Rise and shine, New York — art fair season is upon us and the Spring Break Art Show refuses to be left out! The organizers traded out the checkered floors of the fair’s former Ralph Lauren headquarters at 625 Madison Avenue for one last hurrah at its original space, the Old School on Nolita’s Prince Street, for a “spontaneous salon-style” exhibition spotlighting the works of over 100 returning artists. The exhibition was unmistakably Spring Break in its fixation on the peculiar and humorous, but I found the sculpture work to be far more compelling than anything two-dimensional.

Installation view of Thomas Martinez-Pilnik’s yarn on monk fabric sculptures “Ciggy 1, Ciggy 2, Ciggy 3” (2023) in Room 4 (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

The show occupied both hallways and four large rooms across two stories at the renovated Catholic school, harkening back to a time when the exhibition was much smaller and finding its bearings. Deliberate or not, the show’s overarching themes were mermaids, ceramics, and enough remixed cigarette motifs to make up a Mac DeMarco studio album with bonus tracks. I mean seriously, there was a collaged American flag made from mentholated Newport packs, a toy pistol revamped to shoot cigarettes, AND several sculptures aestheticizing squashed cigarette butts across various media.

It was a majority of the paintings and drawings up on the mineral green and slate blue walls that failed to warrant any additional considerations beyond simple acknowledgment, but there were some standouts, including Ronan Day-Lewis’s oil pastel paintings in Room 3 and Lee Smith’s slice-of-life oil paintings of landscapes and figurative work on the first floor.

Ronan Day-Lewis, “My arms reach out of this room / so far / across the desert / to hold you (they pass right through)” (2023), oil pastel on canvas, 18 x 24 inches (image courtesy the artist via Spring Break)

When I think of Spring Break, I think of “DI-Yt-ness,” a little term I’ve coined to describe the intentionally gawky aesthetics that underscore so many works shown at the fair over the years. If you’ve been attending the biannual shows recently, you’ll understand what I mean: the rug-tufting and fiber-arts revival, the heavily textured and arbitrarily colored portraiture on panel, the exhausted assemblage work, and a purposeful sloppiness that is meant to convey some sort of subaltern folk art style but misses the mark in its self-searching in an inexplicably and Instagram-ably White™ manner. And it’s not that I turn my nose up at this work and those who create it, nor do I mean to assert that Spring Break is inherently White (there have been so many noteworthy and groundbreaking displays from artists of color!), but it’s become a tired archetype of Spring Break that’s derailing its evolution. In an act of celebrating the artists that made the exhibition platform what it is today, Spring Break fell into its own trap and inadvertently became an exaggerated caricature of itself.

Installation shot of Room 2 featuring works by Brent Owens, Lizzie Gill, Amy Hill, Maria Kreyn, Bob Szantyr, Paul Gagner, Megan Bogonovich, and Sarah Bereza (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

To give credit where it’s due, the entire showcase was clearly purposefully curated considering the speedy turnaround time. Spring Break Co-Founder Andrew Gori told Hyperallergic that they had sent every artist and curator that had ever been involved an invite to exhibit in the “secret” show, but intentionally left a “fairly tight window” of hardly a few weeks in the interest of maintaining spontaneity. Gori and their partner, co-founder Ambre Kelly, looked through submissions and began categorizing the works to create a “thematic flow along the walls.” Gori said that Room 1 was “architecturally motivated overall,” speaking to the way in which the selected works deliberately segue into each other despite their thematic and material differences. “Because the time window was tighter, there’s a spirit that springs from the entire process which is more mercurial, more effervescent, less overwrought,” Gori continued.

Dasha Bazanova, “Social Club Tub II” (2022), ceramic with glaze, glass, gold luster, 6 x 13 x 12 inches (image courtesy the artist via Spring Break)

That being said, the minute-to-moderately sized sculptures and wall-hangings that were included throughout the show not only kept it afloat, but also made it memorable. I was thrilled to recognize multiple works by sculptors Dasha Bazanova and Dave Alexander whose art I enjoyed in previous shows at 625 Madison. Bazanova’s crude, small-scale sculptures of debaucherous naked pool parties fueled by liquor, cigarettes, rubber ducks, and mermaid dogs serve as imagined self-portraits that grapple with the implications and ramifications of choice. Bazanova examines her own attitudes and attachments toward Eastern European and Western cultures and the vices that accent them, even adding that she uses cigarettes in her work as “more or less a form of self-portraiture.”

Kevin Dudley’s printed polyester and polyfill sculpture “Docile 3 (from It’s a Beautiful World Filled with Perfect Things)” (2023) lounging taxidermically in the corner of Room 4 (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

I was also introduced to the ceramic works of Vermont-based sculptor Megan Bogonovich, someone I’d consider an expert in walking the line between personal whimsy and commercial interest with her exceptionally colorful and variable glazed vessels with so many moments of visual and tactile excitement. Additionally, Jac Lahav’s suspended blue friend “Meow” (2023) and Kevin Dudley’s Walter-esque stuffed cat buddy “Docile 3 (from It’s a Beautiful World Filled with Perfect Things)” (2023) were delightfully homespun highlights that I can revel in for their sheer ridiculousness. I also must mention Pitseolak Qimirpik’s small but mighty “Red Rose and Animal Transformation” (2023) carved from a caribou antler and serpentinite stone.

Despite the loud clichés, the idea to mount an exhibition based on looking back at the fair’s participants was clearly done with intention. It’s the perfect teaser for the fair’s upcoming fall theme “Wild Card,” which asks applicants to consider the fair’s past 11 themes.

“It’s really wonderful to see sort of the evolution of people’s work, even from just a year ago,” said Rachel Gamson, a curatorial associate for both Spring Break’s LA and NYC shows. “It’s great to see how a lot of our old favorites’ styles have progressed.”

Spring Break’s show is on view at the Old School at 32 Prince Street, Manhattan, until May 20. Tickets for admission are around $13 pre-tax on Eventbrite.

Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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