“It's hotter than Beacon in here!” a performer calling himself “The Court Stenographer” announced inside the small theater set up at Basilica Hudson. It seemed Beacon, the better-known artsy hamlet about an hour south down the Hudson River and home to the Dia Center, would be out-arted this weekend, all because of NADA Hudson.
NADA Hudson, a project put together by the New Art Dealers Alliance, was imagined as a large scale exhibition rather than an art fair. 51 participants, including galleries from as far away as Chicago, San Francisco and Milan, presented projects that, according to the press release, would “build upon the character of a historic venue in showcasing contemporary sculpture, installation and performance.” When asking both attendees and dealers what their impression was of NADA Hudson, I heard something different. “It's the Phish show of art fairs” people told me, perhaps a reflection of the proliferation of tents (some with tie-dye) on the lawn outside and the camping out in the countryside atmosphere. Though I can (Sadly? Happily?) only imagine what a Phish show would be like, I personally think it was somewhere between these two descriptions.
For some reason, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary for a pile of artists and dealers and hipsters and collectors to descend on the bucolic city of Hudson. Its main drag felt as if it had been lifted from some nice part of Brooklyn and plopped down in the countryside. Art galleries, farm-to-table restaurants, eye-poppingly expensive antique stores and the ever-ubiquitous real estate offices abounded. People seemed to enjoy the familiarity of these things mixed with the fresh air and mountain views. Yet, there was something slightly disturbing about strolling past the local store windows and stopping when you realized you had just passed a Cindy Sherman. Down past the Amtrak station, near the river, was our true destination — Basilica Hudson. Built in 1884 as a foundry, it is now used a multi-purpose art space that offers nearly 8,000 square feet of indoor space and more than 10,000 square feet of outdoor space.
Next to a bouncy castle, which seemed to constantly be in the process of deflating, was a delicious project by Allegra LaViola Gallery artists Jennifer Catron & Paul Outlaw who are known for creating immersive experiences with food. Consisting primarily of a star-spangled and striped truck, which the artists procured and outfitted themselves, adding a hydraulic patio for dining, Jen & Outlaw's Fish Fry Truck and Crawfish Boil was created to bring a little of the south to us Yankees. Everyone was raving about the food, especially the cornmeal-crusted, fried pickles.
Across the lawn from the fish truck was a tent run by Brooklyn's Dunham Place Salon which featured a “performative interaction” by LA-based artist Matt Seigle. Titled “Loop,” every participant who wished to approach the artist and talk was rewarded with a drawing. In this case the drawing (a DIY version of the Africa-shaped guitar from the 1985 Live Aid concert) was made on an inside-out, thrift store-purchased, charity give away t-shirt, and explored ideas of commodity, nostalgia and historical fetishism.
Across the field was a familiar sight to all who had attended NADA's County Fair in Calicoon last summer. Taking the form of an old-fashioned photo booth, this project is by painter Melora Kuhn. Vistors pay a fee to be dressed in old-timey costumes, are given props, and have their photo taken in front of a hand-painted backdrop. While seemingly a standard boardwalk or county fair activity, ultimately these photographs become part of a larger artistic project rather than shoved in a drawer or glued in an album making this “Foto Booth” the most interesting of its kind.
There were several other outdoors sculptural projects, including a project called Dynasty VIP, by Rancourt/Yatsuk and presented by Kate Werble Gallery, which involved a cream-colored stretch SUV limo parked outside, with full service bar and AC blasting. While the 90+ degree temperatures on Saturday really made this tempting, the $40 entry fee could not be justified, even with the free alcohol, when there were $5 beers inside the main exhibition.
Inside the Basilica was a much different experience. More reminiscent of the Independent Fair than Lollapalooza, no booths were to be seen and very little by way of signage and labels identified the mostly sculptural work. It didn't seem to matter, however, as people meandered back and forth around the beautiful space checking out what was on offer. NADA Assistant Director Katie Loughlin seemed pleased, acknowledging that the show had come together nicely and seemed “cohesive as one unit.” She also mentioned, as did many of the exhibitors, that collectors, advisers and curators had begun filtering in at 11AM sharp and were still arriving all afternoon alongside some pretty well known artists, including Marilyn Minter, art lovers, families with kids and dogs (lots of dogs), and a handful of intrigued locals. By 5PM, the food and drink window, run by delicious local restaurant Swoon Kitchenbar, was out of beer (except a stout which no one seemed to want on a such hot day) — another good sign.
One project highlight inside included new works by Fabienne Lasserre at Jeff Bailey Gallery. Lasserre characterizes her works as existing between sculpture and painting and they worked beautifully here, complimenting the space, the surface of the walls and floors, and the light filtering through the windows.
The center of the main exhibition space inside the Basilica was dominated by primarily totemic sculptures — so many that it almost resembled a strange cemetery. Included in these were 4 sculptures shown by Bureau, a LES-based gallery. Especially strong was Justin Matherly's piece made of concrete and walkers which, contained shapes and motifs that nearly perfectly echoed the shape of the building. Bureau head honcho Gabrielle Giattino noted that a sculpture made of human bone by Tom Holmes was the clear favorite of all the many canine attendees. And the dogs' least favorite work? That honor was bestowed upon Brian DeGraw's “The Thinker,” at James Fuentes, a statue that stares pensively at a Blackberry. The piece received many barks in my presence.
Over at Greenberg Van Doren, a series of video works and accompanying sculptures by Tim Davis, filled the booth. Davis teaches at Bard just down the road. His documentary video work, “The New York Upstate Olympics,” includes vignettes depicting sports like Snowman Jiu-Jitsu, the Jalopy Roll, and — my favorite sport — “Fencing,” where the artist, in full regalia, literally battles it out with barrier opponents including those of the barbed-wire and white picket varieties. I especially appreciated this work in the context of NADA Hudson. The best non-site specific projects tended to be those that could be thought of as regionally specific and made a viewer appreciate where they were.
Off of the main room was a smaller space housing projects by organizations like Audio Visual Arts (AVA) and commercial galleries like Invisible-Exports. Invisible Exports success lay in giving away free art – a technique that succeeded in wrangling me back several times. Their Chicago-based artist Phillip Von Zweck used his incredible tabletop Xerox machine to make editions from original art work created for him by artists like Lisa Kirk, Walt Cassidy, Cary Leibowitz, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The edition was capped at the number of prints made during the fair, so I picked up 5 different pieces for myself, each hand stamped by the artist.
Beyond static projects, there were scheduled a series of performances throughout both days. Saturday's Michael Mahalchick series of dance vignettes taking a comic look a variety of historical and modern dance was the clear highlight here. From Elizabethan chamber music to free jazz and heavy metal Mahalchick's performance not only entertained but drew in the crowds. Brooklyn-based artist Timothy Hull said Mahalchick's performance was the only reason he came.
Overall, NADA Hudson went well beyond providing an excuse to get out of the city for the weekend; it created a unique platform for collaboration and interaction, while retaining a festive and lighthearted attitude — something your typical fair could really learn to do better. Let's hope this doesn't become a one-off project as next year should be even better now participants have a deeper understanding of the space.. On top of that, the weekend seemed to be fun for everyone involved. If this is what a Phish show is like, should I reconsider my career and start following the band? Nahhh.
Dave Harper was Art Fag City's first curatorial fellow and is the curator for visual arts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He has been an individual member of the New Art Dealers Alliance since 2009.