The ADAA Art Show Is the Sophisticated Aunt of Art Fairs
The sprawling Park Avenue Armory fair, thoughtfully and spaciously curated, is never too stuffy or zeitgeisty.
November 2, 2023
The handful of art fairs I worked as a student were enough to give me a twinge of sympathetic anxiety on my way to the 35th edition of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) Art Show. Preview nights always run on adrenaline and tiny snacks, teetering on the edge of frenzy, but the mood in the Park Avenue Armory was remarkably composed, almost calm. That’s not to say it was dull — it was busy, there was plenty of buzz, and the gossip was that Bruce Springsteen was coming and that at least one gallerist had had the guts to ask for a photo with Martin Scorsese (though I didn’t see either).
I was entranced by the way Rodrigo Facundo’s paintings play on the ornamental patterns of 18th- and 19th-century wallpaper and fabrics, bringing to the surface the histories that lurk in the background of their designs. Amid the floral motifs are human and animal figures drawn from colonial illustrations and art — I noticed references to William Blake’s engravings of enslaved people in 1770s Suriname, botanical and anatomical texts, religious icons and royal portraits. “I’ve had five different favorites,” senior sales associate William Isbell told me about this body of work by Facundo, first shown at the gallery in the spring. I can see why. I was drawn into the booth by the baroque colors and textures, but mesmerized by the detail and layered allusion and allegory.
At Nathalie Karg Gallery, Nina Childress’s booth presentation titled I ❤️ Pat & Colin is a loving and strange tribute to her late friends, art collectors Pat Hearn and Colin de Land. The artist’s use of iridescent and phosphorescent materials is immediately eye-catching without being gimmicky; instead, it feels like her way of capturing the radiance of the people in her life. Though it was difficult to fully appreciate their glow under the ADAA’s lighting, gallery manager Claire Felonis showed me “Colin cigarette” (2023) floating eerily under a blacklight, transforming the large portrait into something much more ghostly.
The 2023 Art Show
I also appreciated recent works by Diana al Hadid ahead of her solo show at Kasmin Gallery, expanding her signature textural richness to new surfaces like mylar and giving a teaser of her recent collaboration with the Brooklyn-based paper-making nonprofit Dieu Donné.
Without question, the most photographed and whispered-about work was Kurt Kauper’s hyperreal nude painting of Cary Grant, bigger than life size and deeply uncanny. Despite Ortuzar Projects and Mark Selwyn Fine Art joining forces to create a double-width booth for Kauper’s paintings, the largest I saw at the fair, I found it the flattest and least interesting. After the initial giggle, most attendees I saw seemed to feel the same — few people lingered longer than it took to take a photo, and the most common adjective uttered by the visitors I spoke to was “fun.” Joel Mesler’s expressive series of portraits The Rabbis (2022) drew the crowds all night long — though that may have been helped by Cheim & Read’s generous provision of caviar.
It was the smallest and subtlest works that I found most compelling at the Art Show, though. Jasmin Sian’s presentation a forest for Fennel, shown by Anthony Meier Gallery, is a laborious act of devotion to the memory of her bird Fennel featuring gorgeous paper tributes cut from scraps and food wrappers. Sian’s lace-like papercuts depict the flora and fauna of Texas and New York in a way that captures their fragility and transience.
Tucked in the furthest back corner of the Armory is Robert Projects’s debut ADAA booth, showing a collection of subtle and intimate paintings by Lenz Geerk. When I asked gallery owner Bennett Roberts about his first time at the Art Show, he commented on its smaller scale compared to other art fairs and noted that it changes the kind of conversations he’s had, drawing “great curators” looking for work for museum shows rather than the usual commercial buyers. That tone shift allows galleries to bring more complex pieces, such as Geerk’s, that are “not in fashion … they’re not going to fit the puzzle pieces of what you expect,” Roberts said.
Geerk’s paintings are beautifully quiet, with a muted color palette and soft texture. Their eerie and intense quality benefit from being out of the main drag of the show. I was briefly alone with the paintings, and appreciated the moment of respite before heading back out into the crowd.
The Art Show feels like the sophisticated aunt of art fairs: Most booths were thoughtfully and spaciously curated, and the mix of older and new works means it’s never too stuffy or zeitgeisty. Instead, the works on show here strike a careful balance between debuts of works in progress and rediscovered gems. The Art Show is a neat little teaser for galleries’ recent and forthcoming shows, and this year’s was a perfect tasting menu of what’s to come in the winter.