A Night in the Art World in NYC

A few days ago, I got to attend the opening of the Spring / Break Art Show, a curator-driven art fair, at 4 Times Square, the old Vanity Fair offices. The show is on until March 6th this year, and there was a lot of really thought-provoking work to see. Known for being edgy, Spring / Break had everyone excited, and it was clear from the crowds queueing that this was a night the art world had been anticipating. Over 150 curators showed work from over 400 artists – and a stuffy old office space was transformed into make-you-stop-and-stare art, with large windows overlooking the neon brilliance of Times Square.

This year’s theme, as you’ll see throughout the post, was self-portraiture, and the way in which artists and others can reveal and conceal their identities. Here are a few pieces that caught my eye:

This large-scale (she was life-size!) papier-mâché work was in an exhibit titled “The Staging of Vulnerability”.

After wandering through a few exhibits, a flashing neon sign caught my eye.

It was the work of Anthony Haden Guest, who we then had the pleasure of meeting, as he invited us inside his exhibition space.

Mr. Guest heard a conversation my friend and I had outside his installation space, and was inspired to make a quick piece as we watched. It was such a special experience to see him put pen to paper.

This is what he put together. His other work includes iconic quotes from across time and cultures penned in beautiful calligraphy. Each of the prints I saw was handworked and carefully detailed.

Artist Taja Lindley posed for me after I had the pleasure of watching her video performance titled “This Ain’t A Eulogy: A Ritual for Remembering”. The touching video showed her dancing amongst an array of black balloons and garbage bags – discarded materials – that represented, to her, the treatment of Black people in the United States.

This work, by Cate Giordano, took two weeks to create. She told me it was made of mostly cardboard, wire and tape. The work depicted an every day household. Besides this man sitting in an arm chair, there was also a kitchen scene, with a blonde-haired lady at work, and a puppy, curled up on a sofa. The work was large enough for five or six people to walk in at the same time, to be immersed in the experience, and there was incredible attention to detail in how the scene was set up. One aspect that had all the viewers talking was the front page of the newspaper placed by the armchair. Who was that, depicted front and center?

This artwork was by stream of consciousness creator Shantell Martin, as part of “The Skin We Are In” exhibit curated by Emie Diamond and Anne Huntington. This piece seeks to explore racial identity, as Shantell says, “I am an artist who is black and white, working mostly in black and white.”

This almost-frightening “mask” is a small part of an installation by Valery Jung Estabrook. Her space had a series of these “masks”, depicting ready-made personalities or looks that one could get in a box. In the photo below, the mask’s box is titled “Miss America”. There was a TV playing a series of images and clips from the Miss America pageant and others, and a constant audio recording saying “All Asians look the same.” The whole set up was immersive, and powerful, showing to me how easily society sometimes erases identity, and how we try so hard to fit into categories that others understand.

I’ll leave you with my favorite bit. This interactive installation, titled “I’ll Be Happy When”, by Jonathan Rosen tried to show that “wanting” is a never-ending, ego-centric part of our reality where we are constantly seeking the next thing that will make us happy. This mirror was the center piece of the exhibit, which featured six large collages (you can see the one constructed entirely of naked Barbie dolls in the blurry background behind me in this photo). The mirror had the words “I want” fixed on it, with hundreds of “desires” flashing beneath, changing from second to second. Viewers were encouraged to take a photo (as I did) to reveal their deepest desires. I was also told that the desires were programmed to flash at the speed of an iPhone’s camera shutter speed, so each photo would reveal a perfect, distinct desire.

All photos are property of Zainab Zaheer. Special thanks to Raegan Sealy for inviting me.