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NADA New York, the New Art Dealers Alliance‘s (NADA) hometown art fair, has a reputation for showing a certain type of clinical, vaguely cynical, and aggressively cool contemporary art. But this year’s edition, once again filling the courts of the Lower East Side’s Basketball City, finds the fair coming out of its shell — and its clothes. As I wandered the aisles during yesterday’s preview, a penchant for prurient art became apparent. Butts, breasts, and abs abound; genitals are generally prevalent; and nipples are numerous.
Like the video rental stores of old that kept the porn in the back room, NADA New York gets raunchier the further back you go. Near the far end, the exterior of Stems Gallery‘s booth is covered in rear ends. The plush wall sculptures, from French artist Marie Vic‘s Fair Trade series, are tame compared to the work inside the booth — two pairs of large, colorful paintings by Sarah Faux, each rendering a closeup of an erotic encounter in two very different styles.
In the fair’s farthest corner, new Los Angeles gallery the Landing has devoted its entire booth to figurative ceramic sculptures, and its largest work is a scene of debauched butchery. “The Mad Doctor’s Operation” (1974), a collaboration between Peter Saul and Clayton Bailey, depicts a disastrous operating room scene with two doctors — one blindfolded, the other with serious optical issues of his own — looming over an androgynous, partially amputated and eviscerated body, butcher knife in hand. Nearby stands a comparatively tender vessel by Bailey, formed from two nude figures embracing.
Bailey’s ceramic lovers look tame compared to the other sex scenes at NADA New York, which range from Alphachanneling‘s stylized erotica in Jack Hanley Gallery‘s booth — which could pass as storyboards from the X-rated version of Avatar — to the Girls Gone Wild-style action in Dale Lewis‘s 13-foot-wide painting “Deep Fat Fryer” (2015), which is the centerpiece of London gallery Edel Assanti‘s booth. A personal favorite, meanwhile, is the relatively vanilla scene in Gahee Park‘s painting in the Marginal Utility booth. The focus of the image is essentially a still life with a very large (and understandably distracted) cat in the foreground, while two partially visible nude bodies fumble about in the background.
The fair is full of expressively sexual work of every sort and size, from Caroline Wells Chandler‘s jubilant and genderqueer crochet characters — the largest of which, at 15 feet, spans an entire wall of the Roberto Paradise booth — to Jennifer Chan‘s “Body Party” (2015), a bed spread printed with disembodied, oiled, and ripped male torsos, in the ltd los angeles booth. A few use nude bodies to examine the power dynamics of voyeurism, like Vanessa Gully-Santiago‘s painting of a young woman on her knees surrounded by eight cameras on tripods (in 247365‘s booth) or, more subtly, Max Maslansky‘s painting of a topless woman in red stockings (rendered with red fabric sewn onto the canvas) in the Five Car Garage booth.
There’s even sexually charged readymade sculpture at NADA New York, in the form of Kari Cholnoky‘s riotous mixed media sculpture “Life Like Feel (2016) in the Safe Gallery booth, which includes a cornucopia of sex toys.
To be sure, not all the work at this year’s fair is either full frontal or fully formal. A few pieces — but really a precious few — engage overtly with the outside world. The most memorable of these may be Sally Saul’s ceramic bust of the Koch brothers in the Landing’s booth, “The Attack” (2016). In the hilarious tabletop piece, Charles and David Koch tongue-wrestle while tarantulas lurk nearby and a tsunami looms behind them. A subtler engagement with current events, specifically prison reform, is present in the booth of Chicago gallery Boyfriends, which is showing two multilayered cut paper bas relief works by Jacques Louis Vidal. The intricately sliced and patterned pieces are inspired by (and sometimes incorporate in their materials) the artist’s correspondence with inmates. Their elaborate sign systems and surreal scenes are a delight to parse, and add some dimension and depth to the sexy fun and formalist filler at this year’s NADA New York fair.
NADA New York 2016 continues at Basketball City (299 South Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through May 8.