All work and no play makes art a dull toy. That’s the message of this latest edition of Spring/Break, the most irreverent of New York’s art fairs.
Founded in 2012 by Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly, Spring/Break first occupied St. Patrick’s Old School in Soho and has moved around various New York landmarks since. For both the New York and Los Angeles editions, the organizers announce a theme and then pick the best proposals from a pool of unknown, emerging, and established artists. Each booth is curated by a commercial art dealer, a nonprofit organization, or an artist. There’s little to no exhibition cost for participants.
For this edition, more than 150 exhibitors have returned to 625 Madison, a checkerboard-floor office space. There’s a degree of whiplash in the viewing: some booths approach subjects with subdued introspection. Others recall a Nyquil-induced dream or the final rung before a ketamine free-fall. (Those are mostly compliments.) Soft sculptures droop from the ceiling like living stalactites, ceramic miniatures spin on hidden axis, and doorways open into the blacklit bowels of an alien star.
There’s a notable undercurrent of self-reverence; several booths recall shrines, though to variably oblique gods. Which makes sense, given that the 2023 theme is “Wild Card,” explained by the organizers as a remixed retrospective. Participants were asked to reinterpret one of the eleven former Spring/Break themes, which have included “Naked Lunch” and the Tarot’s “Fool.”
“Here the naif and the naught re-enact our enthroned motifs,” a description of this year’s theme reads. “Lampooning, rehearsing, and restaging them.” Seems like a long way of saying thank you, artists, for everything.
Below are a few of our favorite booths from the 2023 New York edition.
Ophelia Arc, Curated by Eric Shiner
“Come to booth 1111,” a colleague texted me during the press preview. “It’s Mire Lee and Eckhaus Latta.” The art did not disappoint, even if it was by neither the South Korean star sculptor nor the hip fashion brand. At the center of the booth was a mobile of what looked like crochet teardrops or a uvula, hanging at different heights. The artist was Ophelia Arc, and the comparison to Lee was apt. Like Lee’s squelching hothouse on view at the New Museum, Arc’s installation is tantalizingly tactile, vaguely grotesque, and obviously time-consuming to produce. The notion of “women’s work”, which Arc references in her artist statement, is applicable here. Yarn, tulle, and latex mingle in the mobile and on the walls, making the whole pendulous display appear seconds from a shuddering breath. A diary detailing Arc’s process is open on the floor, and visitors are encouraged to kneel and read it.
Sarah Nsikak, Curated by Marie Salomé Peyronnel
Another standout textile presentation comes courtesy of Nigerian American artist Sarah Nsikak and curator Marie Salomé Peyronnel. Nsikak produces delicate patchwork collages of domestic scenes. Their simplicity does little to diminish their sensitivity. Her practice is a neat marriage of the Asafo flags from Ghana and the quilting traditions of the Bible Belt, and this series pays homage to her grandmother, a seamstress who taught Nsikak her craft. In one work, she watches over a flock of goats; in other, she’s busy peeling yams. The stars hang impossibly large overhead, lending the simple pastoral a fantastical edge, like an inherited memory.
“Chapel of Traumaturgy,” Curated by Z Behl
Some booths at Spring/Break hide behind inconspicuous doors; others spill out from their assigned squares and scale the walls. The group show “Chapel of Traumaturgy,” curated by Z Behl, is among the latter. It’s the liveliest graveyard on Earth, and maybe the presentation most explicitly in conversation with Spring/Break’s past “Tarot” theme. Slack-jawed and mottled skeletons are propped on pipes and scattered around tombstones bearing characters of the major arcana. There’s less a sense of setting souls to rest than of spirits roused from the ethereal plane, ready to party. Art that revels in the spectacular and spooky can verge on being cartoonish, but the varied mediums on display—sculpture, large-scale drawing, painting, stained glass—is united by an earnest desire to discover where logic cedes to faith and faith to fantasy.
“Let the Record Show,” Curated by Jackson Engman
“Let the Record Show,” a group presentation curated by the artist Jackson Engman, posits several inevitabilities of human nature. Despite the chaos we introduce, maybe incidentally, into the lives of others, we want our own lives to make sense, and we will embrace inefficient or materialistic systems if the outcome is order. Like knowledge, that impulse isn’t inherently good or bad, Engman and the two artists exhibited here, Joshua Alford and Charlotte Zinsser, say. Each artist is working in a different medium, which makes sense, as they each arrive at distinct—but not contradictory—conclusions. Zinsser’s Word Chain Alphabet (2023), a bulletin board of aged notebook paper bearing word-based associations, like history’s most poetic memo, is a particular standout highlight here. The booth is tucked into a quiet corner of the second floor, so stop by and have a ponder.
Lauren Cohen, Curated by Field Projects
I heard someone once describe Spring/Break as a cozy alternative to the Armory Show or Independent. “Brian’s Estate Sale,” by the artist Lauren Cohen, takes that sentiment to the extreme. Stopping by this booth feels like stepping into a life-size dollhouse. It has the furnishings of a home—hardwood floor, flowery wallpaper, an armchair, and lamp—but a veneer of the uncanny. Wander through the kitchen, for example, where a delectable spread has been set out, but don’t take a bite—nearly every object in the booth is a glossy ceramic. That medium always shines at Spring/Break, and Cohen shows the participatory potential of a few square feet of office floor.
Cate Pasquarelli, Curated by Sara Driver
Cate Pasquarelli is a Spring/Break veteran, with a spot of honor in the fair’s not-so-secret secret salon this past May. Her projects are easy to identify but never monotonous: tiny houses, tilted or on their side, nestled in moss or floating through the void, are her signature. (I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen a light on in one of those unsettling abodes, or an inhabitant.) It’s lonely, but the ghosts are just memorials to something precious had, then lost. Her series on view at this Spring/Break is called “The Museum of Embellished History” and centers on the story of New Bantam, Connecticut, as seen through the eyes of its local artist, Peter Landon. “Only a few lonely souls are left wandering the streets of New Bantam,” Landon writes, “but the locals remind us that 60 years ago it was a quiet, cozy town where neighbors left their porch doors open.”
dirty~laundry)Cleaners, by Laure Drogoul
If you start on the first floor and finish on the second, one of the last booths you’ll encounter is dirty~laundry)Cleaners, by Laure Drogoul. You’ll surely see the lavender glow that illuminates its polyethylene cave from afar. Its visual appeal belies the project’s dark subject matter: environmentally ruinous consumerism. Polyethylene, Drogoul explains in her artist statement, is a single-use, non-biodegradable plastic ubiquitous to the laundromats of New York City. “Like the living dead,” she writes, “this thin plastic material creates dead zones in the natural world, lingering long past its time as a lethal reminder of our excess.” The installation—an ethereal purgatory, in her words—repurposes thousands of shiny single-use bags, as well as clothing racks, wire hangers, and laundry bins. In an intermittent performance by Drogoul (clad head-to-toe in the offensive material), she creeps toward its neon heart like a curious moth unaware that it’s in for a shock.