Quiet moments cut through the noise at Spring/Break Art Show 2023

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Spring/Break Art Show has returned to the labyrinthine offices of 625 Madison Avenue for its 12th edition, slicing through the blue-chip pomp of Armory Week with its signature flavor of shaggy DIY. For the fair’s 2023 iteration, titled !WILD CARD!, participating curators picked from the 11 Spring/Break themes of yesteryear, updating well-trod concepts with brand-new artists. Featuring more than 120 exhibitors and special-project stands, this year’s rollout also boasts an Artist Spotlight section, where artists submitted directly to founders Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori for a spot in a centralised salon-style show.

!WILD CARD! feels less feral than it does frenetic, an experiential mainstay of the blaring Spring/Break brand—artists must contend with the chequered floors, fluorescent lighting and cubicular mazes of Ralph Lauren’s former headquarters, so standing out from the crowd proves no small feat. While all of the expected table-top ceramics and bawdy figural paintings abound at !WILD CARD!, it is in gentle moments of vulnerability and felt, authentic weirdness that the fair’s indie intentions truly shine.

Stand 1065 might initially seem unassuming to passersby, but curator Meghan Doherty’s TechTerra collection, which highlights the squishy intersection of biology and synthetics, takes a slick, fresh approach to 2013’s theme, New Mysticism. The Brooklyn-based artist KC Crow Maddux layers the graphic glibness of laser-cut resin with the poignancy of abstracted nude photography—a prayerful, flux-foward nod to the maker’s trans identity. (“It’s very layered, very interior,” Doherty notes.)

KC Crow Maddux, Vessel III, 2022 ($2,600) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

Alongside Maddux’s work hang Elise Thompson’s dreamy acrylic shadow-boxes, which incorporate glass beads, paper and vinyl to psychologically fraught effect, haunting and entrancing the viewer in equal measure.

Elise Thompson, Crawl, 2021 ($4,500) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

On the same floor, at stand 1058, Miami’s Contemporary Art Modern Project Gallery, or CAMP, takes on the 2020 theme of In Excess through the “overwhelming imbalance between gendered gazes” in its Freaks of Nature presentation, which features a nightmarish suite of small oil-and-polymer paintings on wood by the New Jersey-based artist RJ Calabrese. “These are very involved; they take him almost a year to make,” says Chloe Fabien, director of communications for CAMP. “Some of the elements are embedded, some of it is painted, there are portions glued on. He has a violent streak to his work.” These tiny, horrific illustrations imbue surreal tableaux with a folksy frankness and sly, pseudo-religious flair.

RJ Calabrese, Bunker Room IV, 2023 (not for sale) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

Plenty of other artists meld humour and fear in their !WILD CARD! works, but New York City-based curator Lingfei Ren expands that fusion into feminine poetics with her selections at stand 1127, tucked away against a back wall on the 11th floor. The Tel Aviv-born artist Yuli Aloni Primor has contributed a stark, stunning floor sculpture, Madison (2019), that updates the intimate effect of feminist icons like Eva Hesse or Kiki Smith for a new era. As a headless fiberglass torso attempts to escape her sinking plinth, the weight of art history and the presence of the viewer seem to arrest her efforts mid-movement.

Yuli Aloni Primor, Madison, 2019 ($17,000) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

Only a few feet away hang a series of spare, hazy paintings (by the Chinese-born, New York City-based artist Katinka Huang), which articulate the rageful isolation of girlhood in just a few gestures.

Katinka Huang, Untitled, 2022 ($400) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

Winsome decoration always find purchase (literally) at Spring/Break, and this year is no exception. At stand 1157, the Brooklyn-based artist and welder Mary Gagler delights with her cravenly opulent Fabergé Omelets, bejeweled ceramic dishes that glint and glimmer with grotesque immediacy.

Mary Gagler, Fabergé Omelet (Yellow), 2023 ($950) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

At stand 1010, Jen Dwyer, another small-scale sculptor, offers irreverent ceramic wall hangings that lend a heartfelt charm to their brightly coloured anthropomorphism.

Jen Dwyer, Morning Ritual No. 2, 2023 ($2,000) Courtesy the artist via Spring/Break

Dwyer’s careful construction and winking sense of fun perfectly encapsulate the spirit of Spring/Break—scrappy, self-sufficient and deliciously off-kilter.

  • !WILD CARD! is on view through 11 September at 625 Madison Avenue, New York

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