I always pay attention when I'm unusually hungry for a certain piece of music. It always reveals a little bit about where my head and heart are residing in a given moment. Crossing 9th Avenue on my way to the Armory I was overcome by the desire to listen to the biggest and dumbest song I could find on my iPod, Fish's live version of The Heart of Lothian. Turned out that having the barrel-chested Scotsman in my ears was a perfect way to prepare for the annual goofy-ass grandness of the Armory. Onward!
I love the Armory Show. It's a boatload of art, and plenty of it is quite good. And this year, as it is every other year, the Armory serves an ancillary purpose for me. It fills the gaping hole left in the wake of the Whitney Biennial. Don't misunderstand me. I liked the Biennial. It has a job to do, and it gets it done. It always leaves me wanting more in one way or another though. This time around, the dearth of painting in the show was shocking, and I was still recovering. It was telling that I took almost no photos of paintings at the Armory. I was too engaged with the work to be bothered with my camera. This is gonna be a scattershot walk through some of the highlights. You might want to duck.
Wendy White's painting in the back closet at Leo Koenig was a highlight even though it had been hanged upside down before the gallery assistant corrected it. Right side up was much better. I'm practically ashamed (OK. Not really.) to say how much I loved Greg Bogin's work that was hanging on the outside wall at Koenig. His metallic hot rod spaceship paintings boost my rockets every time. I can't help myself.
Stef Driesen had a nice dark abstract on display. Unfortunately the gallery that installed it placed it on a wall that wasn't conducive to varied vantage points. It was either up close or nothing. A shame, but I got over it as the painting just kept sinking into its own darkness.
I'm sorry to say that I didn't write down which gallery was showing the brain buzzing Ara Peterson. The work made me think of what might happen if I was staring at a Bridget Riley about 20 minutes after the Ambien kicked in. Trippy.
Nothing but hearts for Katharina Fritsch's floor sculpture at Mathew Marks. I don't think there was a person in that room that wasn't smiling. Looking closer though it was all coins, wheat, and snakes. Very Ten Commandments.
It's easy to get stuck on whatever media Tara Donovan happens to be using, but it's a mistake to ignore the deft hand she displays in the realm of composition. Also, It doesn't seem to matter what size she's working in, the silver wrapping paper sculpture was a small one but it packed a beautiful punch.
To get to the end I'll go back to the beginning. One of the first and best pieces I saw at the Armory was Stephen Vitiello's Whispering Corners (CGT mix) at The Project. I've never seen or heard anything by Vitiello that hasn't knocked me out. This piece is one of the best I've heard from the artist. Sampling the sounds at the Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Station he captures what was, for a moment, the holy arc of the now only to send it forward in time. And there it was, almost prayerfully frozen in its glorious repetition.
And this is why I love the Armory Show. For all the glitzy hubbub that surrounds it, the fair can provide moments like the one I had with the Vitiello piece. Ignore all the crap, the crowds, the "speedboat's glide", and you'll be fine. I was. Just look at the art. All else is, well, not art. Onward.
The early nineties, in neon form, are alive and well at the 2008 Armory Fair, with at least seventeen different sculptures and low reliefs created from neon lighting. Paris, London, Dublin, Zurich, Brussels, Luxembourg, and New York galleries have all endorsed the tubing (and with a one-in-nine, piece-per-gallery average at the show, it seems safe to regard it as a small trend. I wondered where Berlin was.)
The medium is most consciously employed by the artists who manipulate its elements. George Henry Longly, who shows at Dicksmith Gallery (London, 558), in his white, wall-mounted, freeform abstraction, Lighting Proposal #21, uses warm and cool bulbs, a fact which shows in the work’s subtly different tones of light. At the Dublin gallery Kerlin (536), A.G. (Obliteration Neon) has been painted black by Stefan Brüggemann, which would have reduced the piece to nothing more than an electrified squiggle on the wall, save for the fact that the artist did not paint the back. The normally-glaring narrow tubing remains dark, and the wall behind it glows a bluish-white.
Coping with probable lovers are Pietro Roccasalva, at Art: Concept (Paris, 1201) and Tracey Emin at White Cube (London, 801.) Roccasalva writes You never look at me from the place I see you so that the second half of the vivid purple writing loops downward and backward. Emin claims I promise to love you in flashy white script, although at Lehmann Maupin (New York, 315) she twists the lighting into a more graphic stance and writes Her Soft Lips Touched mine And Every Thing Became Hard. There are token words made slightly more memorable by their glare – Martin Creed’s Friends and Things, which are white and multi-colored, respectively, and Visibleinvisible (where both words are equally visible) by Cerith Wyn Evans at White Cube.
The trouble with Friends and Things is that they don’t stand on their own as more than garish wall décor, and maybe that is the point, but why buy at an art fair what you yourself could commission from its commercial source? Neon, sculpted into something besides a lonely word, figures more impressively as a medium, particularly in Keith Sonnier’s pink and blue Bundle Pack, formed with metal net at Pace Wildenstein, and as two short inserts in a bent metal pill-shaped sheet at Art in General. The lighting is also shown to its best advantage on paper and framed, as in Fiona Banner’s A-Hole at Frith Street Gallery (London, 210), where adjacent, small uneven circles could be interpreted, from the text in the piece below, as the eponymous item or as navels, or one of each.
There is more – Doug Aitken makes a couple of appearances, with a circular swirl that flashes around and around, and fits perfectly with the life-size pink car-wreck next to which it is mounted, at Galerie Eva Presenhuber (Zurich, 611.) His free-standing white piece that also progressively flickers on and off in various combinations, beautiful and damned (diamond neon) would look appropriate in someone’s simple, cavernous foyer. Among the words and body parts and odes to lost loves, however, is Joseph Kosuth’s W.F.T. #1, in white, at Sean Kelly (New York, 301.) Set against a black wall, the piece would have an effect whether or not it was switched on. Kosuth, maybe best known for One and Three Chairs, here defines the light itself, in a web that spreads from the word Latin. W.F.T. #1 is one of the most interesting pieces at the Armory Fair, to the point that its own complexity prevents the piece from conferring extra validity on all the other neon lighting around the show. Of all the work in that medium, Kosuth’s is the only one at the show where the words and form of the work outshine the material in which they exist.
I would tend to agree with Art Fag City that, with the exception of a few galleries such as Cheim & Read with its all Jenny Holzer installation, the "big deal" New York galleries provided rather boring booths at the fair. Their European counterparts were much more likely to show interesting and challenging work. In the interest of having time to run out to see Pulse and other fairs today, here are some favorites from the fair.
Galleri Magnus Karlsson had one of the best booths for painting, including de Chirico meets Swedish countryside work by Jens Fänge.
Foxy Production had a strong installation with works by Sterling Ruby (a formica sculpture titled "Headless Dick"), Ester Partegas, and Hany Armanious. Marc Foxx also had a great sculpture by Ruby.