One of the most talked- and written-about artist projects during Armory Week in New York, which began on March 5 and continues through Sunday, is happening not at one of the headliners—the Armory Show and the ADAA Art Show—but rather at a smaller satellite fair called Spring/Break. Dustin Yellin and a collective called Bazaar Teens shredded $10,000 in cash to create a conspicuous series of works. What is less known is how the model for Spring/Break differs from other fairs, and how that may contribute to the types of art that are shown there.
This year’s iteration of the Spring/Break Art Show, held in Midtown’s Moynihan Station, features presentations by 40 curators. The fair, which collects 30 percent of exhibitors’ sales, does not charge exhibitors for their spaces, a model that several dealers and curators say allows for edgier presentations.
“We have the luxury of showing work that we really believe in without considering the market value,” said Vanessa Albury a Spring/Break exhibitor, who brought video works to Spring/Break with her co-curators the artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy.
Magdalena Sawon, the co-director of New York’s Postmasters Gallery, said the Spring/Break model allows for “passion” not “pragmatic calculations” to drive the presentations.
“It doesn’t put so much pressure on people to recoup their money, and therefore you have the potential for much more ambitious installations than, you know, bringing the merchandise,” Sawon said. “And I have nothing against the notion of the market in this way, but you know, you go and spend $30,000 [on a booth] and…there’s the idea that you will bring something that can be monetized.”
Spring/Break charges exhibitors a $400 deposit that is refunded when the space is vacated intact. “They didn’t want to price anyone out,” said Albury. The system, she said, breeds a sense of camaraderie among exhibitors. “We’re not in competition with our neighbors, we’re there together. It’s a totally different vibe,” she said. “A lot of people have said to me that if feels like PS1 in the ’80s. Just room after room of really interesting exhibitions.”
The model differs significantly from that of the major international art fairs, which charge standard booth fees. Armory Show director Noah Horowitz said booth prices at his fair range from $10,000 (for the Armory Presents section) to $70,000 for the largest option, rates in keeping with those of the other large international events.
Sawon, who participated in the Armory Show last year, applied to the current edition, but was not accepted. She says the fair first encouraged her to bring work that was not commercial enough for her to cover the costs of participating, and then turned down her counter proposal.
In an email statement, Horowitz said the Armory Show’s selection committee works to balance the artistic rigor of gallery presentations with dealers’ desire to cover their costs.
“The selection committee likes to engage in an open dialogue with galleries with regard to what they are bringing,” Horowitz wrote. “I think this year in particular we have some incredible booths by galleries who chose to feature older or perhaps less market friendly artists—Laurent Godin, for example, has brought a number of works by Alan Vega and Higher Pictures, one of the galleries in our Presents section, has installed a solo show of works by George Dureau, a largely overlooked artist who is considered an inspiration for Robert Mapplethorpe.”
Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori, who founded Spring/Break in 2009, are able to waive exhibitor fees in part because they hold their renegade fair in spaces they can use for free. In previous years, the two have occupied St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School in Nolita, which belongs to the Catholic Church. Moynihan Station, the fair’s present space, is government-owned. These kinds of arrangements necessarily impact the type of work that can be shown, and pieces that impinge on “the sensitivities of the buildings” are not included, according to Gori.
Still, Albury emphasized that Spring/Break is hardly Puritan, despite these considerations. “In our show you will see a penis,” she said. “You will see naked bodies.”
[Update, March 8: The original version of this article reported that work by Alex McQuilken had been censored, which was the understanding of certain sources. It has been corrected to remove this mention.]