Fanzine Does New York Art Week 2011 (2)

Bradford Nordeen


What exactly is the Armory Show? It’s not a show, really. Last night, as I made my way through the endless corridors of galleries, I kept referring to it as an exhibition, then pausing for a retraction. “Think of it as a shopping excursion and you’ll have much more fun,” my companion recommended. And this is the truth behind much of the thriving art fair culture – hell, the art world, itself – that is seldom discussed directly by its practitioners. It’s a truth that glimmers as institutions like the Armory tend to foreground any conceptual claims with monetary ones. (The press release boasts an expectation of $40 million in “economic activity.”) I remember growing physically nauseous when I experienced the bald capital flowing through the doors to 2008’s Art Basel Miami Beach, how my idealistic years at art school suddenly became grounded in commerce. But this year’s “show” has nothing on that scene.

I think it was somewhat impressive that the real big money fixtures seemed to not factor as much in the contemporary wing (Pier 94) of the Armory. Nary a Cindy Sherman nor Paul McCarthy were in sight, as many galleries have graduated to the modern wing (Pier 92) or opted to participate in the Art Dealers’ Association of America’s The Art Show, the oldest fair on parade. Which leaves the Armory in an unsteady but interesting place. There were tons of Louise Bourgeois drawings and one sculpture, due to the increased market demand in the wake of the artist’s recent death. But more timely trends emerged from this newer crop of artists, where Andrea Bowers sort of becomes the new Sherman. Most lean (of course) on painting – smeary, gloppy, dripping figurative or abstract painting. Mixed media processes that layered washes over photographs, posters, collaging print images into the swarthy brushstrokes. A particular favorite was Adrian Ghenie at Mihai Nicodim Gallery, who smears thick, psychologically-charged washes over the face of his photocollage-like paintings. Elsewhere, raw and energetic painting met with similarly vivacious exhibition approaches. Untitled Gallery allowed patrons to flip through Andrew Hawn’s canvases, which were stacked against the walls like a record collection. CANADA Gallery’s fantastic installation pitted vibrant rugs, stacked one atop the other, against their similarly vibrant painting assortment by Carrie Moyer, Jess Fuller, Michael Williams, Katherine Bernhardt, and Joanna Malinowska to name a few.

Neon shown bright across the 274 galleries. Signs reading, “I think I’m in love” and “Adjective Adjective Adjective Adjective Adjective” still sit in the shade of Glenn Ligon’s amazing Untitled (Negro Sunshine). While that piece is not on display here, it certainly set a new standard for neon signage after gracing the cover of a 2006 Artforum. The first of three exceptions came in the form of An He’s “What Makes Me Understand What I Know Now? No. 1,” which was made from found Chinese commercial characters and spread across an entire wall. The dissected signs spelled out her deceased father’s name, then the name of a popular Japanese porn actress. Another noteworthy neon came from Claire Fontaine at the impressively vibrant Moscow-based Regina Gallery, whose red Karl Marx portrait flashed out a white “Thank You.” Peter Liversidge’s old-fashioned light bulb installation delivers “The Thrill Of It All” as truncated by Ingleby Gallery, in a smart move that sets the piece back behind a narrow gap in the white wall, frustrating the incandescent message. Of course, the showstopper (there’s always got to be one) is Ivan Navarro’s booth-long white picket fence, a theatrical gesture that makes excellent use of an otherwise empty Paul Kasmin Gallery lot. Break out your cameras, folks.

Uncanny sculpture was still big business, though my friend was quick to point out that there was no Buck Angel (last year’s fair exhibited an anatomically correct, life size statue of the transgender porn actor). The closest we get is KAWS large anime-inspired 8-foot-tall black bunny in Honor Fraser’s stable, but this really felt old hat. Yes, animals are still on parade: a silver goat with matching droppings, a dead horse laid out on a table, a herd of black sheep crowding a gallery floor, a couple donkeys and a few bears. One really appalling piece at Peter Kilchmann Gallery found a skunk burrowing into a Chanel bag. I much preferred the 3 felt cartoonish skyscrapers, which billowed as they were filled with air at Studio la Citta. Tony Tasset’s brilliantly austere Boxed Set, 1988 at Kavi Gupta Gallery plays out the golden ratio in a sandwich of green felt and bifurcated pieces of plexiglass. The floor piece is mesmerizing in its materiality; the plex takes a moment to register – is it water, oil? – and its ultimate simplicity really sets the piece apart from the rest. Richard Prince’s recent sculptural work After Darker, 2010 at Two Palms Gallery stacks pornographic volumes that incorporate “After Dark” in their titles upon a shelf in such a precise arrangement that they create an immaculately flat surface, a rigid screen hyperbolizing the uniformity of these bawdy tales. This new and exciting work makes his joke paintings, displayed in the adjacent room, pale in comparison.

Photography and video was rather scant. Moyra Davey’s work at Murray Guy was particularly engaging. Her photographic installation Blow, 2007 from the series Calendar of flowers, gin bottles, steak bones was a beautiful and complex unique piece. Shot off the television screen, these images give the impression of a photographic practice in flux. They invade reading conventions for these differing media, and are, in a way, nostalgic – the video is not the high-def that most galleries now favor. The images reflect Davey’s monitor piece directly adjacent, Hujar / Palermo in which the camera lingers on a photo monograph of Hujar’s work as the pages are turned, each image lingers in a flickering dialogue of mediums. Pavel Buchler’s High Noon, 2006 tried for a similar effect, culling western imagery from cinematic yesteryear and engaging it in a teevee flicker that has sadly become the norm for such a redress.

I don’t know if a lack of bombast and theatricality is necessarily a good thing for a carnival like the Armory. If I had to award a best in show, it would probably go to the fetishistically alluring piece by Josephine Meckseper, Twilight, 2011 at Arndt Gallery. Meckseper recently showcased an impressive solo exhibition at Elizabeth Dee gallery that danced around an 80s consumerist aesthetic – all mirrors, display racks and poster-sized product reproductions – and this piece hones it farther, with strips of red and blue mirror glimmering wildly against a large diamond-cut crystal extended on a Claire’s Boutique-like armature. A coon tail dangles from a clothing rack above it. This piece gets it. It evokes a now-nostalgic brand of consumer glee – in what is, perhaps, a smart dialogue with its surroundings. Lacking a wall tag, before any title, artist, or year, I was delivered the important detail from a gallery attendant I engaged, “Oh, this one’s already sold.”