The Spring Break Art Fair Once Again Brings Quirky Surprises to Los Angeles, From Musical Chandeliers to Live Mystery Tattooing
The popular fair returns for its fourth West Coast outing.
The New York and L.A. fair known as Spring Break Art Show always feels like a place where anything can happen, with cofounders Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly ready to “yes and” even the wildest ideas from curators.
The fair’s fourth Los Angeles edition continues in this grand tradition, showing everything from an inflatable Mark Zuckerberg to a tattoo glory hole to—perhaps most shockingly of all—a multimillion-dollar Alice Neel painting.
The wide-ranging mix is what makes the fair so special, Kelly told Artnet News, noting that for some of the artists, “this is their very first show anywhere.”
Among them was Taylor Lee Nicholson, who drove 35 hours with their papier-mâché sculptures in tow. They had previously only exhibited at small venues in Charlotte, North Carolina, like the McColl Center, but had crafted an ambitious display for their L.A. debut, inspired by the demolition of their childhood home.
“My grandmother kept it a secret that the house was sinking,” Nicholson said. It was only when grandma literally fell though a hole in the rotting kitchen floor that the family realized she’d been stuffing tabloids and newspapers under the home in a futile effort to reinforce the foundation and absorb the rising waters.
Nicholson’s installation, curated by Janet Loren Hill and Jonell Logan, represents the aftermath of the destruction and the random belongings scattered across the yard. That includes a cooler full of PBR, a rack of trucker hats, and countless cigarette butts. The cheapest works on offer are just $35 each, going up to $1,200 for one of three vintage tabloids from the 1990s, meticulously embellished with glittering beads.
For those in the know, Spring Break is the place to snap up emerging artists on the verge of a breakthrough. Before Wednesday’s VIP preview had even opened, for instance, high-profile collector Beth Rudin DeWoody had snapped up a collage by film writer Joe Forte from a booth curated by Lisa Levy.
For Spring Break, Forte is showing a series of collage works featuring everything from vintage photography and beer labels to used COVID antigen tests. These found objects are layered beneath hopeful messages like “Now is the time to give it your all,” sealed beneath a shiny resin.
“This series came out of the social circumstances of being in a very negative time and how anxious the news was making me, so I created my own mantras. Being positive about the future is actually subversive in this moment,” Forte said. “I feel like I’m undermining this narrative that doom is around the corner.”
The works are $2,500 each, plus $1,000 for the metal stands Forte fabricated with the idea of exhibiting the series guerrilla-style on the streets of L.A.
“It’s very nice to be inside in a show rather than running out in the middle of the night and drilling holes in concrete,” he said.
If Forte’s work is priced within the affordable rates that Spring Break is known for, the booth of Providence’s Cade Tompkins Projects was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
There, a 1930 Alice Neel portrait of Hollywood screenwriter Fanya Foss is on sale for a price “in the low millions.”
“Fanya worked on nine different movies,” Tompkins said. The show-stopping Neel portrait was supplemented with posters from some of Foss’s films from the 1940s, which featured her name in bold-faced print.
Foss wasn’t the only Hollywood presence at the fair, where Kelly and Gori had curated a joint presentation from husband-and-wife duo Shane McKenzie, a video artist and musician, and Parker Love Bowling, a poet and actress who played a Manson family member in the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
McKenzie works almost exclusively in VHS, and was showing a film of Bowling reading from her new book of poems, Rhododendron, Rhododendron, on a large number of vintage televisions, including several stacked in a shopping cart he had found on the street earlier in the week.
“VHS is essentially free to use—I just tape over things. I find it to be one of the ultimate archiving tools,” Bowling said. “And it used to be really easy to get these televisions. They were on the sidewalk ever day, and I had about 50 of them at one time.”
The installation is priced at $25,000, but with the televisions now far more difficult and expensive to source, McKenzie is not particularly eager to sell it. The couple, who performed throughout the run of the fair, is also offering copies of the video for $500 in an edition of three, and signed copies of the book with two prints for $300.
Elsewhere, artist Shelley Burgon had returned to the fair for the first time in more than a decade, after having shown at its first two editions at St. Patrick’s Old School in New York. At the time, she had been making “Sound Chandeliers” using a type of electroacoustic transducers typically found in alarm clocks.
When Burgon reached out to Gori and Kelley to let them know she had made new works continuing the series, they happily curated a booth to feature them. There, the works blink on and off in the darkness like techno-fireflies, the transducers activated by the vibrations of music the sound artist, who is also a harpist, wrote and recorded.
“It was a personal journey coming back to the work after all these years,” Burgon said.
Another standout was the booth of curator Claire Foussard, who was showing work from the Kinngait Studios, artists from the Inuit community of Kinngait (also known as Cape Dorset) in Arctic Canada. That included recent Venice Biennale star Shuvinai Ashoona (now in the collection of the Tate in London), who had collaborated with Padloo Samayualie on a new series of drawings, most priced at $4,800.
“Because the community is so small, just 1,300 people on an island in the Arctic, they really understand each other’s references,” Foussard said of the collaborative works, which see Samayaulie build on Ashoona’s line drawings, adding background details and coloring in the scenes.
On a wackier note, you could even get a tattoo at the fair, free with purchase of a $150 ticket by Denver’s Kevin Hennessy, who was showing with Montana artist Tyler Krasowski in a booth curated by Nora Lucia Boyd.
The walls were covered in both men’s drawings, sketches, painted signs, and sculptural assemblages. There was also a mobile tattoo station—the kind that was once popular at carnivals—where you could validate your ticket by putting your hand through the glory hole and letting Hennessy apply some ink, sight-unseen.
“It’s going to turn out like an illustration or a doodle,” he said.
While Spring Break has a reputation for the edgy and the experimental, is also reliably features incredible craftsmanship in a wide variety of media.
If you like ceramics, for instance, don’t miss the work of Emily Marchand, curated by writer and curator Michael Slenske. The presentation, featuring works price from $500 to $8,000, including a large fountain, is titled “The Four Seasons.” It is inspired by the destructive influence of climate change, and how manmade activity has led to both scarcity and abundance.
“Underneath the beauty, there’s a dark underbelly,” Marchand said, pointing to the oil spill-inspired dark glaze pouring down a vessel inspired by a seed vault and painted with flowers and water fowl.
For fiber art, the must-sees are Yasmine K. Kasem and John Paul Morabito, two queer artists showing separately with San Diego curator Rokhsane Hovaida and Patricia Sweetow Gallery, which moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles last fall.
Morabito, who has a tenured position in the textile department at Kent State University, is offering selections from his series “For Felix,” hand-beaded cotton tapestries he created in homage to the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres and his curtain works.
“The curtains represent the veil between life and death, and an entire generation that was lost” to the AIDS epidemic, Patricia Sweeton said of Morabito’s colorful works, priced at $24,000 each.
Kasem’s work, on the other hand, is figurative, with individually hand-dyed pieces of cotton wet-felted together to create scenes of female couples from the Islamic Golden Age folk tales collection One Thousand and One Nights.
“The artist is a queer Muslim Arab Egyptian American,” Hovaida told Artnet News. “As Yasmine was coming out, she had a really hard time with her own family, and was looking for some kind of stories from history that were like her.”
The resulting works, which draw on little-known tales of women loving women, have a soft beauty as well as a powerful presence, displayed in a carpeted booth that transports the viewer to the Middle East. Two individual pieces are $3,750, with a triptych available for $7,750.
Like any art fair, Spring Break also has its fair share of paintings, including a trio of monumental canvases by David Howe that ape North Korean propaganda art, replacing Kim Jong-un with Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg. An investor and Silicon Valley veteran in his 70s (and the founder of New York gallery 601 Art Space), Howe actually started what he calls the “Howe Factory” in Brooklyn to produce the works, since he is trained as a photographer, not a painter.
“The only thing that I painted was my signature on the back,” he admitted.
The paintings, curated by Jac Lahav, range in price from $24,000 to $32,000, plus a custom car dealership inflatable figure with Zuckerberg’s face for $2,200, and $900 posters.
Howe was inspired to create the series after stumbling across images of the original paintings, which are rarely shown in the West, online. Struck by the utopian vibe of the works, depicting a murderous ruler as a benevolent figure, Howe remade them as a commentary on the incredible power that Facebook’s wide reach gives Zuckerberg, even though the tech mogul rarely flaunts his influence.
The artist wasn’t trying to suggest that Zuckerberg was an evil dictator, exactly—”I don’t know if you need to be worried about it,” he said, “but maybe there are aspects of it that you need to be worried about.”
Spring Break Art Show is on view at Skylight Culver City, 5880 Adams Boulevard, Culver City Arts District, Los Angles, February 15–19, 2023.
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