While the mega-trend for intricately painted nail art has rapidly spread across the jewel-encrusted digits of celebrities like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Beyonce, independent curator Rita de Alencar Pinto has spent the past three years bringing this accessory phenomenon to the art world. Pinto’s company, Vanity Projects, has been staging pop-up nail painting events at MoMA PS1, the Brooklyn Museum and NADA since 2010, and now has a permanent “nail art atelier” on Chrystie Street, one flight up from Chinatown’s fish vendors.
The small, minimal second floor space offers manicures and pedicures within an arty ambiance: A series of rotating exhibitions of contemporary video art are projected on the salon’s white walls, and visitors receive a set of wireless headphones to listen audio from the works while sitting for elaborate manicures that take upwards of an hour to complete and start at $50. The current exhibition, “Girls, Girls, Girls,” features pieces by 10 female video artists — Sophie Lisa Beresford, Jen DeNike, Keren Cytter, Marta Dell’Angelo, Jeesu Kim, Kristin Lucas, Tala Madani, Shana Moulton, Shannon Plumb, and Eve Sussman.
Vanity Projects also takes cues from traditional arts spaces with its nail artists-in-residence program, which has invited the best talents in the industry — including Britney TOKYO, Spifster, and Hana4 — for two-week stays in New York on an ongoing revolving basis.
The salon specializes in art history-inspired manicures, featuring noted works by de Chirico, Magritte, Dali, Miro, Warhol, Picasso, Lichtenstein, Pollock, Mondrian, and even Wolfgang Tillmans. At the Brooklyn Museum’s Artists Ball earlier this year, Elizabeth Sackler, benefactor of the museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, had Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” painted on her nails. “We recently did James Turrell and a bunch of Surrealist themed ones, in addition to artists in the MoMA collection,” says Pinto. “I think a Matthew Barney-themed manicure would be really fantastic.”