Anna Cone, “Babylon Vanity Table” (2019) and “Babylon Vanity Bench (2019) in A World All Her Own curated by Anna Cone, Gracelee Lawrence, Jen Dwyer, and Lina Puerta

It’s supposed to be spring, with daylight savings time finally arriving this weekend to give us a reprieve from the dark days of winter. It’s supposed to be a break — from the jet fuel-fueled commerce of Armory week in New York City. It has been, but last year, the Spring/Break Art Show had rooms and installations that were wild, hallucinatory concoctions, fairy tales with the sharp incisors left in. I recall a room that featured a forest with trees festooned with books, spilling out into a hallway so that the whole looked and felt like runaway fecundity. But this year’s fair doesn’t quite feel as free spirited as that, not as fanciful and experimental either.

Perhaps this has to do with the change of venues. This year, Spring/Break is installed in some buildings within the United Nations complex in midtown, as opposed to the old Conde Nast offices. Perhaps the fair is getting a bit more aware of its significance within the arts ecosystem, and desiring to leverage its status to get money in the register. This fair was smaller, less sprawling than last year’s, with 85 projects as opposed to 130. Perhaps with less space to spread out, there was a commensurate feeling of constraint among the exhibitors. Still, there were installations that were wholly realized world views, along with what felt like moments of genuine exploration and discovery.

Nadine Faraj, “Ages Ago Every Cell In Your Soul Capsized Forever Into This Infinite Golden Sea” (2019) at Anna Zorina gallery

I very much liked the idea behind Nadine Faraj’s installation for Anna Zorina gallery. Her paintings are mounted in a cave-like grotto to give the feel of one of those ancient underground tunnels, like those at Lascaux, although here the images are of sexy and sexualized male and female forms, in some instances mere impressions and at others wholly realized bodies. One has to see it with a flashlight borrowed from the attendant standing outside. Another fully realized experience was Empty City, an exhibition of Stella Zhong’s work, curated by Wai Ying Zhao, which contains what look like whitewashed concrete structures, like monuments we might develop in the future. Unhee Park exhibited a booth (curated by Suechung Koh and Katelin Kim) mostly comprised of images she had found on the internet and then blew up to room size, mounted on cardboard, so that the cat, fireplace, and armoire within seem to float between two and three dimensions. The depths of the room are extended by the images that are wall size, but this illusion is also broken by the images’ white grid lines, resembling tiles. James Moore’s apocalyptic “Chernobyl Wall / Neon with Cement Pedestal” (2019), part of Elektra KB’s installation “The Politics of Healing, Destroying Silence” (2019), curated by Nico Roxe and Valeria Castro, features a wall that is left barely standing after being shelled by artillery. But this might as easily be the backdrop of a Berlin nightclub, with its accoutrement of neon fencing.

Unhee Park Host Project curated by Suechung Koh and Katelin Kim

Unhee Park Host Project curated by Suechung Koh and Katelin Kim

Other shows pointed to worlds that were elsewhere, either historically or geographically. For A World All Her Own, Gracelee Lawrence, Jen Dwyer, and Lina Puerta curated Anna Cone’s elaborately baroque vanity with her own highly fantastical self-portraits printed in place of the mirror. There is even a fanciful bench attached to complete the ensemble. Coral Projects: Underwater Land Art Lab, curated by Vanessa Albury and Tamara Weg, includes works that are destined to become part of an underwater exhibition to take place this year off the coast of Jamaica, specifically in the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary. The works included either reference ocean life or can be scaled to live within an actual coral reef.

Lastly, the small exquisitely painted work of Lavaughan Jenkins at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery makes the figure wholly enthralling. His lushly impastoed figures are quietly abject and yet full of raucous color and piled-on paint. Jenkins’s work is easily among the most beautiful in the fair. Though I didn’t initially think I saw a good deal that I really liked, it turns out that on reflection, there actually was.

Margaret Roleke, “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (2019) and (partial view) David Borowski “First Acts of Violence (2019) at Odetta Gallery

Installation view of Stella Zhong in Empty City curated by Wai Ying Zhao

Arghavan Khosravi, “She had a Dream” (2018) in Without/Within curated by Kristen Smoragiewicz

Ryan Michael Ford, “Three Dogmen Night” (2017) in Between the Ears Is the Head and the Beaches curated by Natalia Sacasa

Installation view of Coral Projects: Underwater Land Art Lab, curated by Vanessa Albury and Tamara Weg

Lavaughan Jenkins in Reflections of Power at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery

Installation view of Jon Key in Homebody curated by Ché Morales

Installation view of Bianca Nemelc, “Motherland” (2019) in Homebody curated by Ché Morales

Installation view of Lucia Vidales at Sapar Contemporary gallery in Truth and Heresies

Ryan Bock in See Something, Say Something at Ki Smith Gallery

James Moore, “Chernobyl Wall / Neon with Cement Pedestal” (2019) in Elektra KB, “The Politics of Healing: Destroying Silence,” (2019) curated by Nico Roxe and Valeria Castro

The eight annual Spring/Break Art Show continues at 866 United Nations Plaza (Midtown, Manhattan) through March 11.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...