Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly’s SPRING/BREAK Art Show poses a tricky question: is there an effective and inclusive alternative to the traditional art fair model?
From humble beginnings in a Nolita gymnasium, SPPRING/BREAK is now an alternate prototype, one that aims at being more cohesive and accessible to those within and outside the art world.
Having recently finished its third year with record attendance, solid sales and rave reviews, SPRING/BREAK Art Show is now a major force in the very competitive art fair landscape in New York City. Gori and Kelly spoke to M Daily about their art fair model, art world politics and why they even bother trying to change the status quo of exclusivity.
Could you talk about the conception and organization of SPRING/BREAK Art Show?
In 2008, it was a toppling of galleries, record labels and film production companies. We started doing one-off events in an old gym in Nolita, featuring artworks, experimental music and films by kids the establishment stop taking chances on. In 2011, after years of orchestrating similar shows around town, which turned into "exhibitions" more than "events," we discovered the Old School just around the corner from the gym. That spring we helmed a one-night extravaganza in the Old School with the aid of the New Museum. The following March of 2012 we expanded the concept of appropriating non-traditional exhibition space for a full week, concurrent with The Armory Show, as a way of challenging/improving upon the trade show model.
Curators seemed key to this quandary and crucial to establishing the tone. We set a single exhibition theme each year that individual curators could bend and mold. Thus, it became an ideal breeding ground of curated exhibition, cerebral salon and teeming Old New York-style art party.
You describe SPRING/BREAK as a "break" from the traditional art fair model. What were some of the things about the traditional format that needed improving?
Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of new art fairs launched globally. "It's 5 o'clock somewhere" could easily become, "It's arts week somewhere." With the popularity of fairs, there was this bandwagon that unleashed trade show after trade show centering on salable artwork.
Selling artwork is wonderful, and an artist making a living is essential. Art fairs are great, showy creations, but we wanted more from the experience of walking in and out of gallery booths and jumping from one concept to the next. We were uninspired by the lack of a unifying cohesion while shifting between artworks.
How could we appropriate this entity known as an 'art fair?' How could we use it to maximize an experience beyond the buy and sell? For us, it was by imagining a museum exhibition in a forgotten city building-a space atypical for exhibition. Here, artworks can be contextualized by a central idea, and then sold as an afterthought.
Tell me a bit about the pieces, curators or artists who participated this year?
Marlene Dumas (curator: Natasha Becker), paintings by Richard Prince (curator: Kathleen Cullen), an intimate art exchange between mentor and pupil Alex McQuilkin and Michael St. John (curator: Marina Schindler). Then there’s Amani Olu’s lie detector tests performance, Jordan Eagles blood illuminations (curators: Tracey Causey-Jeffery, Amy Kisch) and Walter Robinson's sleazy book cover paintings (curated by us). There’s Sean Fader's Wishing Pelt (curator: Elizabeth Denny), Joe Namy's gorgeously ironic portrait of tourist videography (curators: Vanessa Albury, Rachel Rampleman), Monia Lippi's unsettling Google Earth-style photos (curators: Eve Sussman, Simon Lee) and Jack Henry's gallery colonnade (curator: Adam Mignanelli), to name a few.
This year’s SPRING/BREAK Art Show also initiated an Alumni Collection – welcoming back artists from previous shows for site-specific new works. This included: Eve Sussman and Simon Lee's performative installation based on Tarkovsky's Stalker (curated by Maureen Sullivan), Grace Villamil's installation (curated by Amanda Schmitt), Will Rahilly's squeamish, surreal photographs using analog techniques to imitate the digital self (curated by Curacao Calymayor). Fall On Your Sword is also did a drive-in theatre.
In your statement, you discuss different types of exposure in the art world as well as in every day life. How do you see the world changing around concepts of exposure and concealment?
Certainly Andy Warhol's 15 minutes goes without saying. These days, humiliations are much more possible for publication, but heroism also has a more easy show-and-tell. More than ever, we're our own publicists – inventing not a fantasy of glamor, but a fantasy of “who we really are.” Curator Ben Sutton's works in SPRING/BREAK especially addressed this, and all of its monstrous undertones.
What do you hope will be the long term influence of SPRING/BREAK?
SPRING/BREAK's aim is to make the art world remember to be excited about itself. The stereotyped art-world paradigm–jaded snark and boredom mascara–seems vastly outdated, yet tirelessly rehearsed. Art spectatorship and criticism easily hinges on a feedback loop of ho-hum drudgery. This beast is a ridiculous gothic monster who believes itself removed from people, hijacked in a Gagosian tower having long-forgotten how terrible and impressive it can be to cause dissent. After too many designer suits or third wives, at last, recognition in the mirror: an asshole from the mind of God, a golden beggar. Not frozen in some board member’s wallet, but rather brazen and ballyhoo, lightning fast, weaponized and in everyone's strictest confidence. Something the collector, the museum, the dealer, journalist, artist and board member all have an untapped power to elevate. Anything out of the ordinary in this industry helps. We're attempting out of the ordinary.
How political is the motivation behind Spring/Break?
Tricky. Political in the sense of a cultural agenda? Well, its existence is perpetuated by an obvious shortcoming in the current art fair mentality. But again, we aren't above art fairs in general, and certainly promote the sale of art works. We're just an argument for doing what the exhibition of artwork has tended to pretend to always be about: electing a choice of approach – and there happens to be a lot of cookie-cutter art platforms not doing that. Not electing a curatorial choice in how they operate. This feels quite obviously "un-art."
The art world's own politics are only concerned with those who feel at their mercy. We sell artwork, get emerging artists gallery representation, give mid-career and established artists an opportunity to explore new processes outside of their gallery routine and all through a conceptual exhibition model ideally closer in temperament to the 1913 inhabitation of a very un-museum-like place - an armory. Despite all of this, in regards to the art industry's politics, quite happily, we could not be bothered.