, and Kris Lemsalu’s “Father is in Town” — a wonderfully kitschy floor sculpture of furs and dog heads licking each other — at Temnikova & Kasela Gallery play off of the velvety mauve-gray carpet of the ballroom and blur the lines between fair installation and a weirdly domestic environment; at times I felt as if I were walking through private bedrooms in a house.

Almost each booth has its own vibe, eager to impress with limited square footage, although some run awkwardly on half-boiled ideas. Most do well in their re-creation of the narrow concept shops and galleries of New York’s Lower East Side, which is what the fair most prominently feels like, aside from a few more laid-back, minimalist Los Angeles booths. At New York’s Callicoon Fine Arts, satirical trio Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian are presenting collaborative and solo works against a mélange of specially designed, cobalt-blue furniture and floor paintings that resemble a Middle Eastern courtyard. The installation’s playfulness actually does well to frame a series of more somber glitch landscape paintings by James Hoff.

Callicoon Fine Arts booth, with work by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian and James Hoff

James Fuentes Gallery, also hailing from New York, has barricaded the entrance to its booth with a painted John McAllister folding room divider, hoping to engage viewers with the utilitarian aspect of the rich and chalky fuchsia piece while also running the risk of appearing uninviting. I peeked behind it at some unfortunately less exciting pieces and was assured by the attendant that the curation of the booth had everything to do with logical positioning and nothing to do with creating the appearance of a behind-the-scenes private party (this is, after all, Miami).

John McAllister divider at James Fuentes Fallery

Nada Projects (click to enlarge)

The NADA Projects section — 17 tiny booths lining the wall of the fair’s Zone 2 — showcases the benefits of small-scale curation, with each display featuring just one artist’s work or a themed assembly of several. Some were too busy or contrived to engage with, such as Mier Gallery’s booth crammed with huge Jan-Ole Schiemann canvasses, but there were others that stood out, including XYZ collective’s installation of a huge toothbrush, sneakers, and vase. Signal gallery’s use of Nikholis Planck’s text decal right at the top of the booth divider drew my eye to the ceiling and beyond the borders of the usual booth.

It’s so easy to be depressed during these art fair weeks, shuttling from convention center to hotel to tent, frantically trying to decide what I like and don’t like as checks are being scribbled out by the second and numbers, instead of stories, are exchanged. (Full disclosure: I also work at a gallery.) It’s a long-running cliché now to say that NADA is different, but it still feels true — not because it shirks the responsibility of sales, but rather because it approaches that mandate sensibly, functioning, yes, as a showroom, but one that axes the dryness of Basel and the flashiness of Art Miami. I was at NADA to look at art, but I also felt like I could dance there (it is called the Sparkle Ballroom, after all), and so I did, in the booths where music was so generously provided.

The booth of XYZ collective

A painting by Dona Nelson at Thomas Erben Gallery

Work by Cary Leibovitz at Invisible-Exports

Anna Betbeze, “Heat Wave Rug” at Markus Luttgen

The booth of Dan Gunn

Detail of a mixed-media piece by Josh Faught at Lisa Cooley gallery

Work by Jesse Greenberg at Derek Eller Gallery

NADA Miami Beach 2015 continues at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach (4441 Collins Avenue) through December 5.

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Ysabelle Cheung

Ysabelle Cheung is a writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Her arts writing can found in ArtAsiaPacific, ArtReview, Artforum and Hyperallergic. You can follow her at @ysabellecheung...