What was the NADA Art Fair like in the early 2000s? Putting their heads together, Chicago-based artist Tyson Reeder and NADA Director Heather Hubbs recall the past decade of the art fair Reeder describes as “a visual equivalent to Woodstock/Lollapalooza/Coachella”—swapping stories of cars full of coconuts and a lawn performance involving an inflatable white limousine. In advance of next week’s NADA fair, where Reeder is a long time veteran, Artsy arranged a chat between the artist and director: they’ve been friends since NADA’s very beginnings, and neither will have a moment to spare once the fair opens its doors—like last year, when Reeder was busy co-hosting his Beach Painting Club, where artists (like Naomi Fisher and Jim Drain, among others) were found painting on the Deauville Hotel’s beachfront, en plein air. In his chat with Hubbs, Reeder looks back on ten years of NADA and asks Hubbs to recall her favorite (and craziest) memories, the creative freedoms that have made them possible, how NADA has earned its place as the “artists’ fair” —and ultimately, what she hopes young artists might take away from the experience.
Tyson Reeder: I’ve known you since back in the day in Chicago, and have fond memories of NADA forming right around when I started showing in New York. There was a certain shift in attitude among young artists I identified with in the early 2000s that included things like collectivism, performance, and alternative models of distribution—artist multiples, music, and clothing. NADA was embraced by a lot of my peers from that time as the only fair that made serious room for such things. And it had cool hammocks. What are some of the precedents and conversations that you think led to NADA feeling like a new kind of “artist’s fair” right from the beginning?
Heather Hubbs: Before working with NADA I was with Thomas Blackman Associates (TBA) in Chicago. At that time, Chicago had a large number of really amazing alternative spaces and collectives, many being run by artists. Law Office, The Suburban, Suitable, FGA Space, Dogmatic, Joymore, Deadtech. Since there weren’t all that many galleries in Chicago showing young artists working and living there, they figured out ways to show their work and the work of their peers on their own. This was not only hugely inspiring but it also proved the alternative scene was, in some ways, taking over and becoming the real voice for what was happening in Chicago at that time. In 2001, TBA started a show called The Stray Show. (“Stray” was a term coined by Chicago critic Chuck Mutscheller in 2000 to describe the spaces involved in the resurgence of the alternative art scene in Chicago during the late ’90s.) I guess the word spread and soon we had alternative spaces from all over the country and even Puerto Rico taking part. Warsaw Project Space, Cincinnati; Revolution, Detroit; Daniel Reich, N.Y.; M&M Proyectos; Soap Factory, Minneapolis; K48, N.Y.; LURE (Lighting for Urban Rooftops Environments), Philadelphia. I suppose it was “growing up” with this scene of artist-run spaces in Chicago that informed my sensibility in the beginning. So it was naturally what I would bring to NADA when I joined in 2004.
TR: One early Miami memory is of an insane dance performance by Black Leotard Front (Christian Holstad, Gavin Russom, and Delia Gonzalez) on the NADA lawn involving an inflatable white limo, cardboard tommy guns, balloons, and of course, black leotards. It was one of those moments where you forgot you were at an art fair, that any commerce was going on, which seems like a hard thing to achieve. I’ve always been interested in the less celebrated performance story that runs parallel to major visual art movements, whether it’s the Dadaists Cabaret Voltaire or Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus ballets. How do you see performance fitting into an art fair? What works or doesn’t work?
HH: I remember that performance well. I spent hours picking up the pieces of the hot pink balloons that were released all over the garden of the Ice Palace that day. Cleanup was somehow not on the agenda for the performance, so the owner of the building and I did it; he was not happy. I still think it’s important to have performance at art fairs, though some performance works better than others. NADA usually has some performance element included and the nature of that changes depending on what’s presented. At this year’s NADA New York show, we worked with Sam Gordon and Café Dancer who put together a performance program entitled “Contemporary Dancing”. The program included 18 performances, which took place in various locations at the fair, some inside, some outside, some roaming and integrated, some “on stage.” Because the curator took such care in making sure that each performance was executed in a way that didn’t compromise the performers or the exhibitors around them, they all seemed to work well. Performance is transporting, at least when it’s done right, and that in itself seems like a nice and appropriate thing to experience when at an art fair.
TR: [Yes], remember you spending much of the next day [after the Black Leotard Front performance] chasing down stray balloons to get them off the property. The pressurized, temporal nature of an art fair seems to leave it open to a certain amount of mayhem as opposed to a long-running exhibition or biennial. What is the craziest shit that has ever happened at NADA?
HH: The craziest shit? Here’s a short list: a dealer gets jumped; marriage proposals; a car full of coconuts; my purse is stolen, my car gets towed, an assistant disappears.
One year, when we were still doing the fair at the Ice Palace, I arrived onsite with my contractors to begin building the show—only to walk in and see the that owner of the venue decided to move the interior columns on the building! This to me was seriously one of the craziest things ever. I could not believe how he could think that this would not be a big deal and that I would just be able to roll with it. We had to completely redo the floor plan for the show to accommodate the new location for all the columns and all this only days before the opening. Booth sizes changed, aisles changed, it was a nightmare.
TR: Conversely, what are the creative freedoms that the fair structure allows? What keeps it interesting for you?
HH: There is something about being a nonprofit and the Board system that works well for me and feels really collaborative. We are able to make decisions and react quickly which allows us to change, add, or edit things easily. It’s refreshing to have the freedom to work in a way that is receptive to the needs of our participants.
TR: Teaching painting in Chicago, every December I see more of my students make the pilgrimage to Miami to have their minds blown by both the art and the critical mass of young artists in one location. It’s like a visual art equivalent to Woodstock/Lollapalooza/Coachella that didn’t exist when I was younger. What do you want these younger artists to take away from this four-day vision quest?
HH: It’s true. Miami Beach does seem to draw more young artists than some other locations and there are probably several reasons for that. It’s usually beautiful at that time of year, it’s cheap if you all share accommodations, the parties are fun and there are so many of them. However, it can be quite confusing and overwhelming and some might leave never wanting to return, and others will want to go back again and again. It would be great if artists left Miami with a better sense for what they want for themselves. Miami may feel like one big commercial party but there is much to be learned and gained if you remain receptive. And Miami has its own great history of alternative art spaces and idiosyncratic programming, including Bas Fisher Invitational, Locust Projects, Twenty Twenty Projects, and more recently, The Formalist Sidewalk Poetry Club, to name just a few.
TR: Thoughts on [Kanye West’s song] “Bound 2”?
HH: The song is really not good.
At right, view Heather Hubb’s highlights from this year’s fair followed by works by Tyson Reeder from Roberto Paradise at NADA Miami Beach.