Finding Something at NADA New York

There's more to the fair than its "cool kids" reputation.

Showing a work by José Lerma at the Roberto Paradise booth Photo: Ben Davis

NADA New York 2014 at Basketball City

Say it together now: NADA is the “cool kids” fair. If you are part of the small number of people who follow the art fair scene closely, and you know one thing about NADA, this is probably it. What does this really mean? It means that Frieze New York (or Art Basel in Miami Beach, the December mega-fair alongside which NADA originally launched itself, satellite-like, into orbit) is where you go to shop for name-brand trophies; NADA is where you go for things that aren’t known quantities but that nevertheless look contemporary-cool. Consequently, NADA is and has been a good barometer of what the present’s consensus “good taste” looks like: semi-abstraction, washed-out colors, and underproduced sculpture; work that evokes a sense of studied effortlessness.

Bob Mizer

Bob Mizer’s Ed Fury (Decapitated) (1951) at Adams and Ollman
Photo: Ben Davis

I was thinking about this on my third pass around the giant riverfront Basketball City space that NADA New York occupies this weekend when I hit upon the booth of Portland, Oregon’s Adams and Ollman, which proves I shouldn’t be so jaded. Among a cool selection of works, small black-and-white photos from Bob Mizer (1922–1992) are particularly worth pausing for, surrealist tributes to attractive young men he knew in 1950s LA (Miser was a pioneering publisher of body-builder magazines; his art photography was a sideline only later discovered). Ed Fury (Decapitated) shows the titular hunk posed stiffly, holding aloft his own pompadoured head, which stares blankly back at the space where it should be on his shoulders, contemplating his own body abstractly.

Regina Rex

Elizabeth Kley’s Large Yellow Pavilion Birdcage (2014) [foreground] at the booth of Regina Rex
Photo: Ben Davis

Other things that look good at NADA: Regina Rex’s booth, anchored by a waist-height Elizabeth Kley sculpture resembling an undulating ceramic bird cage. The back of the stand is devoted to a stepped display offering a range of small and intricate works by Kley, Kristen Jensen, Sarah Peters, and others, all feeling approachable but precious.

José Lerma

Showing a work by José Lerma at the Roberto Paradise booth
Photo: Ben Davis

San Juan’s Roberto Paradise offers both moody, Picasso-meets-film-noir canvasses by Boston-based Austin Eddy (for the classically minded), and José Lerma‘s helium-filled garbage bags floating above the booth (for those who are more into balloons). The latter are from a series, each one bearing a spidery portrait of one of Puerto Rico’s governors, rendering the island’s political history as a parade of literal gasbags—though ones doomed to deflate slowly.

Kristoffer Myskja

Kristoffer Myskja’s Conspiring Machine (2007) at Rod Bianco Gallery
Photo: Ben Davis

Finally, Norwegian artist Kristoffer Myskja’s art-machines at Oslo’s Rod Bianco Gallery offer a polished, imaginative contemporary take on kinetic art. They include a music box that plays syllables from an invented universal language, a machine designed to puff cigarettes (dormant here since you can’t smoke indoors; damn you, Bloomberg!), and a bell jar enclosing a little machine that drips mercury onto a tiny set of scales, slowly welling over but calibrated to keep itself in perpetual, trembling balance. If the cool kids can make room for the science nerds, then NADA is definitely worth coming back to.

Kristoffer Myskja

Kristoffer Myskja with his Splitting the Mercury Drop in Order to Maintain Balance (2013) at Rod Bianco Gallery
Photo: Ben Davis

NADA New York continues through May 11 at Basketball City, 299 South Street, New York.

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