NEW YORK — If Frieze New York’s greatest challenge is to transform the foreign-seeming Randall’s Island into a hospitable place for an art fair, the inaugural edition of NADA New York has the opposite conundrum. How do you take a familiar space that for years has hosted a well-loved and successful art fair and make it your own?
“It does feel like I was just here,” said Untitled’s Joel Mesler, who set up shop inside the former Dia Center for the Arts on the same floor less than two months ago for Independent, the Armory Week fair that prefers to think of itself as a “temporary exhibition forum.” Still, there were palpable differences between the two events: NADA’s architecture firm Common Room built solid booths, which contrasted sharply with Independent’s open layout and gave the affair a business-like air. “We wanted to make sure what we did looked different from Independent, and also what we’ve done in the past,” said New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) founder Heather Hubbs.
One element wasn’t different from NADA’s well-known art fair in Miami, however: brisk sales. “This is the best opening day for a fair we’ve ever had,” said Risa Needleman of Invisible-Exports, noting that she had sold at least one piece from every artist in the booth. Untitled, Lisa Cooley, and Eleven Rivington all saw their booths sell out, or very nearly sell out, on the first day. Untitled featured a solo presentation of totemic, wooden sculptures by David Adamo, ranging in price from $12,000 to $22,000, while Eleven Rivington brought small paintings (some even smaller than a post-it note) by Spanish artist Jeronimo Elespe, ranging in price from $1,500 to $12,000, and a large and colorful wooden wall piece by Michael DeLucia for $10,000.
Asked about the difference between NADA New York and Independent, Eleven Rivington’s Augusto Arbizo said, “This is definitely a fair. I don’t think anyone is going to not acknowledge that. I mean, there are walls, there are booths." This walled-in design also allowed NADA to feature more galleries than the former Dia building has seen before, 67 in all. And though the alleyways sometimes had the unintended effect of making this visitor feel like a rat in a maze, they also seem to have encouraged galleries to mount more paintings than we often see at NADA Miami, or even at Independent. Indeed, it was a bit surprising — though not in a bad way — to see more sound art and video at Frieze than at NADA.
Among the highlights were petite, surreal, luminous paintings of boys by the sea from the 25-year-old British rising star Seth Pick, on sale for $3,500 to $4,900 from the London gallery Clerence Mews. Martos Gallery mounted a solo presentation of the fictional artist Henry Codax, half of which sold within the first hour and a half for between $6,000 and $10,000. (The true artists behind Codax’s piercing monochrome paintings is subject to much speculation.)
Franklin Parrasch Gallery mounted an impressive suite of Rita Ackermann paintings from 2008, all depicting dreamy, creepy nurses, two of which had sold by mid-afternoon for $17,000. The gallery paired Ackermann’s paintings with six delicate grid drawings by Agnes Martin, ranging in price from $135,000-200,000, one of which had sold by 3pm. Leo Koenig sold several textured canvases by Tony Matelli for between $12,500 and $25,000, created by the artist’s rubbing of his studio walls. (Meanwhile, a small Carl Andre six-sided floor piece, though unsold, seemed like a bargain — at least if you are a deep-pocketed collector — for $50,000.)
Works on paper were also in high demand. Within the first hour, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery sold a wall full of Ruby Sky Stiler’s petite woven paper pieces for $1,500 each, created by slicing and weaving together pages from different art history textbooks on Greek and Roman sculpture. Also sold was a large, meditative drawing atop antique ledger book paper by Louise Despont for $12,000. A number of small, geometric works on paper by Sadie Benning also sold from Vogt Gallery for $3,500 each.
With affordable booth prices — booths come in two sizes, large for around $11,500 and small for $4,500 — most dealers seemed to have turned a profit on the first day. (Not bad for the first year of a fair.) These days, several dealers said, the challenge isn’t always selling the work, but having enough work to sell at the radically ballooning number of art fairs while still maintaining a cohesive program at their storefront spaces.
“It’s taking a little more work pushing artists to have pieces that you can exhibit at the fairs,” said Arbizo. But make no mistake, noted dealer Lisa Cooley: artists will always prefer showing at galleries over art fairs, despite the chance to make quick money. “As one of my artists said to me recently,” she recalled, "‘History will be written on what gets shown at the gallery, not what gets shown at an art fair.’”