Sometimes going to an art fair can feel like being in a casino, minus the free drinks and soothing extra oxygen those places pump in. Pro tip for future art fairs: pump some more oxygen in there! People will probably spend more money. What’s nice about NADA New York, which held a preview at Basketball City on Thursday, is that there are some windows and open doors, so you are occasionally reminded that you are on the East River, and if you are so inclined, you can step outside. Yesterday, visitors to NADA’s preview opening ate tacos on an outdoor deck. Inside, fair week raged on.
Josh Reames was on hand, hanging out in front of his install at Johannes Vogt Gallery, where his eye-popping paintings were displayed in front of a booth-wide covering of black plastic sheeting. “It’s a wall covering, but I think it’s more interesting than paint because it’s textural and the folds in it mirror the folds in the paper in the paintings,” Remes explained. “I wanted the booth to have a Kubrick vibe, but also feel like the inside of a trash can,” he said, laughing.
Andrew Laumann had work on display at Baltimore’s Springsteen gallery booth (which disappointingly is not named after the Boss). When not making fine art, Laumann is the frontman of the explosive noise rock band Dope Body, signed to the legendary Chicago record label Drag City.
How does the art world compare to indie rock? “Oh, it’s the complete opposite, but it’s nice to have that contrast,” he said. “I like teetering between the two. Their both really bullshit, but in completely different ways. Here, it’s rich people you have no connection to, and in the music world it’s a bunch of kids from other towns you have no connection to.”
Speaking of casinos, a special project of note is “Eye in the Sky Hold’em,” presented by Bushwick gallery/total freedom zone Where, in collaboration with the artist Melissa Brown. For the piece, the gallery set up viewing kiosks around the fair (they also double as phone charging stations) featuring screens showing a closed circuit television broadcast of a daily live all-artist poker game. The actual game is happening off-grounds, and the viewer can see what cards each player is holding, just like on ESPN.
Unlike the poker on ESPN, each player has a “burner cell phone” on hand with a phone number displayed on the screen that can be called up by viewers at the fair. This was explained to us by Brown’s husband Ezra Nielsen, who was helping sort out some technical issues before the broadcast. So does that mean the players can cheat? “The idea is that random forces shape the outcome,” Nielsen explained. At stake: a piece of work by each artist participating.
We had heard in advance that NADA would be featuring some sort of canine performance art, though we weren’t sure of the specifics, so every dog—and there seemed to be an unusually high number present—started to appear like The One. We rushed up to owners and bored-looking gallery reps, querying in a low, excited tone, “Is this THE dog?” “No,” they invariably replied. One added coldly, “It’s just a dog.” One dog, a brown Pomeranian, excellently named Bert, lay sprawled in a comic spread-eagle on top of a table in a gallery booth. Until we stroked him, it was unclear whether he was even alive, and even afterwards we were unsure whether he was being displayed as a work of art, or something else. Regardless, stoic Bert did not acknowledge our petting and did not turn to look at us, which saddened us deeply.
Eventually we found Bodega Gallery’s bodega-sized booth, through which Hayley Silverman was presenting the canine performance piece. Two dogs—one a sheepdog mix, the other an English bulldog—were to run throughout the fair at will, their collars bearing speakers which would play songs from American movies that had been translated into languages heard in various New York City neighborhoods.
“Yiddish, Malay, Spanish, German, Portuguese,” recited a gallery attendant. “[Silverman] Craigslisted people in New York and recorded them. She’s really into the idea of cities specifically in this piece, but the way the dog plays into it in general is kind of just about subverting certain narratives by making them very absurd. And it’s kind of a reflection about the idea of performance in general. She doesn’t do rehearsals, ever. She just casts the dogs in tryouts and then they just happen, and it’s always kind of a disaster in a way, because you can’t control a dog. That’s what makes her happy, the fact that there will be flaws.”
What were auditions like?
“It’s really like any other casting—she looks at photos. The dogs need to be kind of interesting in some way, though. For her last performance in our space, she casted a one-eyed shiba inu.”
Water McBeer was offering a nice little morsel of self-awareness in the form of a miniature fair booth created by Jamian Juliano-Villani. With a square footage about 1.5 times the size of a standard sheet of paper, the gallery exactly replicated the standard carpeting, three light-gray walls, and center table with an open Macbook, featuring a few tiny, original works by Juliano-Villani on the walls.
“Because so much work tends to exist on the internet anyway, Water has decided not to be concerned with size,” explained the gallery attendant, handily underscoring the work a la Vanna White. “So he invited Jamian to come and do this project, which will also be shown at the gallery.”
When did the artist finish? “She turned in the piece late yesterday, or early this morning,” our interviewee admitted, grinning a little with embarrassment.
Over at 247365, people’s mouths were slightly open as they looked at Nathaniel de Large’s magnetized shelves, upon which a clock, coat hanger, and can of acetone glided around the wooden surfaces. The entire booth was themed around an office, and included a filing cabinet sculpture, rainbow-colored titanium window impressions, and an outline of a chair.
“It’s a rotating pole with a motor and magnets in it,” said a gallery rep. “We’re swapping out different items throughout the weekend that we’re currently storing in his other sculpture. Mostly household items—tea kettles and ladles, but there’s also kind of some weird random scrap metal and junky pieces and stuff.”
“A lot of times, his work will focus on this moment of personal discovery,” he continued. “Even in these works,” —he gestured to a rainbow square— “when you start to scan across them, you see a hidden image of a Slurpee. He has all this stuff about weird discoveries, and they make people stop in their tracks. People have been standing around, just mesmerized, trying to figure out what he did and how he did it.”
“It’d be very cool to sell it,” he finally said. We understood he meant at, like, Office Max.