Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Armory Fair: "Hang In There, Baby"

"Hang in there, Baby." (Left) Fans of Sean Landers’s onanistic career of would be proud of his latest endeavors—a booth full of work at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, and a perfect 2010 art market recap. Landers expressed not just what he, and by extension all self-involved artists (that is to say, all artists) are thinking, but what the entire art world is self-reflexively musing. "Ne me quitte pas", the kitten pleads: don't leave me, dear collectors!

Right: Jack Shainman's booth on Saturday.

But fear not, this year’s Armory Show was brimming with art, although crammed with smaller and medium–sized works rather than the giant warhorses of years past. The show was overrun by all manner of species: on opening day, the VIPs, VVIPs, and countless press and looky-lous roamed the stalls in their Wednesday best. By Saturday, at Pier 94 (the more contemporary of the two), security tried to manage the queue for the stairs to prevent trampling, clueless parents brought their strollers and carriages, and there was not even a spare bit of floor to rest a weary derriere.
One artist complained of spilling her $16 glass of Champagne due to the madding crowds, and many were heard to mutter not-to-silent screams of "MOVE!!".

Left: Artist Nick Cave, at Jack Shainman, with El Anatsui wall hanging behind him.

Right: Detail, Nick Cave sculptures.

Jack Shainman had a mobbed booth, but the art, all colorful vim and vigor, more than held its own. Nick Cave's soundsuits, a perennial art fair favorite, were pared down to a single element or color, becoming ever more mysterious, undermined by the smiling face of the artist himself.

Left: Rina Banerjee at Nathalie Obadia.

Galerie Nathalie Obadia had a museum-worthy dramatically lit staging of Rina Banerjee's works. By Saturday her sculptures' delicate protrusions had forced the gallery to tape the entire booth off, as the gallerists sat a table nearby, pleine d'ennui. Banerjee's cultural mishmash of references was submerged in the impact of the objects themselves, confusing yet evocative, and happy to display a reliance on old-fashioned visual "wow".

Right: Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, carpet.

Left: Nicole Klagsbrun's booth, with yellow swastika on right.

Nicole Klagsbrun's booth was a show-stopper as well, its all-over neon yellow-green so bright that gawkers didn't notice the swastika painting on the wall. The entire installation was by artist Adam McEwen, but the connection between all the works and the arresting color wasn't nearly as clear as the shrewdness of having a wide-open booth at an intersection that stopped viewers in their tracks.

Left and Right: Tony Feher at Pace.

The opposite effect occurred at Pace, where viewers plunged into an all-black room of Tony Feher table-top installations. His mundane object and recycled aesthetic worked best up close. Plastic water bottles, caps, bunched up aluminum foil, an old globe with a bow out of string, were not as gingerly arranged as Sarah Sze works, or explosively strewn as a Jason Rhoades installation, but rather the work of a bricoleur of midling ambition, which I mean as a compliment.

Left and Right: Isa Genzken at Hauser & Wirth.

The Armory was full of glitter, embroidery, festive color, and celebration, even if it came in photos of slums in Third World countries (i.e. Zwelethu Mthethwa at Shainman). Isa Genzken's "Disco 'Soon' (Ground Zero)" had a perplexing title, but its beads , ribbons, and red paint perhaps suggested that we can smooth over our tragedies by getting back to partying mode.

Right: Houseago head looking at another head.

Figuration also was prominent, mostly in painting and sculpture. With a huge work at the Whitney Biennial, Thomas Houseago showed several large primitivist bronze busts at The Modern Institute.

Tony Matelli's life-size epoxy girl in underwear titled "Sleepwalker"( left) found her way into a tightly packed Leo Koenig booth. Her hyper-realist body surrounded by clothed oglers made me think of her as exploited, suggesting everyone's Freudian nightmare of being caught in public naked.

On the other hand, some work seemed able to survive only within the art fair context: Jonathon Monk's instruction "Do Not Pay More Than $40,000" in neon had an effect that lasted exactly 2 seconds, by the third, one had moved on mentally and visually.

Right: Jonathon Monk at Lisson gallery.

As jaded and begging for entertainment as one is at the Armory, it was still possible to solicit a reaction. The first thing I heard upon entering the Fair was a German couple clearly scandalized by some naughty photos in Horton & Co.'s booth.
"Mein Got, mein Got", they gasped to each other--imagine how much it takes to shock our usually-less-sanctimonious European connoisseurs.

Among the VIPs were the usual celebs and art-celebs, though it was so crowded I only glimpsed one: a very jaded Tracey Emin glaring in boredom at her smartphone, but proud of finally being recognized she gamely posed for me (Left). Fashion-wise, fur coats and fur hats were positively wooly mammoth-like even though the climate was more like Bombay. One woman had a half coat, clearly too fashion-proud to take it off (hello, free coatcheck!)--(Right). Zebras were also in favor, in all black-and-white shoe, dress, and coat (i.e. Left).

And speaking of species, an explosion of ladybugs was unleashed mid-Saturday, to the disbelief and confusion of security guards-- "I guess we can vacuum??". Within an hour they were extinguished by lesser means: death by stiletto-squish. I thought it was a cruel gag, as if we needed more side-show distractions, especially at such a cute creature's expense. At least those were the only casualties, as the health of the art fair was pronounced "stable".