“The world is too much with us late and soon,” William Wordsworth wrote in the early 19th century. And so it seemed on the opening day of the Spring/Break Art Show, on Tuesday, which this year seems to focus on exploring that reality and assessing it introspectively.
Letting old age move into the physical and psychological precincts of new age, the annual fair is taking place in the once hallowed halls of Condé Nast, on two floors of its former skyscraper home in Times Square. Where once elegant flower arrangements punctuated a plush-carpeted horizon, there are now mostly stripped-down-to-bare concrete, exposed-wire offices, where Vogue and Vanity Fair used to nest.
These newly deconstructed, raw environs have been turned into curated art spaces, decorated with nostalgia and wry satire, such as artist Kate Giordano’s shabby paper, papier-mâché, and wood reconstruction of her grandmother’s home in Pensacola, Florida. There’s a full-size papier-mâché humanoid figures sitting in a living room and another standing in a kitchen at work while, just outside that space, a shelf holds an array of tiny TVs featuring scenes from period shows.
The build-it-yourself, make-it-ugly-tidy-and-grim aesthetic runs through several rooms, like the traditional Southern bigot’s living room by Korean-American artist Valerie Jung Estabrook with its Confederate-flag-draped easy chair facing an Asian woman singing on the TV, while mannequin heads installed just outside the room are distorted by stockings pulled over their faces, subtly altering their identity.
Much of the fair is quietly creepy.
The more than 150 curators and 400 artists involved this year were asked to “consider the black mirror,” a looking glass that isolates its subject, “enhancing some features, obscuring others.” In several rooms, that subject turned out to be the artists themselves. Aided in part by the format of this fair, these artists chose as their main material the room they were given, turning them into immersive environments that served as telescopic lenses to reveal, or obscure, intimate parts of their lives.
Tamara Santibañez, a tattoo artist originally from Los Angeles, invites visitors into her teenage bedroom—or, rather a dreamlike approximation of it. There’s an unmade bed, jeans lying on the floor, and a desk with a record player. The entire space is virginal white. That purity comes into stark contrast with the room’s other main feature: finely detailed, ball-point-drawn rock ephemera, from posters of AC/DC and the Sex Pistols to Led Zeppelin T-shirts and Def Leppard cassette tapes. Santibañez’s use of the ballpoint pen is also a nostalgic nod to the prison tattoos she would see growing up in East Los Angeles.
The photographer John Brill was on hand eating pistachios on a bed and providing live commentary for his room. “We just bought a truck round the back of the house and loaded it all up,” curator and Kent Fine Art dealer Douglas Walla said, accounting for the cozy atmosphere that would otherwise pass for a rather unkempt bedroom. Brill’s startling version of self-portraiture can also be seen lining the walls. Set out on one table is a certificate scrawled in German. What’s up with that, Brill? “In my entire life, I never entered fish in the German Killifish competition but once,” he explained, obtusely. “I took first place, 94 points out of a hundred. I don’t like to brag, if you hadn’t asked I wouldn’t have told the story.”
Down one of the halls (who remembers which one?), a room curated by Dustin Yellin was showing work by MSHR, a collective made up Birch Cooper and Brenna Murphy. The installation was a garden of lowish-tech devices that respond to human interactions with beeps and booms and flashing lights—you and a partner stand on metal trays and touch each other, encouraged by the room’s reaction.
To be sure, all this would seem to call for a deep dive into psychoanalysis, and, thankfully, there’s a much-needed respite opportunity in the confines of the office of “Dr. Lisa Levy,” whom we caught in the midst of asking three women about their relationships. She did point out honestly, as few do today, “I’m not a real therapist.” She is a real artist, though, offering this wise advice in one of her many paintings that hang on the office walls: “Nostalgia is for losers. Move forward.”