LOS ANGELES — The Spring Break Art Show, an offbeat respite from commercial art fairs, is back in Los Angeles for its fourth year with 59 booths represented by curators, galleries, and individual artists. Situated across a single floor in Skylight Studios, a mid-century building in Culver City, are seemingly endless displays of ceramic sculptures, textile tapestries, paintings, and installations with a nod to the Neo-Renaissance theme Naked Lunch. Open to interpretation, each exhibition interior is transformative in narrative and design — some a lucid dreamlike sequence, colorful and bubbly with delight — and others more broody and complex.
Visiting the second day of the fair this week, I shuffled between a tattoo-parlor-slash-glory-hole by Kevin Hennessey; an ode to Hollywood flair and talent featuring a rare 1930s portrait of screenwriter Fanya Foss by Alice Neel; and Shelley Burgon’s vibey sound chandeliers that elicit hauntingly mesmerizing acoustics propelled by electromagnetic transducers.
“I saw a lot of different points of view that differed from each other — quirky, amazing, strange, and beautiful things,” said Sam Borkson, a visitor walking the show floor.
Some exhibitions focus on egalitarian social concepts and commentaries. Inequities, capitalism, and cultural consumption are themes in works by Mike Chattem in Tchotchkes for the Apocalypse, curated by Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori. Chattem’s “Double Puppet Mirror Hearth” (2022) features a twin Pinocchio reflective painting that forces viewers to question American cultural values and its relationship to corporations like Disneyland. The artist takes everyday objects, presents them as kooky, playful, decorative, and brilliant, and makes you stop — and think.
Select tufted works by Nina K. Ekman, featured alongside works by curator and artist Tara de la Garza, are culled from deadstock fabrics such as fluffy, soft mohair. As part of the exhibition De/mon/umental, the large standing cacti investigate a “painful nakedness,” framing discussions around diseases and ailments that target women.
Meanwhile, independent artists Thomas Martinez Pilnik and Marianna Peragallo co-curated an expression of “domestic nostalgia” in Ai, Que Coisa Feia (Ugly Thing), drawing from their Brazilian upbringing. Pilnik, who works with tufted-rug textiles and ceramic pieces, connects back to memories in different ways, the matriarchal presence and then the loss of a grandmother, where hands come to represent themes of recollection. For Peragallo, the domestic objects serve as a source of substance but are often forgotten: a broom, hose, and lamp reassigned from a previous life and given new meaning.
Yard Sale, co-curated by Janet Loren Hill and Jonell Logan, features work by Taylor Lee Nicholson, a multidisciplinary artist who grew up in eastern rural North Carolina. Nicholson presents a fantasy-like recreation of a greenscape — an immersive lawn setting of childlike nostalgia. On a sidewalk covered with chalk scribbles, large-scale paper-mâché and ceramic objects are purposefully placed throughout, such as tabloids jeweled in sequins and beer cans surrounded by cigarette butts. The magazines and their bloated, swollen materiality are charged with a familiar but tenuous symbolism. As a child, Nicholson’s grandmother used newspapers in the basement to reinforce the foundation of the home from flooding. The splashy headlines used to draw attention to generational poverty and the space, pointing to a time right before the demolition of their childhood home.
A standard reference throughout the fair is Édouard Manet’s 1863 provocative painting “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.” For Nicholson, this was a moment in art history where they could deconstruct so-called “high art” and reach for everyday environments.
Notions of religion, sexuality, and gender identity also make an appearance at this year’s show. In Cloaked in Drag, a camp-infused exhibition curated by Patricia Sweetow Gallery, selected works by artist John Paul Morabito from his series For Félix (love letter) (2022) render a dedication to the conceptual artist Félix González-Torres, who died from AIDS complications in the ’90s. The beaded tapestries, adapted from a rosary as prayer, remind a generation lost to the epidemic.
Yasmine K. Kasem, a multidisciplinary artist based in San Diego, navigates layers of her identity as a queer Muslim Egyptian American in her series Behind Closed Doors, curated by Rokhsane Hovaida. Kasem examines introspective concepts by revisiting folklore in Arabian Nights or One Thousand and One Nights — texts put together during the Islamic Golden Age. In doing so, she found “queer-coded” characters that she expanded into hand-woven diptychs and triptychs where she reappropriated images of manuscripts, sometimes changing genders or faces and then collaging. Kasem uses a welt-felting technique with cotton piping — a fragile material that, instead of being hidden inside the fabric as it is intended, becomes the artwork, a metaphor for transformation.
Works by artists from the Inuit community in Arctic Canada are on view in a booth curated by Claire Foussard of Kinngait Studios, including drawings and sculptures made of Serpentinite stone that present a visual record from generations. Longtime studio mates Shuvinai Ashoona and Padloo Samayualie, for example, created drawings that depict daily life, revealing a story of harvesting seal skin for the creation of boots, mittens, or other traditional articles of clothing.
At the fair, the participants had the chance to interact with the wide-open space, and the scale of their artwork — sculptural ceramics hung on walls melding different materials — reflects that freedom.
“We wanted architecture that spoke to the city,” said Spring Break co-founder Andrew Gori. Artist Jack Henry created an entryway carved into a wavy pattern, with his artwork wedged between cracks. As I departed the portal-like booth, I was reminded of the artistry and creativity this show welcomes.