NADA New York Delivers

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Unlike the other major art fairs in the game this week, the New Art Dealers Alliance’s New York fair is free. To everyone. All the time. Even during the quote-unquote VIP opening, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., there was no one checking badges or cards, no one looking up names on iPads. You could stroll in and out as you pleased. And you’ll be able to do so through Sunday. You can pick up a taco from the Tacombi stand and go eat it somewhere in the neighborhood, then come back in again and look at some art, maybe eat another taco and then walk to the nearby Donut Plant and have a few donuts. No big deal.

This is NADA’s third fair in New York, its second at Basketball City, right along the East River on the Lower East Side. It’s airy and spacious in there. You can tell that if NADA wanted to, they could have squeezed in another 30 or 40 galleries, but instead they have kept it to about 80. Pretty chill.

NADA New York’s exhibitor list is not quite as strong as the one for NADA Miami—a few top-tier galleries are sitting it out this year—but there is still plenty to get excited about. San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Roberto Paradise, for instance, has a little treasure trove of paintings by José Luis Vargas, which he makes atop luscious, folksy paintings by Haitian artists that he buys in street markets, adding little bubbles of text to underscore a work’s mystery, or to inject a little bit of humor.

Know More Games, of Brooklyn’s Donut District, has a gargantuan canvas by Daniel Heidkamp propped in its tiny booth (it doesn’t come close to fitting) that the artist painted from a photograph of his young self swinging a baseball bat. It’s gleeful, hilarious and menacing. Its Donut District sister next door, 247365, has a tall, surprising triptych by Jamian Juliano-Villani, who’s copped the ghostly, camp album cover for laser harp maestro Bernard Szajner’s 1980 album Some Deaths Take Forever and made it even more ghostly and campy but also kind of scary.

Those two spaces I just mentioned are in the projects section of the fair, where the most interesting action is. Too many of the full-sized gallery booths, meanwhile, are dominated by safe, conservative abstract paintings that look like other, more-famous abstract paintings. Or worse, they’re another layer removed, aping safe, conservative abstract paintings that aim to look like other, more-famous abstract paintings. It’s getting bleak out there! I’m tempted to name names, but this stuff is going to be gone so fast—or, at least, I hope that’s what will happen—that it seems better to focus on more of the positive.

Toronto’s Cooper Cole gallery has a very fine solo booth by Sara Cwynar, for those going through withdrawal since her Foxy Production show closed last week. She scans black and white pages of a darkroom manual, moving her source material mid-scan to tease out all sorts of elegant glitches (including color). And Essex Flowers has a tastefully overblown booth of quicksilver drawings by the indefatigable Brian Belott, including a few of the gorgeous collages that he makes with a laminating machine. (Have you seen the video he made with artist Annie Pearlman that has him lighting his hair on fire? It’s almost too good.)

Clifton Benevento has brought a strong selection of work by gallery artists Martin Soto Climent, Polly Apfelbaum, Gina Beavers, Paul Cowan, Zak Kitnick and D’Ette Nogle, who has on offer 31 works/projects from her For Client Selection (Conversation Pieces) series, delicately walking the line between good taste and bad: “A webcam of the artist’s studio for one year,” “Your spare room listed on airbnb,” “A pet.”

P! has a Heather Rowe-designed booth (and a Rowe sculpture) with primo 1960s geometric abstractions by Elaine Lustig Cohen, one serving as the ceiling. Eli Ping Frances Perkins has a luxuriously austere booth of shimmering ceramic works (melded with synthetic snakeskin) by Rochelle Goldberg, a displayed they heroically pulled together only last night, when another gallery dropped out at the very last minute and they were asked to step in.

My favorite booth right now belongs to Callicoon Fine Arts, which is showing not only the radiant landscapes of Etel Adnan, not only tight, spry paintings by the polymaths James Hoff and Sadie Benning, but also a long row of the heartbreakingly tender, loving and slyly funny miniature storefronts and apartment buildings that Nicholas Buffon makes out of strips of painted paper, all carefully glued together by hand. They’re humble tributes to the city that birthed NADA and that clearly remains, against steep odds, a vital place for contemporary art.

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