7 Artists Who Stole the Show at Spring/Break

Alina Cohen
Mar 6, 2019 5:09PM

Art and politics mingle in the very architecture of the 2019 edition of New York’s Spring/Break Art Show. Now in its eighth year, the scrappy upstart (which offers more affordable art than most fairs this week) hosts over 100 curators and works by over 400 artists in a United Nations building—on a floor, in fact, that formerly housed the Liberian and Finnish consulates. “It’s interesting to have art confront these spaces that are bygone,” Spring/Break co-founder Andrew Gori said during yesterday’s VIP opening. Office spaces once used to promote international relations now house bold contemporary sculptures, paintings, drawings, performances, and more: The show, then, facilitates a more colorful form of cultural exchange.

Below, we highlight six particularly vibrant presentations that embraced this year’s theme, “Fact and Fiction,” through which curators presented work that imagines alternate selves, political realities—and a gender-non-conforming guitar band.

Jon Key and Bianca Nemelc

Booth W15; Special Project: Ross + Kramer; Curated by Ché Morales

Artists Jon Key and Bianca Nemelc have created two rooms, across a small hall from each other, which alternately represent masculine and feminine space. In Key’s den (or, as Nemelc describes, his “man cave”), the viewer finds a purple tiled floor, rug, and walls. On the walls hang Key’s paintings related to his invented character, The Man in the Violet Suit. The bold, graphic works feature a red chair, a man among green stalks, and men’s heads against sharp backgrounds. (Paintings in both artists’ rooms are priced from around $2,000 to $12,000 each.)

Nemelc, in contrast, has created a faux kitchen with a jug, chair, and plant painted against the warmly hued walls. Three hanging paintings feature a nude woman pouring water. The artist painted streams that flow from the paintings, down the walls, and into a puddle in the middle of the gallery. “You find your own self and your own skin within the realm of the kitchen,” Nemelc said. “This is using the kitchen as a safe space for your identity, for exploration, and for figuring out who you are. This is a puddle of emotion, identity, of exploration, and meditation.”

David B. Frye

Booth E7; Curated by Mary Gagler


Painter David B. Frye mounted a series of his “Lincoln Paintings” against a very fitting background: a wall painted to look like a wood cabin. These are not odes to the 16th president, though. Instead, they’re cheeky eviscerations of the American hero, featuring him engaged in lewd sexual acts (with a mermaid and a slave), and catching coins thrown by a nude woman (a stripper, perhaps, given the nearby pole) who stands on a spotlit red circle that resembles a penny and reads “In God We Trust.” Frye has also created a white wood sculpture of Lincoln with very long, pipe-like genitalia.

The artist was inspired by what he perceived as excessive restrictions regarding sex in American society, and a comparative lack of concern for violence. “I began to think that people were manipulating history to the point that it was almost farcical,” Frye said. “I decided that I would paint pictures that used sex and racism together to create a farcical landscape, sort of like an alternative American history based entirely on lies.” In our post-truth era, the laughably slanderous tableaux are particularly apt. Painting prices range from $4,000 to $5,000, while the sculpture (wonderfully titled Sick Semper Tired Anus) costs $40,000.

Shona McAndrew

Booth E28; Curated by Lauren Powell

Artist Shona McAndrew has recreated her bedroom with remarkable detail in curator Lauren Powell’s booth: A bright pink bra lies on the floor beneath the bed, near a stack of magazines and an end table with a jar of peanut butter on top. Everything, besides the bed, is in papier-mâché. Two life-like sculptures of the artist and her boyfriend recline, nude, on the sheets.

McAndrew’s art-historical references abound. An Alice Neel book lies under the bed, while Pierre Bonnard and Gustav Klimt books sit on the dresser (where there’s also a cheeky little potted plant in a vessel resembling multiple breasts). The bright room also features Henri Matisse patterns. The artist, who was born in Paris, said, “My whole childhood was going to the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay. I thought ‘art’ was people in bed lounging—the reclining nude. I like that it’s my boyfriend who’s reclining, and I’m interacting with his more flaccid body, literally his flaccid penis and his limp body.”

Jesse Harrod

Booth W18; Curated by Danny Orendorff

Installation view of Jesse Harrod curated by Danny Orendorff at Spring/Break, New York, 2019. Photo by Samuel Morgan Photography. Courtesy of Spring/Break.

Artist Jesse Harrod just started taking guitar lessons, but she’s more interested in creating an imaginary band than actually playing in one. At curator Danny Orendorff’s booth, you’ll find her printed wallpaper on wood that looks like bright band posters for her faux music group, Vagina Toucher. Gori called them “an alternative to macho ’70s cock rock.”

In the images, non-binary figures play instruments that resemble phalluses. “So much of that culture is so male-dominated,” Harrod said. “The guitar is so obviously an extension of the penis for so many artists.” Decorative stripes and yonic figures contribute to a busy, psychedelic aesthetic (prices range from $300 for a print to upwards of $5,000 for large works). Harrod’s bright, hanging macrame sculptures are also on view—reminiscent of the work of Ruth Asawa, if the late artist had been on acid. “I fell in love with her use of craft and exploration of lesbian, queer communities,” Orendorff said, lauding Harrod.

Serena Perrone

Booth W29; Special Project: Cade Tompkins Projects

In a quiet alcove away from the hubbub, Cade Tompkins Projects’s sweet, light-pink booth is a perfect venue for Serena Perrone’s delicate multimedia work. Two of her print series are on view: “A Volcano Pilgrim in Exchange for Fire” (2010) (depicting deep blue volcanos) and “Maintaining a Safe Distance and Living to Tell” (2012) (in which surreal red landscapes are filled with calamities ranging from a tornado to a falling tree). Perrone also created the fabric for a chaise lounge, filled with cloudy shapes and red diamonds.

The real standout, however, is Perrone’s Fata Morgana/Mondo Nuovo (2016–17), which offers a lovely little peep show inside a white porcelain box. Gaze into a small side hole, and you’ll see layers of print and watercolor, coming together to form a lush landscape and nude figures. In the booth, visitors may receive a small letterpress with an Italian phrase that means “Everyone says that wool doesn’t burn.” Tompkins explained: “Rumor in [Perrone’s] hometown in Sicily is that vengeance is taken by setting a sheep on fire and sending it out to your neighbors. But the truth is that wool doesn’t burn.” (Prices range from $200 for a letterpress to $18,000 for Fata Morgana/Mondo Nuovo.)

Nadine Faraj

Booth S10; Curated by Anna Zorina Gallery

Outside of Anna Zorina’s booth, a gallery representative supplies visitors with small flashlights. They walk into a darkened maze, winding around until they enter a large, central space. The flashlights reveal a craggy white surface with colorful, brushy watercolor renderings of nude women, body prints, outlines of hands, and plants.

The artist, Nadine Faraj, has invented a mythology about this space: It’s a cave in northern Iraq, as yet undiscovered by archaeologists. The work offers an imagined ancient sisterhood, diverse in color and body type. There’s even an apparent dominatrix, wielding a black baton behind her head. The presentation breaks into separate panels, which are priced between $6,000 and $14,000 apiece. Faraj’s watercolors are also on view at the gallery’s Chelsea location.

Alina Cohen