At NADA, a Burbling Box, a House of Cash and a Hidden Show

“They’re sniffing like dogs,” art adviser Raphael Castoriano said approvingly on Thursday afternoon as he watched two high-profile Miami collectors move from booth to booth at NADA. The fair had opened that morning. “I also sniff,” he said seriously. “We’re all like little doggies.”

That sense of imminent discovery is the great pleasure of NADA—the thrill that, around any corner, you just might come across something great by an artist you don’t know, or haven’t caught up with in a little while. There could be a work somewhere that will bowl you over.

When the doors opened at 10 a.m., the aisles and booths at the Deauville Beach Resort quickly filled with people on the hunt. “They raided the fair,” as one first-time and very happy exhibitor put it. In the words of dealer Steven Stewart, of Tribeca’s Kansas gallery: “So far so good. Good vibes.” Independent Curators International sold out its entire Rirkrit Tiravanija piece, an edition of five, after just a few hours. Many dealers reported buoyant sales.

Adding to the positive spirit was the fact that galleries that were hit hard by Sandy were on hand and in fine form, like Churner & Churner, Derek Eller and Foxy Production, which devoted its booth to trippy paintings by Peter Williams, all pinks and yellows, cartoon orifices and nude bodies. Newman Popiashvili was back too, and hung a large abstraction by Paul Bloodgood—a very mysterious admixture of Still and Oehlen—at the center of it’s booth.

Even late in the afternoon, as the crowd died down a bit, the place was humming. “There’s a lot of energy,” Tim Fleming, the director of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair, said in the aisles. “People are bringing big things, and being really ambitious with their booths.”

To that end, Greenpoint’s Real Fine Arts filled its modestly sized booth with no fewer than 99 works. A few dozen of those were small square paintings by Dave Miko—tidy little hard-edge pieces and doodled abstractions, some with figures lurking within them—in a remarkable array of colors. They date from 2002 to just a few days ago. It’s a retrospective, of sorts, spanning only a single wall. Also on hand at RFA: paintings, embedded with meaty mushrooms, by Mathieu Malouf, sculptures of angel and butterfly wings by Nicolas Ceccaldi—they’re perfectly scaled for young children—and shelves of drawings by Sam Pulitzer paired with records.

A soft electronic burble was coming from the next booth over, which belongs to East Village’s Audio Visual Arts. The work responsible was a metal box by Sergei Tcherepnin like those the gallery showed this summer. It’s a gorgeous object outfitted with a movable flap that lets listeners shape the sound. (It’s no mean feat, showing sound art successfully at an art fair.) A nice surprise: a green violin, with its string torn off and outfitted with a green mask. It’s an unsettling, funny sculpture by Daniel McDonald.

Despite those Greenpoint and East Village outfits, and a healthy showing of dealers from Europe, NADA’s heart remains on the Lower East Side, which is home to about a third of the exhibitors, many of whom are now veterans of the fair.

Rachel Uffner gave over her entire booth to Sam Moyer, who offered up three of her smoky, ghostly black ink paintings on panel, just one to a wall (they’re gigantic—7 feet by 10 feet). At the center of the booth was a hexagon bench of similarly colored marble. They’re brutal and heavy-looking works, but elegantly so. “Now this is what I’m talking about,” one biker-type gentleman said to another as they strolled in.

Bill Powers organized a tiny group show for his Half Gallery booth, asking artists to make work involving “art cash” that Warhol made in 1971 for a fundraiser for Experiments in Art and Technology, real currency paper printed on one side with the word “one” and the artist’s signature. Huma Bhabha tore hers in half and pasted it atop a photograph of a door. Sam Falls dyed a few, folded them into cubes and stacked them. “It’s a house of cards,” said Mr. Powers. “I thought it made sense to debut it at an art fair.”

Mark Flood was also apparently thinking about art fairs in the run-up to NADA and decided to playfully opt out of the main event. He is showing a batch of paintings in his room on the eighth floor, propped against various walls. (Our source asked us not to print the room number, but you should be able to find it easily enough.) They’re in startling hues and feature fabric prints around their faces, like decadent, luxurious color versions of the grayscale lace paintings that he showed at Feuer just a few months ago. (Photos of similar pieces from a few years ago are available here.) He also left a number of placards printed with the word “like” that were free for all takers, who were encouraged by the gallery to scatter them throughout the fair.

One ‘like’ sign was smartly left next to a Matt Connors piece outside Canada’s booth—a green painting in front of a red painting inside a short yellow box. Mr. Connors has now executed enough ideas to launch the careers of about a half dozen artists.

Other highlights: a tall Ryan Foerster plate at Room East; really tall, thin expandable metal columns, stretching from the floor to the cheap, paneled ceiling by Chadwick Rantanen at Essex Street; the whole Canada booth, which sports a deliriously beautiful floor of Moroccan rugs via Katherine Bernhardt; porcelain apples by Jessica Rath at Jack Hanley; tiny, goofy John Wesley-esque paintings by Tomoki Kurokawa at Nanzuka; the whole Color Field-rich array at Callicoon, from Etel Adnan to Sadie Benning (who also has work at Vogt).

Over at Kansas’s booth, what appears to be a big block of floating clay slowly pulsates on a vertically oriented screen. It’s a work by David J. Merritt called Nirvana (2012). You can watch for a while, waiting for it to restart, without every being quite sure that happens. “It’s about a nine-hour loop,” Mr. Stewart, the gallery’s owner, explained. That’s the length that dealers will be at the fair on Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. “It doesn’t stand and bow at the end of it,” he said of the piece. “It’s just a slowly morphing image.”

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