Contemporary art Fairs News USA

Nostalgia is what it used to be

The Verge art fair harks back to a bygone era, before fairs arrived

Spinal Tap, 2013, Rai Alexandra

Contemporary American art was born in SoHo in the early 1970s. The rent was cheap, the spaces were large and artists had time to experiment. On Spring Street in 1968, Donald Judd set up shop in a cast-iron building that today houses his foundation. It was cleaned up over the past few years and reopened to the public last spring. The beautiful makeover of the building, along with the generously installed art inside, did justice to Judd's life and work, but is also obscured the rugged nature of SoHo life from a bygone era before there were Apple stores and boutique fashion outlets.

At the Verge art fair, which is on Prince Street just blocks away from Judd's former studio, artists are showing work that echoes the neighborhood's unrefined past. The painter Rai Alexandra, for example, is exhibiting a group of abstract pictures covered in bandages and gauze. They are tactile works, and she stresses that they are meant to be physical. "I didn't want to put them in a glass case and protect them," she says. These paintings are already protected enough by medical supplies, which imply that there is something more raw underneath.

Nearby, the photographer R.A. McBride is showing a series of pictures taken in old San Francisco movie theatres, many of which have since been closed. The photos depict these places as ruins, relics of a city that has much in common with the current SoHo; formerly unpolished, San Francisco is quickly becoming one of the most expensive cities in the country due to a seemingly limitless tech-boom.

"Maybe there is some nostalgia with our fair," says the founder Michael Workman. And there certainly is. The work is pining for something that is long gone: an art world that was unsophisticated in the best sense, where there were fewer fairs and less money. Turning back the tide is a hopeless affair, but that doesn't mean artists shouldn't aim for the impossible.

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