Why Vanity Projects Is More Than A Brush And Bottle Business

There's no reason to have a boring manicure and what's more exciting than original art?
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There's no reason to have a boring manicure and what's more exciting than original art? The downtown New York nail atelier and gallery Vanity Projects is combining the two, instilling art world prestige into the art of the nail.

Founder Rita de Alencar Pinto, who has over a decade of experience as a curator, conceived the space to function like an artists' residency program. It includes the most innovative nail artists, often discovered through social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, whom Pinto invites to work at the atelier.

Video artworks playing on the walls, meant to be viewed by clients as they get their nails painted, supplement the gallery's fine art premise. "Video is a perfect medium to watch when getting your nails done, because you can't move!" says Pinto, who curates new exhibitions every six to eight weeks.

Pinto, who herself obtained a nail license last year, began approaching nail artists about her idea in 2009. The project started with workshops at art fairs, including NADA Hudson and NADA Art Fair in Miami in 2012. This past January, MoMA PS1's director of development Angela Goding invited Pinto for a three-month residency holding weekend pop-ups in the museum. Since opening Vanity Projects this summer, Pinto has also acquired a small roster of artists who she represents commercially for photo shoots and campaigns, including Nail Swag, Jane Weiner, Miku Tsutaya, Britney Tokyo, Mr. Luis and Raqster Nails.

Though Marc Jacobs may have insinuated the demise of nail art when he introduced a clear nail polish in February 2013, Pinto isn't concerned. "Different things are coming in and out of focus," says Pinto. "I don't think that nail art is dead. I think that [things like] a plain strawberry on your nail -- that's over. The artists at the forefront are only getting better and better. They're doing major magazine shoots and are included in museum art shows -- really high-end projects."

Artists might draw on fashion, art history, music, sports and beyond for inspiration, so clients are sure to leave with one-of-a-kind nails (and usually 10 of a kind; artists rarely paint each fingernail identically).

Chicago-based nail artist Tacarra Sutton, who goes by Spifster, is doing a summer residency at Vanity Projects. As I watched the current video art show "Girls, Girls, Girls," which consists of video works exploring the female psyche, Spifster gave me minimalist nails mixed with abstract line patterns.

nail art

The aesthetic was something I'd sooner expect to find in a modern art museum than on my fingertips. It also happened to complement my simple personal style, but Spifster had already picked up on that. "I've always had this great sense of reading people," she said. "I don't know how it comes about, but I'm usually spot on with my clients."

It's not just a brush and bottle business: artists rely on a variety of methods to get the polish just the way they want it. Spifster and Pinto shared a few tricks of the trade:

1) Try using makeup sponges to get a cool gradient effect.

2) For some serious glitz, you can attach a gemstone with a dab of acrylic.

3) Don't settle for just the brush that comes with the bottle: different sized brushes give you more room for creativity. Spifster also recommends using a simple soft paint brush from a craft store. "The paintbrush can be tripled in use", she explains. "A corrective brush for mess-ups at the end, use in ombre-styled nails and for fun splatter."

4) So your new nails don't risk damage, make sure to finish with a layer of Seche Vite -- Spifster's quick dry topcoat of choice.

The most important thing to remember? Don't hold back. "Hands willing to get dirty and an imagination," Spifster says, are among the most important tools she uses.

If the inspired art produced at Vanity Projects continues to pick up momentum, we all have a world of artful nails to look forward to or, at least, many dazzling handfuls.

Vanity Projects is at 99 Chrystie Street in New York. Hours are Noon to 8PM daily. For more information visit their website at

Vanity Projects

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