I’ll be honest; I don’t know what to think of NADA. The majority of the fair seemed average to me, and having spent a lot of yesterday looking at bad art, the inevitable show stinkers had a fairly negative effect on my viewing experience. Martin van Zomeren’s booth, for example, consisted of a lone hanging pocket watch by Wilfredo Prieto entitled Time is Gold. You can guess the color of that piece. If the work doesn’t already seem bad enough, anyone who attended the fairs last year would recall a strikingly similar stunt pulled by Urs Fischer and his gallerist Gavin Brown Enterprises at Art Basel whereby they cleared the booth for a single suspended cigarette box to be dragged around.
Roebling Hall also disappoints, having shown much better work at the Armory and NADA Miami in previous years. The sculpture in their booth wasn’t awfu,l mind you, but we’ve all seen mirror sculptures that make a space appear endless and various objects carved out of wood (Ersser was identified by us as a standout at Scope a couple of years ago, but he's still doing the same thing with a concept that already risked falling into gimmick.) Momenta Art’s booth almost lost me for good with their celebration of poor text-based art. “Love is Over” reads one poorly painted mirror-on-panel piece by Rochelle Feinstein. “Another gripping saga of the difficult and moody artist (yawn).” says another, this time by Carl Pope. Both evoke the inevitable response: So what?
Work like this can have a dampening effect on the fair as whole, which is a real shame because I also saw gallerists and artists taking exactly the right kind of risks. First-time NADA exhibitor SUNDAY immediately comes to mind, filling their booth with the layered material sculptures of Michael Jones McKean. It's a ballsy move; objects don't sell as easily as paintings, they’re pricey to transport, and there's no back-up if the work doesn't sell. Talking to SUNDAY director Sean Horton, though, he admirably seems to put the art first. “With fairs, it's either too dark or too crowded”¦ we have enough space to do one person's work justice,” says Horton, whose booth is a beacon of light in response to that issue. McKean's montage sculptures achieve a level of accomplishment in space activation and exhibition design I have yet to see matched at any art fair, including Basel.What's more, the work itself is amongst the best I've seen, the negative and positive space creating complexity and giving surface to the work. The arrangements themselves would seem almost too perfectly placed, were it not for the use of rich textiles, which demand deliberation of that sort.
Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery, another first-time exhibitor from New York, also put together a fine booth, with Alex Dodge's keyboard drawing adorned with some sort of dried clear plastic material. It was the nearby black paintings by Pamela Jordan, however, that left the largest impression on me, the subtle shifts in tone and color within the blacks creating a surface with great depth, the more vibrant tones adding movement. Dealer Sam Wilson explained that the fair has been great for Nichtssagend because it introduced them to so many potential clients, but did note the inevitable struggle associated with the fact that everyone, including collectors, tends to buy from folks they already know. Although no one spoke specifically about sales, I sense a lot of hang-wringing going on amongst all the exhibitors.
In the case of NADA, the hand-wringing should be associated with the effects of a cautious collecting practice as opposed to the natural result of a poor fair. NADA may have performed inconsistently, but the number of first-time exhibitors who brought their A-game to the fair suggests they are doing something right.
Jessica Simpson with a gum on her eye at Karma International. A bonus pick posted purely because I like it.