Spring Break: A Review
The short version of my Spring Break Art Fair review is this: overall, the level of artwork presented was strong, and certainly a welcomed break from the high-gloss monotony of Armory. Admission is fair ($5.00) and the atmosphere friendly.
But what Spring Break does best—and why Spring Break is a joy to attend—is make good curatorial choices. Spring Break is a celebration of the curator—the art curator—at every turn. This feels particularly important now, when many are unsure of what it is exactly a professional art curator ought to be. So while I loved the artworks I saw at Spring Break, and I’m rooting for them all to be sold in spades, I’m not going to be writing about them here. This is a review of Spring Break Art Fair the curator-driven art fair. This is a review of Spring Break’s curatorial choices.
There were a number of moments where curators really shined. Jordan Eagles, curated by Tracy Causey-Jeffery and Amy Kisch, was mesmorizing. In the awkward, sea foam green stairwell transitioning to the second floor visitors were bathed in projections of blood samples pressed between large plexiglass plates and stacked. A project like Eagles’s at an art fair could have been a prime candidate for eye rolling, but the display tempered any heavy-handedness. The projectors alone were a sight to be seen: scattered with enough abandon to feel whimsical, yet masterfully orchestrated to project onto every inch of the hallway and still announce themselves as their own gorgeous, sculptural composition.
Another moment was on the third floor, in the small rooms of Walter Robinson paintings curated by the fair’s founders Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori. These rooms displayed paintings of mid-century heroines and couples in cinematic-esque embraces. Installed into the shelves and hanger space of one room’s closet were Robinson’s smaller painted portraits of women assuming more sexually-forward poses, flashing bras and pulling at pants. Placing Robinson’s selfie paintings in the dark closet, tucked behind the doorway, lends just enough darkness to the works to balance their conservative, painterly style. The contrast between this group of paintings and the paintings in the rest of the rooms also delivers a one-note punch that feels just right for the quickened pace of an art fair.
A noteworthy point about Spring Break is that it’s comprised of individually curated shows that respond to a broader curatorial theme. This year’s theme was PRIVATEPUBLIC, where the fair asked, “…what is concealed? Unspoken? Implied? How does this align with competing impulses within the artist practice?” I went to Spring Break the first year it ran, when the theme was Apocalist – A Brief History of the End,” exploring the “21st Century fixations on The End.” For Apocalist, each floor represented a different stage in an imagined apocalypse—pre, during, and a utopian post. What was great about Apocalist was how an overarching narrative unfolded as you traveled from the first floor up to the third, with smaller stories peppered in along the way. It was like a curatorial onion, piling on just as many new layers as were being peeled away. There was a sense of thrill in feeling your physical movements choreographed, like you were somehow reading a book with your body and pace. This year’s theme, however, didn’t allow for a similar narrative flow, or perhaps the curators simply chose against it. This seemed like a missed opportunity, for a curator-driven art fair that dares to stake its reputation on the strength of art curating as practice. It was also a persistent reminder of the fair’s fair-ness: a reminder to move quickly, to glaze over artist statements, to look at artworks but wonder about their retail, and to see art curation as a gift, and not a guarantee, of the experience.
It was great to see how far-reaching Spring Break curators were in the scope of artworks collected. Site-specific installation, video, digital works, audio, and a healthy serving of performances accompanied prints, drawings, and photographs. Surprisingly with so many curators (the site boasts forty), no one medium felt heavily preferred over another. There was also a considerable geographic reach, with content touching on South America, Latin America, Asia and Africa. Ironically enough, it’s precisely the quality of artworks and level of curatorial consideration underpinning the fair that also sets the expectation that this reach might have been more ambitious than it was. It would have been great to have seen some more politically-forward rooms, and with a theme like PUBLICPRIVATE there’s really no limit to how this could have played out.
If Spring Break stands apart from other fairs during Armory Arts Week then it is because it does so by standing on the shoulders of its curators. The variety, quality, and scope of artworks brought to this fair are a reminder of the purpose and significance of the art curator. It is because of these individuals’ ceaseless curiosity and aptitude for making visual and thematic connections that visitors get to see such a spectrum of objects and displays, all packed into one tiny venue. Perhaps more than this, though, Spring Break is also a reminder of the labor value of the art curator: a professional lifetime dedicated to endless research, crawling the internet, reading books and magazines, going out and spending time in burgeoning artistic communities, repeated studio visits. It is an unsung value that seems aptly, if not ironically, highlighted against a retail-frenzied Armory Arts Week.