NADA Miami Beach Outperforms

Familiar favorites, dough, a washing machine: the scrappy fair thrills

“There have been a lot of great collectors coming through,” New York gallerist Thomas Erben told us yesterday afternoon at the Deauville Beach Resort in North Beach. “They spent yesterday at Art Basel. NADA has a good reputation, and so many of them are here today.”

Moments after the end of the VIP opening of NADA—the fair of the New Art Dealers Alliance—most of the dealers we spoke with shared Mr. Erben’s feelings. Sales had either come in those first four hours of the fair, or they were close. People looked relaxed, or as relaxed as one can be at an art fair. The Atlantic Ocean was visible through one room’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

Spread across three banquet halls at the Deauville, the eighth edition of NADA featured about 100 galleries, the plurality from New York, as in past years, from powerhouse names like James Fuentes, Canada and Nicole Klagsbrun to young upstarts, including Showroom of Suffolk Street, Toomer Labzda of Forsyth Street, Clearing of Bushwick’s Johnson Avenue and Essex Street of Essex Street—all galleries that did not exist 12 months ago.

“Obviously the economy is weak, and people are being affected,” Mr. Erben said, standing near two bright, floor-propped Dona Nelson paintings, a classic Adrian Piper photograph and a mesh, sand and wire wall-mounted sculpture by Senga Nengudi. “We thought, rather than bring only new artists, we would bring some artists that were more established, and show the history of the gallery.”

Many galleries adopted a similar strategy, presenting a broad overview of their programs. Many were stellar. If the art world functions as a meritocracy, even only approximately—if dealers can convince collectors to follow price rises as their artists’ careers progress without losing talent to flusher galleries—one hopes that many of these galleries will endure and, over the long term, join the ranks of the industry’s leading players.

Canada had a crisp new work by neo-Op mistress Xylor Jane; dreamy, hazy Michael Williams paintings; and an endlessly purring washing machine by Joanna Malinowska. Nicelle Beauchene Gallery had the swoon-worthy sewn-fabric work of Sarah Crowner and the hyper-ambitious ancient-art-derived sculpture of Ruby Sky Stiler. Callicoon had a wall of tiny painted-plastic wall pieces by Thomas Kovachevich, whose work is currently on view back in New York.

Most of the above artists have shown at their respective Lower East Side galleries over the past year, and it was uncanny seeing similar work again so soon. But this is why we go to art fairs: to be reminded of what we enjoyed, and to reevaluate works we had previously dismissed, like Sean Bluechel’s hard-won, electrifyingly colored, slightly beaten up ceramics, which filled Nicole Klagsbrun’s booth.

Fairs are also, of course, an opportunity to learn, to see the work we only otherwise see online, to visit the galleries located in cities we have never explored, like Tokyo, whose Misako & Rosen was showing a slick black shower curtain emblazoned with a nude man (with a curiously lengthy penis) and a metal cast of—well—an ass, both by Naotaka Hiro.

“It is also an instrument!” director Misako Rosen explained, striking the golden bottom with her finger, so that it rang like a bell. “Here is the artist, right here!” We turned to meet Mr. Hiro, as he walked into the booth. “I have all sorts of mallets to use with it,” he said. Yes, he admitted, it is an imprint of his own rump. “You have lost weight since you made it!” one visitor offered, sending laughter through the booth.

Also among the international set: Geneva’s Ribordy Contemporary had work by a trio of New York artists—painters Erik Lindman and David Malek, and photographer Ryan Foerster, whose photo-imprinted metal plates, which appeared at Laurel Gitlen a few months back, are one of the year’s great pleasures. London’s Jonathan Viner had solidly blue-chip Joe Bradleys and Josh Smiths on offer.

But back to New York: the Journal had wagered its booth on a Daniel Turner tar work (picture a Robert Morris felt piece miniaturized, hung on the all and then made shiny and grimy and sexy as hell, or just view the slide show, above) and a Colin Snapp photographic diptych. Foxy Production had lined the entirety of its booth with spare, dark drawings by Gabriel Hartley, and hung a few of his abstract paintings over that wallpaper. “They make it look like a cave,” Mr. Hartley, who happened to be visiting the booth, told us. Agreed.

One of Richard Serra’s late 1960s torn-rubber pieces sculptures appeared to be the centerpiece of West Street Gallery’s booth, though co-owner Matt Moravec explained that it was in fact a work by the young artist Ryan Wolfe: a formidable pile of dough that the artist had made poolside at the resort in the days leading up to the fair.

The award for weirdest painting of the week goes to Ian Hokin’s License and Registration Please… (2011), at West Street’s booth: a pig dressed as a cop with the image of a white cat driving a car reflecting in his sunglasses. “He thinks of the paintings while in a sensory deprivation tank,” Mr. Moravec said, offering an explanation.

On our way out of the fair, we passed the infamous Hennessy Youngman lecturing on the subject of cocaine and art to a packed house in the lobby, and stopped by an outpost of Los Angeles’s redoubtable Ooga Booga shop, picking up its new Matt Connors book. There was a signing scheduled for the next day—today now—at noon. If only Art Basel week offered enough time for multiple visits.

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