You never know what you’re going to get at Spring Break Art Show—and the fair’s 2023 New York edition is more unpredictable than ever. The curator-led fair, beloved for installing cutting-edge contemporary art in unconventional venues, has even adopted the title “Wild Card!” this year. Instead of shaping a proposal around a new theme, potential curators were free to pitch proposals based on any one of the event’s previous themes from the past 11 years.
The cubicles and office spaces of 625 Madison Avenue, the former Ralph Lauren headquarters that Spring Break has called home since 2020, were, as always, bursting at the seams. An astounding 110 exhibitions, organized by some 150 curators, were on hand.
There was also a sprinkle of celebrity star dust courtesy of Steve Buscemi, there to support a solo presentation of work by his late wife and frequent collaborator, Jo Andres, a choreographer, filmmaker, and photographer. (He was also spotted gamely posing for selfies with fans.)
The two met back in 1983, when they were both part of New York’s downtown experimental performance scene. “We lived across the street from each other in the East Village,” Buscemi told Artnet News. He became a regular participant in Andres’s projects, which began in the dance world and soon branched out into film, using video projections on tulle hung across the stage to create a holographic effect during her performances.
A 1990 film featuring Buscemi, in which Andres is visibly pregnant with the couple’s only child, Lucian Buscemi, is among the works on view at the fair. There is also a large selection of her later work in photography, including an array of delightfully creepy, hauntingly beautiful cyanotypes documenting her collection of vintage ceramic dolls, some with double exposures of industrial-looking structures.
“Jo was always a student—she was always learning new techniques,” dancer Laurie Berg, who co-curated the booth with Stephanie Acosta, said.
Ill with ovarian cancer for several years, Andres died in 2019 at age 64, leaving behind a large body of work, most of which hadn’t been shown publicly in at least 15 years. Seeing it all at the fair, where it is priced between $300 and $2,500, was an emotional experience for Buscemi.
“I feel a little bit overwhelmed and just in awe of Jo’s work,” he said, noting that the display, which was designed to evoke the feel of the couple’s antiques-filled Brooklyn home, which Andres lovingly curated, brought up “lots of memories.”
That deeply personal feel is often present at Spring Break, where the artists are typically on hand to speak about their work and its inspiration.
Take for instance, Jac Lahav’s “Hot 100: Record Paintings,” full-scale recreations of album art that has been meaningful to the artist, priced at $950 each and curated by Michele Jaslow of Radar Curatorial. “Elastica is the album I lost my virginity to,” he told Artnet News.
And then there was Sarah Nsikak, whose textile collages featuring her collection of vintage fabrics were deeply inspired by her family ties to Nigeria, and her grandmother’s famous hospitality—impossible to live up to as a first-generation American. One work, priced at $4,500, had already sold in the fair’s opening hours, curator Marie Salomé Peyronnel told Artnet News.
Other recurring themes in “Wild Card!” included invented mythologies and histories, like “Brian’s Estate Sale,” an installation from Brooklyn artist Lauren Cohen curated by Jacob Rhodes of New York’s Field Projects.
“This character ‘Brian’ I created, he is in his 50s and was really lonely during the pandemic,” Cohen told Artnet News, handing out a pamphlet explaining that Brian may or may not have passed away, but that the contents of his home are all for sale.
The slightly surreal sculptures in her first solo New York outing, priced at $80 to $4,000, include melty cheeses and household tools like hammers and wrenches.
Something about Spring Break always seems to push artists and curators to new levels of creativity as they strive to create memorable moments to engage fairgoers.
Artnet News spotted both regular Spring Break curator Maureen Sullivan and artist Alexandria Deters (showing $250 to $700 embroidered works with curator and artist Katrina Majkut) triumphantly sporting the purple crown sculptures they had won by smashing plaster teeth sculptures by Janet Loren Hill.
The game, a highlight of “Lickety-Split, All in Jest!,” curated by Taylor Lee Nicholson (returning the favor after Hill included their work in the 2023 L.A. fair), “is about the allure of belonging,” Hill told Artnet News. “It gets people to participate in violence that they would not normally!”
This year’s fair also continues the Spring Break tradition of offering affordable art by emerging figures.
The buy of this year’s fair just might have been the $75 drawings by Ben Lenovitz, a long-time Spring Break visitor showing his work at the event for the first time. A pet portraitist by trade, the artist is showing a selection of more personal, humorous doodles.
The display at the fair represents three years of work—about 750 cartoons.
Also working in bulk was Faustine Badrichani, who was offering 188 works on paper in a wide range of colors for $170 apiece, each a closely cropped monochrome nude of the female body. The French artist also did giant mural versions of the works in the hallway outside her space, which paired the works with mannequin limbs and torsos painted to match.
And then there were the embroidered baseball cards by Katrina Majkut, male athletes’ identities obscured by glitter and sequins, remade as powerful women.
Attractively priced at $400, two had already been snapped up by 21c Museum Hotels ahead of the opening, and works from the series are set to appear in an upcoming show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Full disclosure, this reporter also bought one.)
On the upper end of the price spectrum were the labor-intensive balsa wood constructed paintings of Michael Hambouz, featuring bold graphic designs inspired by watermelons, cats, and firehoses. The multidimensional wooden panels start at $3,900 and go up to $21,200.
“It’s this puzzle-piece construction. I use a tiny saw, so I look like a weird giant child making them,” the artist told Artnet News.
And as always, Spring Break brought it in terms of over-the-top installations, like the large-scale, mechanized Ferris Wheel by Spring Break Los Angeles vet Stuart Lantry, which sold for $10,000 at a solo booth curated by Shona McAndrew.
There was even something that appeared to be a period room from an encyclopedic museum. Upon closer inspection, the Dutch-style glazed tiles in “Hudson Valley Kitchen,” a group show curated by Katherine Verdickt, were revealed to feature New York-specific imagery such as Mets and Yankees logos, the Brooklyn Bridge, even pigeons and cockroaches.
The most memorable installation was “(dirty~clean) Cleaners” by Laure Droguoul, curated by Alix Bickson. The Maryland artist crafted a giant cave using polyethylene number four low density plastic dry cleaning bags as a commentary on plastic waste.
“This is unnecessary single use, but the industry is so big, and they would have to change all their infrastructure and machines to stop using plastic dry cleaning bags,” Droguoul, who collected used plastic for the project, told Artnet News.
She plans to eventually give all her bags to Trex, a company making composite decking from recycled material.
Also offering commentary was Lydia Nobles, who designed her booth from Kourosh Mahboubian of New York’s Kapow Gallery to resemble an abortion clinic waiting room. Each $6,000 “chair” inside is a sculpture inspired by a woman’s story of receiving an abortion—including her own.
“In late 2019, I was getting an abortion and they were playing Say Yes to the Dress in the waiting room,” Nobles told Artnet News.
Inspired by that uncomfortable juxtaposition, she began reaching out to people on social media about their abortion stories, sharing them so that anyone getting the procedure can better know what to expect.
While Nobles’s project addressed how fraught the women’s healthcare situation has become in the U.S., curators Nicholas Cueva and Rebecca Leveille Guay engaged with women’s struggles in an international context. They were spotlighting the work of Maryam Gohar, an Iranian artist showing her work in public for the very first time.
Her delicate drawings, priced at $1,500 to $3,600, layer female and nonbinary nudes with imagery lifted from Japanese erotic printmaking and Persian iconography.
“She paints in secret and works on paper so she can bring things out of Iran without risking them being unpacked in customs,” Leveille Guay told Artnet News, noting that Gohar is temporarily in Canada, but needs a visa in order to avoid returning to her native country.
But there are also more playful works to experience, as well. One example is the “Fuck Stories” call center, curated by Caroline Weinstock, which perfectly encapsulates Spring Break’s anything-goes ethos.
The first project from the newly formed collective Yea Man Spa Global, whose 10-odd members met working at the “The Café” at Lower East Side gallery O’Flaherty’s, the work leans into the venue’s office building origins, inviting viewers to sit down at the desks and pick up the old-school red phones.
Each one has been rewired to play recordings of real sex encounters shared via a hotline—(646)-572-6998—solicited through posters the group wheatpasted downtown. There is already nearly an hour of audio, anonymized through Google voice transcriptions and AI voice generators.
“We didn’t know if anyone was going to be brave enough to call and be real, but people didn’t hold back,” Weinstock told Artnet News. The collective plans to update the playlist throughout the fair as more people call in and share. “You can totally still submit a fuck story if you want to.”
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