With the permanent invasion of art fairs into the art world economy like a plague, most galleries, no matter how cutting-edge or avant-garde, seem to believe (whether from actual or perceived necessity) that they must participate in all of the increasingly frequent art fair seasons. This endless stream of fairs forces smaller galleries that show conceptual, abstract, or experimental work into a setting devoid of context, stripping the art of its desired impact or importance. While I’m certainly not the first to point this out, nowhere was it more noticeable recently than at NADA New York.
Admirably focusing on new art and up-and-coming talent, NADA was held at Pier 36, otherwise known as Basketball City, which is an unquestionably odd venue for an art fair. Under the basketball hoops and scoreboards, NADA presented a large and varied roster of galleries from around the globe, with an emphasis on ones from the nearby Lower East Side.
As a frequent gallery goer, I prefer the smaller spaces in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn to the larger, blue-chip ones in Chelsea. On the whole, the former are more exciting, academic, and unafraid to exhibit difficult or controversial work, which is why I looked forward to seeing a collection of these spaces at NADA.
Instead, I found myself wandering among booths, pondering if this was the first time I truly understood the meaning of punk musician Richard Hell’s phrase “you make me ____ ” scrawled on his chest on the cover of his album Blank Generation.
I’m not sure whose fault it is — the galleries? the artists? the New Art Dealers Alliance, which organizes the fair? — but lesser-known artists and artworks lose meaning, emotional resonance, and attention when put through the fair system.
Still, I managed to find some inspiring and intriguing art, particularly work that played with the definitions and boundaries of sculpture and abstraction.
At first glance, Rachel de Joode’s pieces at Bushwick’s Interstate Projects booth appeared to be terra-cotta sculptures, but on closer inspection, they were actually photographs of sculptures mounted to wood. Interested in the representation of three-dimensional sculpture through two-dimensional means, de Joode’s trompe-l’oeil works are lighthearted and conceptually rich.
Interstate was also showing two of de Joode’s large, wall-mounted canvases of close-up details of sculptures. The works make the touch of the artist’s hand monumental and offer a study of the intricacy of sculpture that captured my imagination.
Another sculptural work that attracted me was Liz Glynn’s “Still Life Compositional Reconstruction (after Willem Kalf, Still Life with Drinking-Horn, 1653)” (2013) at Los Angeles’s Redling Fine Art booth — although admittedly, I was initially drawn in due to the prominent lobster. Recognized this past week largely for her secret speakeasy, “Vault” (2013), at Frieze New York, Glynn here recreated the objects found in a traditional Dutch still life on a storage crate.
Perhaps my favorite sculptural piece at NADA was Lisa Kirk‘s “Sworn To Secrecy: Canoodle Cheese Doodle” (2013) at the Lower East Side’s Invisible-Exports. Though completely devoid of orange dust, Kirk’s copper- and nickle-plated Cheetos sculpture transforms trashy snacks into hilariously well-constructed artistic material.
Kirk’s was not the only fascinating work on view at Invisible-Exports, which displayed possibly the best survey of artists at NADA. From Anne Doran’s abstract and amorphous shapes on supermarket advertisements to queer filmmaker and artist Scott Treleaven‘s engrossing cinematic and obstructed abstractions, the booth provided a glimpse of a Lower East Side Gallery that manages to maintain an edgy, experimental, and, for lack of a better word, “downtown” roster of artists.
Inspired by Doran and Treleaven, I sought out more mesmerizingly abstract works around NADA and in the process discovered Jackie Saccoccio’s paintings at Eleven Rivington. The booth was filled with Saccoccio’s all-consuming abstractions, highlighting the monumental and vividly colorful nature of the canvases. Paintings such as “Portrait (Light)” (2013) include layers of variously colored paint and seem to continually evolve, transform, and morph before your eyes.
Ben Jones’s video paintings at Sweden’s Loyal Gallery took this effect one step further. Using video to create ever-changing and moving abstract colors and forms, Jones reanimates abstraction and makes it feel fresh and alive.
While preparing to leave NADA, I stumbled upon a kitsch oasis that looked as if it had come straight from a suburban home with the QVC logo seared into the big-screen TV. Featuring pink-striped paint, a gaudy chandelier, and slightly creepy dolls, the installation was artist Devon Dikeou’s “The Hostess’s Treasure Chest.” It presented a collection of objects used for hostessing, from decanters to ash trays, as well as the artist’s own first collection from when she was a child.
Despite these better moments and piecse, as a whole, I found myself alienated from the art at NADA, which is not normally how I feel about many of the exhibitions at these same galleries. Divorced from context, much of the work appeared incomprehensible and unaccessible. Who’s responsible for this failure of dialogue with and about the art: Is it the galleries that feel they have to participate in countless fairs? Is it the organizers, who encourage the proliferation of fairs around the world? Or is it art writers like me, who continue to cover fairs despite the sneaking suspicion that their insidious takeover of the art world suppresses conversation and complex analysis of art?
Perhaps we’re all responsible for the fair-related dumbing down of art. I left NADA knowing that while I wanted to see a lot of these artists’ works again, I surely did not want to see it at another fair.
NADA New York ran May 10 through May 12 at Pier 36 at Basketball City (299 South Street on the East River, Lower East Side, Manhattan).
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Art fairs are not something new. They weren’t recently introduced (like a plague). I congratulate you for recently discovering them but they have been around for a very long time. They are what they are. They are a way for galleries and artists to network and advertise. If you went to an art fair expecting something else I can understand how you were disappointed.
Art fairs are closer to “speed dating” than an intimate experience with artwork. Why are you socked by this? It sucks but what do you expect exactly?
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