Spring Art Fair Season: Insights and Highlights
Capturing the 2019 zeitgeist at the Spring/Break Art Show
These days when isn’t there an art fair going on somewhere around the globe? Earlier this month was New York’s annual turn. Art junkies by the thousands swarmed across the city like locusts looking to devour what’s hot or, just as likely, what’s warmed over from years past. Let’s face it: The contemporary art world is nothing if not trendy. Whether you’re buying or merely looking, for many jumping on the bandwagon of next big things is what counts most. To that end, 8 separate fairs plus dozens of local galleries piggybacking on the proceedings stood ready to take viewers on the cultural ride, 2019-style, of their lives.
Not ones to let such an opportunity slip by, ThoughtMatter joined the gawkers. We went everywhere we could until our eyes, legs and phone batteries gave out. That done, we’ll focus here on just one extravaganza, the SPRING/BREAK Art Show, whose makeshift booths resembled a mishmash of pop-up shops. For all you world travelers, think Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
Some of the themes we noted:
Recasting the past through the present. Sustained reflections on personal histories through a feminist or postcolonial lens took many forms. Among them:
Eden, various artists, curated by Untitled Space, 2019: This immersive installation curated by Indira Cesarine investigates the history, symbolism and cultural impact of the Garden of Eden from a feminist perspective, ripe with conceptual works by female artists across all mediums that explore the biblical myth and roles of Adam and Eve.
Rose Nestler, “Another Set of Hands”, 2019, Curated by Valery Estabrook: Nestler’s boxy shoulder-padded uniforms are inspired by the 80’s power suit and work as an armor or shield, changing women’s silhouettes to appear more masculine.
Blobs and biomorphic forms. Myriad shapes, often exhibited in holodeck-like settings, created a futuristic visual landscape. The juxtaposition of high-tech with unique, playful structures depicted a world where machines and organic beings can coexist. Here are two:
David B. Smith, “Dweller of the Velvet Cave,” 2019, Curated by Jac Lahav: Smith’s holodeck space is scattered with soft, tubelike fabric sculptures, who are presented as a “diverse community of biotechnological beings” covered in images from digital sources.
Kindah Khalidy, Curated by Chandran Gallery: The bright, colorful, amorphous shapes in Khalidy’s pieces share a happy, whimsical energy, hinting at a childlike optimism.
Fiber arts. From crochet to macramé, the diverse use of knotted, looped and woven textiles was central to artworks that explored gender identity. The knitwork often had an activist bent, reminiscent of the sea of bright pink knitted “pussyhats” worn by protesters at the inaugural Women’s March in 2017. A standout:
Jesse Harrod, Vagina ToucHER (2016) and Mascot (2016), Curated by Danny Orendorff: Harrod’s busy, bright, psychedelic aesthetic in her posters and hanging macramé sculptures incorporate yonic figures and “70s macho cock rock” to celebrate sexuality and punk culture in queer communities.
Immersive experiences. There was no shortage of shiny, sensational stuff — large-scale installations, interactive viewing experiences and performance art, at times built more for “doing it for the ‘gram” than for appreciating in situ. Three of the best:
Phaan Howng, “E.N.D.O. Real Estate Brokers: You’re in Good Hands,” 2019, Curated by Betsy Johnson: Complete with framed brochures and signed books, Howng built a fake storefront for the Eternal Navigators of Doom Organization that offers expert consultations on how to manage life post-apocalypse.
Jon Key and Bianca Nemelc, Homebody, curated by Ché Morales: Key and Nemelc — neither of whom has created an installation before — exhibited their standout works in two adjoining booths. Key’s “The Violet Den” was styled like a man cave that referenced diverse aspects of his identity, while Nemelc’s “Motherland” was modeled after a kitchen, the walls and floor featuring nude female forms and an illuminated pond.
Ryan Bock, See Something, Say Something, Ki Smith Gallery: Bock’s immersive installation with a camera device, black-and-white paper figures and propaganda-style paintings use “See Something, Say Something,” an oft-uttered thing in the New York City subway system to evoke a surveillance state.
The #MeToo movement. As high-profile sexual harassment cases continue to capture public attention, several works were inspired by and interacted with the #MeToo movement. Curating and showcasing such topical art signals a continued move towards a fairer and more equitable art market that spotlights diverse voices. Two such examples:
Rachel Lee Hovnanian, Taped Shut, 2019, Curated by Jenny Mushkin Goldman + Jessica Davidson: Lined with white tape and punctuated by a bronze angel bust in the center, Hovnanian’s booth explores how these “tape nests” force victims and witnesses of abuse into silence. A neon sign on one wall reads “what I couldn’t say” while the other reads, “what I didn’t say.”
Karen Mainenti, “No More Lip Service”, 2019, Curated by Marly Hammer + Lisa Wirth: Mainenti is inspired by how design in packaging is employed to appeal to different sexes. In her graphite drawings framed on the #MeToo Boutique wall, Mainenti brands male-targeted products like protein powder and Pabst Blue Ribbon with recent apology statements from men accused of sexual misconduct. A vanity station features the gold lipstick shade#NoMoreLipService, on sale for $30.
And last not but least, anti-Trumpism. Speaks for itself. The culture war being waged by artists ran the gamut, from direct references to the highly representational. There were so many examples we lost count. Here’s just one:
Oasa DuVerney, Holy Trinity (Greed, Complicity, White Tears) (DJT, Steve Mnuchin, and Carryn Owens), 2018, Curated by Jenn McCoy + Kevin McCoy + Jennifer Dalton: detailed, vintage pencil drawings comically document and comment on the frustrations of the current political landscape.