Casual Affairs

New York

Left: Musician Malcolm Mooney with artist Fia Backström. Right: Dealer John Connelly. (Photos: Brian Droitcour)

In July, galleries think they can break the silent contract to be open Saturdays and throw together group shows like nobody’s looking, because anybody who’s anybody is somewhere other than Manhattan. The upside is that the nobodies are still willing to make the effort to put on a good show, which is what happened Saturday at the NADA County Affair on Twenty-seventh Street and Fia Backström’s midnight Poetry Club at White Columns.

With an association of galleries hosting the first event, I expected to find art for sale, but the “fair,” held in the street, was devoted to more rustic forms of commerce: tag sales, bake sales, a raffle, and giveaways. The highest-priced items were the Museum of Miniature Art’s little portraits of Barack Obama, which sold for sixty dollars. Artist Scott Hug used the opportunity to unload old issues of K48 and other vintage curiosities, including Batman action figures based on the early-1990s animated series that would fetch more on eBay than in Chelsea. Dealer John Connelly, like Hug, cleaned out his storage and put together a one-man thirdhand clothing store, selling T-shirts, sneakers, and intimate apparel.

Left: Artist Tyler Coburn, artist Martha Friedman, and Wallspace's Jane Hait. Right: Artist Joshua Smith and curator Jennifer Teets. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

But most of the fair’s offerings were either edible—like sculptor Martha Friedman’s zucchini cupcakes—or otherwise ephemeral. Artist Joshua Smith and curator Jennifer Teets, inspired by Lucy from Peanuts, offered advice for twenty-five cents. At Klaus von Nichtssagend’s booth, Liz Luisada conducted experiments in automatic drawing, inventing stories on the spot for blindfolded subjects to illustrate or giving instructions for a celebrity’s portrait without revealing that celebrity’s identity until the sketch was finished. Tyler Coburn nailed Grace Jones.

I caught a performance by the two women of Vos, who danced in American-flag-themed costumes as Old Glory herself burned in the street. (“Isn’t that illegal?” someone whispered.) The fair concluded with an announcement of the raffle’s winners, who walked away with prizes including a Banana Republic weekend bag and designer sunglasses from Mary Ping. At 6 PM, participants packed up their Magic Markers, finger paints, cookies, and ice cream and dispersed.

Left: Artist Karl Holmqvist. (Photo: Brian Droitcour) Right: Colorwheel's Kat Mareck, Bec Stupak, and Malcolm Stuart. (Photo: Dawn Chan)

Art was fun for everyone at the County Affair, but the late-night entertainment at White Columns promised to be a bit more highbrow. Backström’s Poetry Club was the coda to an exhibition she organized that I wouldn’t have recommended to anyone who doesn’t like to read standing up. A group show about the discourse surrounding group shows, it displayed clusters of press releases, a framed review, and transcripts of Backström’s theoretical dialogues about the show itself, to name just a few of the printed materials competing for attention. The Poetry Club provided a pleasant contrast: You could lean against the wall as the texts were served to you one by one.

The program opened with Malcolm Mooney, the original vocalist-lyricist for the early Krautrock band Can. Mooney read impassioned political verses to a jazzy, synthesized accompaniment. After writer Ariana Reines read Chris Kraus’s seminostalgic account of life as a stripper in New York in the early ’80s, there was a break, so those who arrived after the 12:30 AM kickoff could partake of the open bar. The atmosphere deteriorated during the next three numbers, the crowd made restless by microphone malfunctions and the free alcohol. But Swedish artist Karl Holmqvist rescued the night with his half-sung, elliptical meditations on lovers and mothers, constructed around pop lyrics and strung together across puns, homophones, and breathy, monosyllabic chants.

For the twenty or so stalwarts still in the gallery as 3 AM approached, White Columns director Matthew Higgs read from Sean Landers’s 1993 confessional [sic]. The passage oscillated wildly between self-doubt and self-love, with the latter most evident in the artist’s infatuation with a woman who expressed interest in his art and bore a physical resemblance to him. (“Her nipples were of my flesh.”) Higgs said that Landers could not be present to read because he was in Montauk. The possibility that Landers, who fifteen years ago wrote with the angsty uncertainty of a nobody, was now weekending among the somebodies, might have given hope to the young artists in the audience—at least to the ones who are in it for the Hamptons.

Brian Droitcour

Left: Klaus von Nichtssagend's Sam Wilson and Ingrid Bromberg Kennedy. Right: Artists Clayton Deutsch and Eva Struble. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

Left: NADA's Dana Gentile and Frederic Janka. (Photo: Dawn Chan) Right: Peggy Jo Pabustan and Alexia Lewis of Vos. (Photo: Brian Droitcour)