16 Curators to Watch at SPRING/BREAK
It’s no easy feat getting New Yorkers to brave the cacophony of tourist-heavy Times Square, but the curators of the sixth edition of SPRING/BREAK Art Show are having no problem doing just that. By the afternoon of the art fair’s preview on Tuesday, a lengthy queue was forming at the fair’s new location, the 22nd and 23rd floors of the former Condé Nast building at 4 Times Square.
Known for its curatorially driven mission and edgy approach, SPRING/BREAK was in full swing by 3:30pm. That’s when its founders Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly introduced the 2017 show to a cluster of reporters lounging in bean bag chairs on the 22nd floor, an area that was once inhabited by Vanity Fair staffers. “We thought, ‘how do we go into this show with such a clean space?’” Kelly said of the corporate environment, which follows two years in the distinguished, nostalgia-filled halls of the former James A. Farley Post Office on 34th Street. She quickly added, “That’s where the curators came in.” And they did.
Over 150 curators, with the works of more than 400 artists, have co-opted the corner offices, copy rooms, and reception areas of the publishing conglomerate’s former headquarters—installations accented by sweeping vistas of flashing billboards, gleaming glass towers, and the Hudson River seen through the building’s windows.
The curators were asked to respond to the theme of “Black Mirror,” inspired by the mirror devices used by Old Master painters. This directive was meant to open discussion around self-portraiture and the ways in which artists reveal and conceal their identities. Based on the most coherent and compelling responses to this theme, we share below 16 curators who you’ll want to keep tabs on.
ROOM #2201, “THE STAGING OF VULNERABILITY”
For her curatorial debut, Brooklyn-based artist Allison Zuckerman mounts a show of works by artists she found on Instagram—ranging from intimate narrative embroideries by Sophia Narrett, to large-scale papier-mâché nudes by Shona McAndrew, to lush figurative paintings by Danny Ferrell. And though she had long wanted to curate this show, she notes that it was the “Black Mirror” theme that led to its fruition. “I think many of these pieces, if they’re not directly self-portraits, they’re surrogates for the artists,” Zuckerman explains, adding that they also share a similar surrealist, dreamlike quality. Pulsating with color and emotive figures, individual works are linked by subtle visual cues, like a rose found in Narrett’s embroidery and a neck tattoo on Ferrell’s portrait.
Room #2336, “Redrawn”
Gaughran took the premise of his exhibition from the 2013 book The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman. “Schulman makes the case that the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s is what really fast-forwarded gentrification in American cities,” Gaughran explains, acknowledging the many young creatives who died from the epidemic and left behind homes and other real estate spaces. Inspired by this idea, “the show as a whole features work by artists who deal with permanence and then the reconstruction after that.” The show spans Anthony Montuori’s video game work that digitally recreates a Felix Gonzalez-Torres installation—“you have the opportunity to engage with the work; the game ends when you lose interest”—and curtains by Jodie Mim Goodnough on the windows. The curtains are printed with photographs of peaceful green landscapes, taken from the sites of former mental hospitals in the process of being transformed into luxury condos. Gaughran is an independent curator and also participated in SPRING/BREAK last year, with a presentation called “Appropriate(d) Behavior.”
Caroline Larsen and Adam Mignanelli
Room #2365, “Mirror Mirror”
For their presentation in a sprawling, former reception area, artist-curators Larsen and Mignanelli divided the space equally and curated each other’s paintings, which picture vibrant plants and flowers. Painted a rich turquoise, the space is hung with paintings on each side, and centered by a swarm of plants in matching turquoise planters and ceramic pots by Larsen. “Our styles are super different, but our materials are similar; we both paint with oil and that the use of color is a consistency,” says Mignanelli. More than anything, the artists agree, “it’s of an expression of happiness and having fun.” Larsen, a Brooklyn-based artist who shows with The Hole, is known for highly textured paintings created with pastry tubes, while Mignanelli has his own curatorial endeavor called Ballast Projects—though, recently, he has been primarily focused on his own art.
Will Hutnick and Mark Joshua Epstein
ROOMS 2352 & 2353, “TO SEE THE MOON FALL FROM THE SKY”
Inspired by the cosmos, Hutnick and Epstein took over a former secretary’s desk and a corner office with a constellation-like installation of works by nine artists entitled, “To See the Moon Fall from the Sky.” “We took the planetarium as the basis of the exhibition and invited artists who were working with concerns about the cosmos and the universe, looking upward, but being rooted in the present day and reality,” Hutnick explains. Highlights include the small paintings of Dan Perkins, crisp geometric patterns painted in day-glo colors; photographic works by Tiffany Tate, including a work with a blue and orange rock that appears to be glowing; and Devin Balara’s whimsical sculptures, including a wiry work pierced by a fake peach. “Also, given the political climate, we were playing with notions that artists would look upwards to the universe and space as a way to retreat from everyday life,” says Hutnick, who is residency director at the Wassaic Project and recently curated three group shows at Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn. Epstein recently curated a show at E.TAY Gallery in Tribeca.
Justin de Demko
Room #2203, “I was thinking about everything and then again I was thinking about nothing”
The curator and director of Castor Gallery in the Lower East Side, de Demko had long been looking for the opportunity to do a solo presentation of Tamara Santibañez. “This is a dreamlike state, a remembrance of her room growing up as a teenager,” he says. “Everything is nice and crisp and clean, you remember certain things like your ACDC poster, but you don’t necessarily remember what color your sheets were.” The Mexican-American Brooklyn and L.A.-based artist is also a tattoo artist (she’s even given de Demko tattoos) and was inspired to work in ballpoint after seeing prison tattoos. Though de Demko mounts 12 shows per year at the Lower East Side gallery, he aspires to include four or five installations per year in the gallery’s program, including the Michael Pybus show that opens this week, which marries a garden of Pikachu dolls and Ikea furniture.
Rick Herron and Christopher Stout
ROOM #2322, “BLACK MIRROR, PINK REFLECTIONS: PORTRAITS OF QUEER IDENTITY IN CONTEMPORARY ART”
A steady crowd filtered through Herron and Stout’s installation of contemporary portraits of queer identity, many to get a good look at the kinetic wall sculpture by Peter Clough, a system of ramps and levies that cause wooden balls to zoom through the artist’s inverted, naked body. “We are trying to find different ways that people are looking at queer self-portraiture,” says Herron, pointing at the range of works, from Anthony Viti’s “fuck bench”—“it’s like a portrait of Anthony’s desire”—to a stunning, realistic double self-portrait drawing by Danny Coeyman. The New York-based Herron recently curated a 21-person group show on mentorship in contemporary art at CFHILL Art Space in Stockholm in December; and co-curated “Powerful Babies: Keith Haring's Impact on Artists Today” at Spritmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016. Meanwhile, Stout runs his own Brooklyn gallery, which he recently converted into a nonprofit with a politically pointed remit, called ADO Project, Art During the Occupation.
Room #2319, “RHW Enterprises”
Together with six artists—Mia Berg, Hannah Goff, Tora López, Roz Morris, Willy Somma, and Laura Tiffin—Dvorkin has curated a durational performance that takes shape as a fictional factory where artists (and hired performers) work at plinths to create sculptures on a mock conveyer belt. “They're all present and on display, but at the same time they’re abstracted, because they’re all wearing uniforms and it’s hard to tell their identity,” Dvorkin explains. “But they’re creating really personal work, and working with each other’s materials. It’s a constant contradiction of whether or not it’s a reflection of the self.” Though Dvorkin recently curated a selection of works from The Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection at The Peninsula Chicago, and has worked on the collections of hotels like the Eventi in New York, this is her first time curating performance art.
ROOM #2250, “AMERICANAH”
Inspired by the 2013 novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Becker presents “Americanah,” a project of three New York-based artists—Bradley McCallum, Lisa Blas, and Daapo Reo—who have visually and conceptually re-envisioned the American flag. “What I liked about that title and that novel was that it was about belonging and living between three continents...and in the end belonging is really more about experience and time than about nationality,” says Becker. Long fascinated with Americana—“artifacts of American culture”—she notes that the artists are using the American flag to deconstruct and reconstruct what it means to be American. Reo’s patchwork flag is the centerpiece, accompanied by a text that urges viewers look at it after taking a shot of red wine, though just as powerful are paintings of flag burnings by McCallum, done in oval, portrait-like compositions; and the fractured flags of Blas in paintings and photographic works. An established curator in the U.S. and South Africa, Becker is working on curating a Johannesburg show of McCallum’s work and a politically-driven drawing show of women artists at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco that opens this month.
Room #2374, “RESONANCE STRUCTURES”; 23rd floor elevator lobby, “EXTROSPECTION”
Morales is the curator behind two separate, large-scale installations at SPRING/BREAK. The first, by Michael Zelehoski (giant wooden dome sculptures in the elevator bay), and the second by Jason Peters (a winding network of glowing orange tubes in a pitch-black room). Morales was inspired to curate interactive presentations. “Look at that Pipilotti Rist show at the New Museum,” he says, “people who aren’t even into art were going, and I think that's exciting.” Inspired by the rise of dreamy, experiential, and interactive art, like Rist’s, he decided to show the Peters work, which invites viewers to enter the darkened room and engage with the glowing sculpture. Recently, Morales curated a show for Bushwick Open Studios. Titled “Holla Back!,” the show is comprised of 30 women artists who had been sexually harassed in the art world.
Jess Carroll and Emma Clough
ROOM #2247, “I NEED A PLACE TO SPEND THE DAY”
An antidote to the flashing billboards of Times Square, Carroll and Clough assembled a thoughtful respite of paintings, photography, and installations with works by three Canadian artists. “We were really interested in creating something serene and simple, and one of the artists, Brad Tinmouth, wanted to create a social space,” says Carroll. Works included reference nostalgia and domestic interiors, from Tinmouth’s furniture made of soil packages, buckets, and plants, to the muted paintings of Brian Rideout, picturing found imagery from design magazines of the ’70s and ’80s. Based in Toronto, the pair run their own gallery program called AC Repair Co. in a former garage space.
Room #2369, “Fragile Model of the Universe”
One of the few understated presentations at SPRING/BREAK was Topchiy’s solo presentation of Columbia MFA student Bryan McGovern Wilson. The muted space is centered on a white sculpture made entirely from paper, an elegant white scaffold with a leopard perched on it edge, while the artist’s minimal glass works—sleek black panes, yellow-and-blue striped squares, and circular works made from melting down black marbles—activate the surrounding walls (McGovern Wilson is professionally trained in glass-blowing). “Bryan’s engagement with materials, specifically materials such as glass and paper hold the capacity for information storage, transmission, and perspective,” says Topchiy (full disclosure: Topchiy is an employee at Artsy). She has been working on her curatorial project CoWorker Projects for several years, which has seen her curate shows at previous iterations of SPRING/BREAK and in art spaces across New York.
ROOM #2351, “C + C”
Driven by the Black Mirror theme, Cueva divided his space in two for the complementary work of artists Kat Chamberlin and Amie Cunat, both of whom employ abstract, visual languages. “They share ideas of structure and organizing space,” Cueva explains, adding that their work also inspires us to consider the environment we inhabit. Chamberlin’s extremely detailed, delicate pencil drawings hang at the back of the space; networks of symbols and codes, they allude to her upbringing in Turkey, where her family had to hide their Christian religion. Cunat’s brightly colored wall drawings pose a strong contrast; flattened shapes intertwine in an exuberant wall painting titled Church, which is hung with playful ceramics that echo its motifs. An artist and curator based in Brooklyn, Cueva has recently curated shows at Underdonk Gallery in Brooklyn and the Proto Gallery in Hoboken.
Room #2236, “THEM”
In what appears to be a former production room, Sullivan has capitalized on the sterile office vibe with a project that considers how humans engage with objects, and how artists can breathe life into non-living things. Katherine Behar’s work grounds the space, with an astroturf-green carpet and two zooming roomba vacuums topped with potted plants, while sculptures of giant crumpled balls of paper by William Powhida elevate mundane refuse to the scale and medium of shiny blue-chip artworks. On a countertop, a row of encased coconuts, readymades by Dominic Nurre, sit like living specimen under observation; and a video by Danielle Webb streams—one in which she navigates a forest while dressed in a sheet of paper. A New York-based artist and curator, Sullivan has an ongoing curatorial endeavor of one-night shows, called Four Letter Word Projects, where the only parameter is that each show is titled with a four-letter word.