Aaron Gilbert, "Untitled (The one who will bring vengeance)" (2019), oil on canvas 29 x 33 inches (image courtesy Lyles and King)

Aaron Gilbert, “Untitled (The one who will bring vengeance)” (2019), oil on canvas 29 x 33 inches (image courtesy Lyles and King)

Art fairs are growing increasingly expensive, and thereby irrelevant to the general public and mid-tier galleries. At least, this would seem to be the position taken by the New Art Dealer Alliance (NADA). After their building was sold, the organization had to confront a reality that has pestered numerous artists, galleries, and project spaces in New York. And so, emphasizing the ongoing programming of brick and mortar galleries over the quick fix of an art fair, NADA’s New York Gallery Open capitalized on the influx of art connoisseurs visiting the city for Armory Week, while also appealing to the tastes of collectors, the curiosity of students, and, of course, the needs of art dealers.

Diane Severin Nguyen, “No Feeling Is Final” (2019), LightJet C-print, aluminum frame, 15 × 22 1/2 inches (image courtesy Bureau)

This is what the New Art Dealer Alliance has always set out to do; and it might be indicative of some greater zeitgeist that they decided to continue with their annual programming despite not having access to a space suitable for a trade show. The same art fair model is still in place; what’s different is the pacing. Generally, art fairs allow viewers to take in a welter of works within a confined space — something like an arcade in Walter Benjamin’s sense. This year, NADA was more like a situationist dérive; and it’s unlikely anyone saw all the galleries, performances, and events associated with it. On the other hand, many of the shows represented in the New York Gallery Open are still viewable.

Brandon Ndife, “Free or reduced Lunch” (2019), MDF, PVC tubing, insulation foam, pigmented resin, earth pigment, hemp, 40 × 21 1/2 × 26 1/4 inches (image courtesy Bureau)

Brandon Ndife, “Arid cabinet” (2019), MDF, cast hydrocal, earth pigment, oil paint, hemp, pigmented resin, insulation foam, 29 × 31 1/4 × 24 1/2 inches (image courtesy Bureau)

Bureau on Norfolk Street, for instance, has some pretty great works up. On view through March 24, Minor twin worlds is a collaborative effort by Brandon Ndife and Diane Severin Nguyen. The show essentially boils down to a display of sculptures and prints — both capturing a world of post-human decay, where the entropic mess kept in check by human busyness (think of imminent strangulation by dust or vegetation) is allowed unfettered reign. Brandon Ndife’s sculptural contributions especially impressed me in this regard. Willfully disturbing, they seem composed entirely of decay, using the functionality of ordinary objects, like sinks and cabinets, as both pedestals and hosts.

FLAME, “Here I Am – An Open Wound” (2019), fine art print on Sihl Masterclass canvas, 35 3/8 × 29 1/2 inches (image courtesy Shoot the Lobster)

At Shoot The Lobster on Eldridge Street, you’ll find another collaborative exhibition (also up through March 24). Berlin-based artists Taslima Ahmed and Manuel Gnam — who work together under the moniker Flame — mimic the detritus of an Internet culture reduced strictly to social media platforms. Artists generally find something alluring about the vast reservoir of images that can be sourced through something as readily accessible as Google. But Ahmed and Gnam’s works have a tragic frailty about them. Inspired by online advertising, their art doesn’t come off as graphic design, yet everywhere bumps against the wall forever separating graphic design from fine art, commercial art from formalism. Allowing the digital seams to show, they make ambiguous works that are both critical and cloying.

Nicholas Buffon, “Correction” (2019) acrylic and carbon transfer on Bristol paper, 15 5/8 x 11 1/8 inches (image courtesy Callicoon Fine Arts)

Nicholas Buffon, “New York Dogs” (2018), acrylic and carbon transfer on Bristol paper, 8 5/8 x 12 1/8 inches (image courtesy Callicoon Fine Arts)

Nicholas Buffon’s cartoony exhibition at Callicoon Fine Arts (on view through March 24th) also has something of an ambiguous tone. Titled Vehicles, the show primarily features meticulously reconstructed images of service vehicles sourced from the Internet. These vehicles sometimes become, well, a vehicle for a kind of social commentary — especially when Buffon depicts the service vehicles used by the NYPD. It seems more in line with the artist’s intention, though, to have all kinds of service vehicles — ranging from fire engines to food trucks — speak for themselves regarding the social contexts they represent.

Aaron Gilbert, “Sailor’s Son” (2015), oil on canvas, 22 x 29 inches (image courtesy Lyles and King)

Last but not least, there’s a terrific painting show up at Lyles and King. On view through April 1, Aaron Gilbert’s Psychic Novellas are lambent studies in political history. The scenes he paints, which seem at least partially inspired by real life experiences, mine different traditions for iconographies that might transform the banality of ordinary existence into something more poetic and thoughtful. His compositions are saturated with historical meaning, while not being symbolic in a heavy-handed way. In a work like “Untitled (The one who will bring vengeance)” (2019) Gilbert tacitly infuses the oil-painted image with allusions to liberation theology and the Virgin Mary as Aztec mother goddess.

Is all of this New York-centric? Yes. Are all the galleries I mentioned here literally within a five-block radius? Yes. Do you have to buy tickets to visit them? No. Will NADA return to a trade show format in the future? It’s quite possible. Meanwhile, we shouldn’t let the pressures of globalization supplant regional interests. What NADA’s programming might lack on an international scale it more than makes up for by being focused on the local.

NADA’s New York Gallery Open took place from March 4–10.

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Jeffrey Grunthaner

Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer and artist currently based in Berlin.