One way to tell that the NADA art fair, now in its second year, is officially on the map: Collectors snuck in Tuesday, two days before the official opening, while galleries were still unwrapping works fresh off the trucks. One way to tell that the NADA art fair is still experiencing growing pains: At the press preview just before Thursday’s opening, many of the booths were still in darkness as electricians made last-minute adjustments. (There were audible cheers whenever a booth’s lights unexpectedly switched on.) Inability to see the art didn’t seem to slow down the buying, though: New York gallerist Oliver Kamm reported selling almost everything in his booth within an hour of the opening; the owner of another young gallery (also based in New York, home to almost half of NADA’s sixty exhibitors) said: “All day Tuesday it was LA collectors saying, ‘Me, me, me!’” When asked whether anything was still available at his booth, Daniel Reich, characteristically laconic, replied, “No . . . nothing’s available . . . no . . . not really.” A prominent New York collector, contrasting NADA with Art Basel, summed it up thusly: “This one: refreshing. That one? Ho-hum.”
With so many people packed into the space (along with collectors and members of the press, gallerists Andrea Rosen and Jay Jopling, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman, and other bigwigs were on hand) it was often difficult to assess the art, and the prevalence of incredibly dense salon-style installations didn’t help. Only one gallery (Vilma Gold) opted for a single-artist statementà la, say, Michele Maccarone’s presentation of Christoph Buchel & Gianni Motti’s pointed Guantanamo Initiative in her Art Positions container on the beachand only IBID Projects, based in London and Vilnius, kept things minimal: three walls, three artists. Their booth included the paintings of young Janis Avotins, born in 1981, whose age and stylistic influences might, pace Artforum’s November issue, suggest the descriptor “'The Tuymans Effect’ Effect." There was, as expected, a bicoastal onslaught of small, brightly colored, and often faux-naïve works on paper. Worth noting among this crowd were Canadian artist Brad Phillips’ delicate watercolors presented in a vitrine at Wallspace Gallery’s booth. The best of thesea picture of his girlfriend lying on a bed beneath a brightly colored blanketuncannily recalls an Egon Schiele drawing on long-term view at the Neue Galerie in New York. Elsewhere, several Europeans stood out. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for straight lines or maybe I simply needed something cool to take my mind off the Miami heat, but I was especially taken with Camilla Løw’s sculpture of four diamond-shaped Perspex panels dangling in the sunlight just outside Sutton Lane’s booth; Felix Schramm’s demure architectural fragment (an art fair-scale example of his larger installations) at Grimm/Rosenfeld also looked strong. But the latter work points to another problem that besets artists at both fairsparticularly those working in media that don’t allow multiples and editions: what they send to fill their dealers’ booths is not always representative of their work at its best. Faced with a production-line schedule requiring a solo show every two years at one (or several) galleries and works for an ever-increasing number of fairs, many artists in Miami voiced a wish that they could simply slow down. They were savvy enough coming out of MFA programs to find strong galleries to represent their work (and despite its increase in size over the last year, a majority of those participating in NADA are indeed galleries with strong programs); will they be savvy enough to leverage their sold-out shows into time for concentration in the studio?
None of these concerns were voiced too loudly at NADA's raucous Friday night party at the Sagamore Hotel, where Art Basel and NADA dealers rubbed shoulders with scruffy twenty-something artists and their friends in the rear garden by the pool. At 1:30 the crowd was herded out the front door so hotel guests could get their sleep, and the party split in two: some headed north to the Raleigh Hotel and others south to Bar Deuce. The procession of artists, dealers, collectors, and curators felt like an impromptu recreation of Francis Alÿs’s parade from midtown MoMA to Queens a few years back (though thankfully no one was holding Kiki Smith aloft). While walking, one New York dealer, who despite my prodding insisted on remaining anonymous, said: “This year the Frieze Art Fair felt like Basel set down in Regent’s Park in London. I think the NADA Art Fair is what Frieze was meant to be.” Odd comparison perhaps, given that from the beginning the London fair has emphasized top-drawer galleries in a pristine David Adjaye-designed venue. But the comment does underscore the general sense that NADA's spirit of camaraderie and the sharpness of its gallery selections has provided a welcome contrast to cookie-cutter corporate fairs around the world.