How facing an onslaught of bird poop helped bring together everyone's favorite art fair.
The 2016 Spring/Break Art Fair was fun. That was the first word that came to mind wandering the upper hallways of Moynihan Station, behind the massive post office on 33rd Street in Manhattan. My gut feeling isn’t summed up by words like “important,” “momentous,” “overwhelming,” and “frenzied,” which can be bandied about at the larger fairs that descend on New York City for Art Week. These words are not inaccurate, but when I see projects like Ori Carino and Benjamin Armas’ derelict dollhouses, Alanna Vanacore’s dreamy paintings of the aftermaths of birthday parties, and Kat JK Lee’s, Da Great Gatsby under one roof, I don't feel as if I'm engaging in an Important Art World Event, or overwhelmed by Kapoor, Kusama, and Koon spread throughout a warehouse. I’m simply having fun.
In contrast to The Armory Show’s office space-style carpeting, labyrinthine exhibition space, and opulent champagne lounge, Spring/Break is framed by weathered hallways with an air of forgotten purpose, and centered around a surreal bar featuring murals by Jessica Mensch. The atmosphere's low pressure, all good vibes, perhaps because founders Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori are able to collect a percentage of artists’ earnings, rather than charging up to $70,000 per booth, as at some other art fairs.
Kelly and Gori brought Spring/Break to Moynihan Station on a budget. The space was so neglected that one exhibitor had to clear dead pigeons from his room. “Knowing what the drawbacks were before hand in regards to the rough funkiness of the space was advantageous, but I was surprised this year by the addition of bird poop. Lots and lots of bird poop," curator Adam Smith tells The Creators Project. "One of our windows had been broken, and pigeons found our room an easy entry point to a cozy existence in the drop ceiling. The birds continued to inhabit our space through some open ceiling tiles through the duration of the show." Not everyone’s space was that degree of horrible, but old paint chips embedded in the carpets and ceiling were a problem for every curator to whom we spoke.
“The paint chips on the floor led to hours (yes hours) of vacuuming,” says curator Kelly Schroer, whose central piece was a mirrored sculpture by Graham Caldwell. Her ceiling tiles were in bad shape so she had to remove them, which revealed a set of gorgeous 10’ windows overlooking Madison Square Garden across the street. “The biggest challenge was a leak in one of the corners in my room which was resolved by adding ceiling tiles back in and laying a tarp over it to catch the water,” she continues. “Seems to be holding up!”
Overcoming hardship in order to save money is the American dream in a nutshell, and the pure scrappiness of an art fair where you have to pass people in line to send mail is a huge part of its allure. But the best thing about Spring/Break is just that the art is good. It feels like you’re actually supposed to look at it, interact with it, and feel something, not tell your assistant to buy it so it can be shipped to your mansion. "Having the focus taken off of commerce and commodity and directed at curatorial vision and artistic freedom allows viewers to feel like they are viewing a large swath of the NYC art world through a more earnest and direct lens which caters not to the collector, but to the art appreciator," says Smith, the curator whose booth was previously infested with pigeons. The low economic stakes free up exhibitors—mostly curators, not high status art dealers—to take risks and bring artwork they like, rather than artwork they know will recoup the money they’ve invested in a booth.
Art mongering aside, Spring/Break was a beautiful, natural diamond amidst a sea of industrial cut gems. Centered around the theme, "Copy & Paste," highlights included Greg Haberny's Unhinged, a series of sculptures and paintings chopped up with chainsaws and repaired; a pair of sculptures by Dirby called Zika (Stage 1) and Zika (Stage 2), which feature wooden squares seemingly caught in the middle of exploding from suitcases; Ballast Projects' B. Thom Stevenson exhibition room; Graham Caldwell's mirrored sculpture, The Watching Machine, which reflects all the other artwork in the room with surveillance mirrors; a painting performance called DANS UN INSTANT by Pauline Guerrier and Basile Narcy, curated by Marie Salomé Peyronnel; handmade miniatures depicting historical acts of violence by Talwst; Seven Minutes in Heaven, an old utility closet artist Alanna Vanacore filled with balloons, encouraging visitors to either write down their birthday memories or step into the closet and make out; and a selfie-friendly light tunnel installation called The Deep Dark by Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garrett.
Check out these works and more in the images above and below.
While Spring/Break 2016 is over, you can still find your own favorites on the official website here.