When the conversation grew too promotional, too professional, or simply too much, I ducked out of the throng of young dealers and headed to the quieter side of the terrace at the Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The pastel blue of the pool and the soft pink glow of the balcony lights made the night feel plush and clubbyan atmosphere in tune with the PR strategy of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). Bigwig dealers are keen to tell you that nada means “nothing” in Spanish, but proud NADA members had traveled from far-flung places like North Carolina and Massachusetts to attend this summit.
It was the first humid evening of the inaugural NADACON, an amorphous series of weekend events, which included the opening party, one brunch, three collection tours, one artist-curator talk, one panel discussion, and one private roundtable meeting that I was reminded multiple times I was not allowed to attend. NADA, according to their mission statement, is about honest dealing and community and not, as their epithet might imply, selling art. The party was collegial. Dealers and gallery assistants clanked bottles of swampy Grolsch and exchanged well-rehearsed repartee. As the night wore on, the poolside became ever more dominated by dealing, the kind that’s usually preambled with wheeling. In other words, the sort usually found at “the fair”two words that dripped off lips in rushed whispers like an impure thought.
The NADA brass welcomed me with open arms. I was handed from NADA fair director Heather Hubbs to NADA president Andrea Smith to NADA cofounder John Connelly back to Smith and finally to President Emerita and NADA mastermind Sheri Pasquarella, who presided over the event like last year’s prom queen. Upon being asked why she stepped down from such heights, she responded, “NADA needed to spread its wings and fly, like the Mariah Carey song.”
The next morning we gathered for a brunch of dim sum, chicken feet, and Bloody Marys at Black Dragon Society’s new space in Chinatown, where the young dealers in young art were looking a little gray. After breakfast, new NADA member and art advisor Lowell Pettit championed NADA’s supportive network and waxed lyrical about the strangeness of the word dealer in the association’s name. “It highlights the excess and exclusivity of our business,” he said. “But what other professions call themselves dealers? Antique dealers, car dealers, card dealers!"
The next day, the shuttle bus, a mighty beast of seasoned age whose history was marked by the scraped-off casino logo on its side, took us from the Standard to the Ovitz Family Collection in Santa Monica. Ovitz was not in attendance, but collection curator Andrea Feldman Falcione led the tour with a sophisticated intern, Julianne Rosenbloom, in towa step up from the Broad collection tour, where a recently recruited intern led the proceedings alone.
Past the imitation-brass Lichtenstein of a setting sun in the courtyard and through the glass front doors, I walked into the lobby and was greeted by a Kippenberger nude portrait of Michel Würthle. Walking from office to office, I observed the work of Raymond Pettibon, Julie Mehretu, Ed Templeton, Diane Arbus, Peter Doig, and many of his students. There were a cluster of Leipzig artists, a Richard Prince for every occasion (one painting appropriately included a check made out to Ovitz for $175,000 to “Buy Back Painting”), and a large number of Blum & Poe protégés. Although most pieces were stunning, the rhyme or reason of the collection was, let us say politely, impossible to discern.
After a question from Pasquarella, who chewed gum and blew bubbles throughout the tour, about whether the employees knew the value of the work on the walls, I asked Feldman Falcione, What is the unifying force of the collection? She had dropped hints about Ovitz’s tastes; he doesn’t really like video, he once had a penchant for photos, but he’s now seriously into imagistic paintings. After hemming and hawing about space and process, she eventually proclaimed with a tone of finality, “We buy works we like.” The tour ended. As Feldman Falcione was swarmed by NADA dealers with outstretched business cards and inquiries about unsolicited submissions (she accepts them, by the way), I asked her intern what she thought the collection was all about. “I work under a Richard Prince,” she said with a shrug. “I'm not sure, but . . . he knows what he's doing with his money."