This year’s New York incarnation of the NADA art fair suggested that the gathering of young emerging galleries often characterized as the minor leagues of Frieze and other “major league” art fairs has grown up quite a bit. Yet with maturity comes a tendency towards conservatism, and that was reflected in countless booths filled with small, affordable works and unremarkable displays on white walls.
The location for NADA has shifted from the cramped former Dia:Chelsea space to a seven-court basketball facility named Basketball City, which was transformed with wall-to-wall carpeting, black-and-white infographics, and all the expected accoutrements of a contemporary fair (food, bar, art book sellers, installations dotted throughout), plus the added bonus of an attractive outdoor space on the East River overlooking Brooklyn. Sure, the new site is tucked further away for the casual art lover, but the sense of a destination has done little to hamper interest in Frieze New York, and the organizers of NADA are probably betting on art collectors’ same enthusiasm to travel.
There was a conservative vibe that permeated the grown-up fair, but some still took the opportunity to experiment. Know More Games, an indie space in downtown Brooklyn, riffed off of Philip Johnson’s painting storage system at his art bunker in New Canaan, Connecticut, to create a small group show in their booth. It was an effective method, but one that at times felt more poster shop than Johnson-esque.
The Green Gallery from Milwaukee lined their booth with fabric and displayed parts of artist Nicholas Frank’s paint-splattered studio floor to complement the wall works, which were comprised of fake biographical pages framed by painted canvases. The impact was impressive, though the large works on the floor had the tendency to outshine the small ones on the walls.
In general, the booths at NADA seemed less likely to take chances than the larger and pricier booths at Frieze New York, where Gavin Brown detonated a burst of color, Marian Goodman allocated most of her space to a four-minute performance by Tino Sehgal, and Liz Glynn’s speakeasy, “Vault” (2013), created a hidden art space in the midst of the fair’s hustle and bustle.
First-time NADA participant David Petersen brought his gallery of the same name from Minneapolis to Manhattan with a concise display by artist Joe Smith, also of Minnesota. The gallery, which is less than a year old, hopes to expand the types of art venues and models in the Midwestern city. “Minneapolis has a tremendous amount of art, great nonprofit spaces, like Midway Contemporary, but in terms of commercial spaces there hasn’t been anything for 20 years,” Petersen said. “Everyone else is running on the nonprofit model, so I’m the alternative space.”
Part of the David Petersen Gallery mission, he said, is to push Minneapolis artists out to the rest of the world. His display of work by Smith explored “what ways you can get one type of material into another material,” he said, which was an intriguing way to explain the essence of what a painting truly is.
Walking through the aisles of NADA, it was hard not to glimpse trends and commonalities. When I encountered artist Jade Townsend he had already devised his quick list of tropes he was seeing all around, including “bad bad painting,” “shit on tables,” and, perhaps my favorite of his categories, “crap craft.” I asked him to walk me around to prove his point, and he showed me the plethora of messy, self-conscious paintings and unrefined clay and ceramic objects on shelves or podiums. But even in the sea of this aesthetic echo chamber, some artists stood out.
Alex Da Corte’s “Head” (2013) at Joe Sheftel Gallery felt like the love child of Josephine Meckseper and The Jogging art tumblelog. Jettisoning the sleek coldness of the former and the fragmented slow-drip irony of the latter, Da Corte’s colorful world of consumer aesthetics felt at once vibrant, absurd, and alluring.
Reuben Israel’s curious fusion of science fiction and religion at Tel Aviv’s Braverman Gallery stayed with me far after I left the fair. The sculptures, with their shiny surfaces and sleek paint finishes, skewer the language of Mminimalism with seductive Pop commercialism to create giant shish kebabs of futuristic shapes.
Other things of note included Blackston gallery’s booth, which was dominated by a large gray painting by Amy Feldman, and Nathalie Karg/Cumulus Studios, which was selling textiles by a number of well-known artists, including Kenny Scharf, Rob Priutt, Liam Gillick and others, for $450/yard. I was told they are ideal for outdoors because they are chlorine and sun resistent.
Yet if I had to choose one artist whose work at NADA impressed me the most, it would be Ian Pedigo, who took over a corner of the Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery booth. Pedigo’s assemblage works displayed his usual mix of unorthodox materials, but here the cow bone, shoelaces, and rubber ball (to name a few of the many materials) seemed perfectly in tune with one another without the usual sense of jarring contrasts the artist obviously relishes. There’s a sense of precarious prehistoric domesticity in these works, and the objects themselves seem brittle and introspective, like they were discovered in a forgotten corner of a natural history museum.
Pedigo’s “Spine” (2013) is built at a curious scale, sitting on the floor a little lower than you might expect. A child’s ball is propped up by four cow ribs, which rest on several layers of material that comprise a plinth. Like “Found in a Place” (2012) and his other works here, “Spine” draws you in for a more intimate look, but there is no big reveal.
Like any art fair, NADA was a souk of numerous fashionable art styles. From assemblage to messy abstract painting, from conceptual photography to technological critiques, the aesthetic range closely followed the programming at most Lower East Side art galleries, who dominate the halls of NADA.
If former incarnations of NADA felt spritely and whimsical, this year the fair felt more established and closer to its blue-chip competitors. Shopping in the aisles of NADA doesn’t feel so much like a bet on the career of an upstart young artist as much as an investment in an aesthetic that is slowing shifting into the mainstream and already making a mark on the art world.
NADA New York opened on May 10 and continued until May 12 at Pier 36 at Basketball City (299 South Street on the East River, Lower East Side, Manhattan).
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