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.
While SCOPE was not as strong a fair as PULSE, I did see several standout works while visiting the fair.
This artist is getting his MFA at NYU, and had a solo exhibition at the gallery several months ago. Sadly, due to the Chelsea real estate market, Cynthia Broan's lease on her LOT-EK designed space is being bought out so that the building can be knocked down for new condos. She plans to reopen in New Orleans.
Perhaps the line spanning the several doorways on Broadway to Broome and around the corner, as well as the usual crowd of self-pronounced VIPs should have been a portentous indication of what the fair itself may be upstairs. While waiting in line is always a safe option, time constraints and impending curiosity meant seeking out another option. The art fair became a night club simulacrum, replete with a discerning door host and a lanky, well-dressed woman at his side. For a minute, I actually thought they would ask whose guest list I am on but my story superseded any potentially stumping questions. I told him my friend was impatiently waiting for me on the 2nd floor, one floor below the Fair's, and it was imperative that I meet her there, to which he laughed, complimented me on the elaborately ridiculous lie and let me in. I will only mention in passing that there was a $5 entrance fee, sadly normal for art fairs, obviously to distinguish them from the otherwise mundane art show.
Needless to say, the upstairs crowd was maddening. With candles exacerbating the heat, the Dark Fair was as chaotic as it was thoroughly entertaining. The booths were literally booths, diner style, in which exhibitors presented either a number of work from artists represented by the gallery, an installation, Tarot card reading and, in one case, a lavish table of fruit free for visitors to indulge in as they sat around the table adorned by a curious take on Manet, depicting busty women reclining in all their glory. Clara Jo's installation was a closed circuit that connected wires to silverware via a light bulb, which required three people to place their hands on each utensil, whereby the third and final conductor would create a current that resonated in the connected speakers. Participants were able to create a rhythmic tune using their own bodies as electrical conductors. Chicago's Golden Age Store presented wonderful small works by sundry artists, as well as art publications by Material Press, Post Present Medium, Pork Salad Press and many more. The candles lighting the booths created a romantic reading experience, to say the least.
Some work was appropriately neon and glowed in the dark, while Zach Feuer Gallery's Tim Lokiec sat at his table, assiduously drawing pictures, while other gallery employees and friends enjoyed the lively company, drank beer and talked to curious visitors. The mixed drinks were $8, discounted by $1 because the bar ran out of ice. Thankfully Milwaukee's Club Nutz and General Store's booth was a simulated restaurant, complete with a cheese board, champagne and ice water. Though I never quite figured out whether this was for public consumption because my persistent request for water came with a complicated explanation. The fire department did eventually come to inspect the situation only to conclude that everything was not, in fact, a hazard.
The opening night of the Dark Fair was a perfect prelude to tonight's Earth Hour, an invitation to turn off all the lights from 8 to 9 pm, all across the globe. The Dark Fair's atmosphere, somewhere between a sweaty nightclub and an ambient meditation room, was the perfect antidote to the business-as-usual fairs, presenting great art and clever installations while keeping the lights dim and the crowd curious.
I thoroughly enjoyed the LA Art Fair last year, and I had a feeling that it would be a good place to begin my entry into the art fair fray on Saturday. I was right. I found some really wonderful work there.
Just like last year the first gallery I came upon was the always rewarding Daniel Weinberg. Also on board were some instructive Chris Martin paintings. I say instructive because I'm still in the process of getting his work. I'm happy to say that his insistent rhythms are starting to work their way in though. And what's not to like about a gallery that shows the twin sons of different mothers, James Sienna and Daniel Zeller. I've never seen a bad piece by either of them and yesterday was no exception. The only disappointment this year was that Weinberg didn't have any works by Luke Whitlatch. I was counting on the gallery for my fix. His paintings were a highlight last year. (Somebody give this guy a show in NYC!) All, of course, was forgiven because the people at Weinberg are so nice and their artists are, oh, so very very good.
Roberts and Tilton made another strong showing this year with artists Kehinde Wiley, Barry McGee, Adam Pendleton, Becca Mann, and well, pretty much every artist they had on the wall. The gallery's Julie Roberts wins the "We Encourage Photography" award for the day. I fell in love with the Jimmy Baker installation, Potential Unlawful Combant, and inquired as to whether I might take a photo of it. Not only did Roberts say, "Yes.", but she actually asked me to help her move the table and chairs out of the way so I could get a clearer shot. Hmmm. Intense respect for the viewer and the work. A fine thing. All I can say is "Thank you." Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This, kids, is what it's all about.
At Mary Goldman, Alejandro Diaz had me laughing out loud with the juxtaposition of his bright neon Naked Artist Inside and the lo-fi approach of the cardboard sign format. There were also some nice Robert Pruitt pieces in the back corner. Unfortunately, my liking them is all that I remember about them. The art fair memory daze had apparently started to set in and I was only at the end of my first fair.
Downstairs at Western Project was a knockout color-burst of a sculpture by Jason Adkins that I couldn't quite stop looking at it. Plus, I'm a total sucker for art that involves pallets. The main cube resting on it's pallet seemed to be saying "We're ready for transport." It worked from just about any angle, covering everything from the mercenary to the political. Awesome. When I spoke with the gallerist he mentioned that Adkin's paintings (not on display) stand in sharp contrast to the shouting colors of his sculptures. He was right. When I checked the gallery's website I found evocative gray-centered abstracts. I think that if I saw his sculptures and paintings in the same room my body might just implode. A good sign. More, please.
Actually, I'd say that about the LA Art Fair in general: More please. They were in a smaller space this year, so there were fewer dealers. No matter, what I found there packed quite the punch, certainly enough of one to catapult me into the rest of my day.
The nude has a long history in art. From the formidable slab of marble that Michelangelo carved into the David to the various nudes presented as feminist critique in recent years, to depict a nude is to enter a long a developed visual conversation. What made many of the nudes at the Pulse Art Fair so disappointing was that they took no stock of this conversation and proceeded to present pornography masquerading as fine art. By pornography, I mean work where the entire appeal of the work hinges on the titillation of flesh. The style is weak. The technique is sloppy. The iconography is shallow. The artist's vision is vacant.
Muzi Quawson's Swimming with Diamonds from Yossi Milo Gallery was one of the few good nudes on view at Pulse. This British artist took a picture of a nude woman swimming a shimmering pool in Woodstock, New York. The backlit duratran light box emphasizes the glimmers on the water. The rough and rippled texture of the dark water contrasts well with the smooth and soft texture of the woman's pale skin. It is strong photo in which formal devices compliment the nude. It joins a long history of photographers like Robert Mapplethrope who see the nude body as one visual note to harmonize with other formal elements as they create the symphony of a captivating work of art. They do not deny the erotic appeal of the nude. However, this appeal isn't the work's only selling point. There is a soothing serenity in Quawson's photo as this woman soaks in this glistening waters.
Mark Denis' Art History Major from 2008 epitomizes the genre of the disappointing pornographic nude. In this painting, a young girl lifts her shirt in a formally evocative Girls-Gone-Wild pose. The background is Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling from Rome. The warm color of the girl's skin clashes with the pastels of the ceiling. Perhaps, there is a certain ironic appeal in juxtaposing this self-conscious flash with the seat of the Vatican, a bit of Cancun in the middle of Rome. But it is a heavy handed iconography that brings focus back again to the appeal of the pornographic. Whereas the symbolism of Quawson's work was one of a radiant aquatic providence from the worries of the world, Denis relies upon the attraction to the flash. Such works prove that the feminist enterprise is still desperately needed.
Terry Rodgers's painting The Resonance of Undergrounded Reality from Amsterdam’s TORCH Gallery was a stirring figurative work that addressed these questions of sexuality and pornography with a striking visual scene. The viewer beholds a group of half clothed magazine perfect men and women. They indulge in the joys of alcohol, cigarettes, perhaps drugs, and a luxurious interior. There is a marvelous ambiguity about what is precisely going on in the scene. It could be a brothel. It could be a night club. It could be private party. The work displays a powerful mastery of the photorealist style. Each strand of hair is visible as are the small sparkles on the wine glasses and jewelry. The haunted faces of all of these revelers suggest that despite all this hedonism, something is missing.
Terry Rodgers spoke very eloquently about his intentions regarding this work:
"The paintings are not meant to judge or criticize. I am looking closely at who we are, the density of influences upon us, the mistakes we make, and the recognitions that occur in trying to navigate a universe with no sign posts. The figures in my paintings often are seen at a moment where some recognition or self-reflection seems to be taking place. These moments of recognition are metaphors for grappling with the unknown. Perhaps something is missing from their lives and they don't necessarily know what it is. They are metaphors for the search. My reaction to the figures and their gestures is sympathy, not judgment.
My hope is that ultimately these paintings show fragile, genuine human beings trying to make something of what they are confronted with. Each of them is unique in their individuality—in their hair, their eyes, their lips, their hands—and they are all separately struggling and often finding merely surface solutions and ephemeral escapes to the timeless riddles of consciousness."
Pornography was recently addressed in a long and stimulating column of this art blog. I agree with the author that sexuality is not something we should fear in that predictable American and puritanical fashion. However, it is an open question whether valorizing pornography as a form will actually advance this enterprise of nurturing a healthier sexual paradigm in America.
Jean Baudrillard once observed that "at the heart of pornography is sexuality haunted by its own disappearance." Sexuality is a physical and emotional dance with the other. Pornography eliminates this engagement with the other and replaces it with the one way interaction with a ghost image. The cool touch of the keyboard pales in comparison to the warm touch of the lover. Something is deeply absent in the pornographic experience.
As Rodgers might put it, engaging with the other as lover is one of the timeless riddles of consciousness. Pornography strikes your commentator as an easy way out and a surface solution. Recent conversations in the gay community focus on the sequestering in a virtual closet. Many "down low" men now limit their experience of same sex desire to imagery on a computer screen. For them, pornography operates as a mechanism of sexual denial. This is but one example of the way in which pornography can inhibit rather than foster healthy sexuality.
But Porn sells - and it sells very well. The good and provocative work of Rodgers and Quawson's works was outnumbered by many pieces in the pornographic region of Denis. it is not the best work. At the end of the day, it demonstrates the underlying problem of appointing the art market as curator during art fairs. Although it may be a tired example of the market's flawed judgment, Van Gogh never sold a painting during his life. These porn pictures at Pulse smacked of the category of art that sells well in the moment but lacks the aesthetics and iconography to merit enduring memory in the art world - which is ultimately resale value.
I felt that Pulse started out a little slowly at the beginning, with the exception of the excellent GTA-inspired sculpture by Mark Shetabi. I was surprised to see one gallery near the entrance selling works by Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, and not in a good way.
Then, I hit the booth of PPOW, featuring a large baroque painting by Julie Heffernan and a couple of happily fluorescent / airbrush works by Mala Iqbal.
While I know many of us had our doubts about Saatchi Online as a participant in the fair, I was pleased to see a semi-abstract painting by Haeri Yoo, some of Amy Stein's photography referencing the conflict of people and animals at the edges of urbanization, and the photographs by Dana Lauren Goldstein.
Speaking of doubts, I've heard a couple of people say they weren't sure if the inclusion of Parsons MFA students was a good idea, but it was one of my favorite booths, including a hilarious video by Matthew DeLeon in which he poses in front of a projection of straight porn, trying to place his body in the woman's position as she has sex with a hot bodybuilder type.
Morgan Lehman devoted their entire booth to sculptural work by John Salvest, including my favorite, a slice of a door with rubber bands around the doorknobs called (I believe) "Kitchen Fetish."
Envoy featured an installation of paintings / collages by J. Williams III in the back of their booth, and across the aisle was a two-channel video installation by Paul Mpagi Sepuya titled "Christian" and inspired by the photo shoot for the seventh of his "Shoot" zines. At the end of my visit to the fair, Christian happened to be working the coat check when I picked up my coat, allowing me to complement him on his participation in the project.
DCKT Contemporary celebrated a new acquisition for their artists stable, Cordy Ryman, with several hybrid painting / sculpture works, and featured a combination beer cooler / dune buggy by Ryan Humphrey titled "Drinkin' and Drivin'." I spotted a number of people walking around the fair while drinking Budweiser tallboys from said cooler.
Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen
9pm Saturday 29 March 2008
Renwick Gallery - 45 Renwick Street New York, NY
Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen present a musical performance at the Renwick Gallery tonight at 9pm "with a variation of genres electronica, punk, rock and hiphop with her own lyrics and like the ever changing Mis United her costumes changes for each new music piece." Renwick Gallery just took down an exhibition of documentary material accompanying Rasmussen's previous performance project there, A Void; a set of creative reenactments of historical performance art peices originating in date form 1958 onwards. James Wagner has written on Rasmussen's previous work here.
(Grant Haffner, East 27, acrylic, marker, pencil on wood panel, 2007)
I don't mean to suggest that I loved you the best,
I can't keep track of each fallen robin.
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
that's all, I don't even think of you that often.
Last night this blogger decided to try something new. After given word-of-mouth of the Pool Art Fair's opening night at the storied Chelsea Hotel, I wandered from my own Chelsea digs to take a peek at what the fuss was all about. Already having fair fatigue on Day 2 of NYC's Art World Meltdown 2008, I thought to myself, "Well, it can't hurt to take a look, can it?" I was wrong. It did.
First of all, there's several things Pool needs to do immediately to not drown in stagnant water. First: promote the show. Since it is a showcasing of unrepresented talent, the fact that I only heard about it through word of mouth means much better work needs to be done on the part of the promoter, Frere Independent, which also oversees the DIVA fair. As I walked to the entrance of the hotel, there on the glass door was an 8 1/2" x 11" color flyer. Now I know this is an independent, D.I.Y., and very grassroots show, but any casual person walking by would never have known anything was going on. I do think a trip to Kinkos might have sufficed. Secondly, the opening night was less about showcasing the actual art to possible collectors and interested galleries than a casual hangout of the artists' friends. In multiple cases I couldn't even get into the cramped and crowded rooms because there were so many people loitering and blocking the works, drinks in hands, cigarettes to mouths. Yes, smoking was prevalent. To say that this was an unprofessional atmosphere is not an understatement.
Three artists' works stood out strongly from the rest-- Grant Haffner, Don Porcella and Debra Drexler. First, Grant Haffner in Room 230. A fantastic reworker of angles and planar landscapes, he juxtaposes intersections of sky with the open road. Through the use of a highly solarized color pallette, he really brings his images to life, as well as through adept canvas preparation. The surfaces really captured your eye. Add to it that the room was professionally hung, with an artist that was engaging and enthusiastic about his work while easily sharing his knowledge with the viewer gives extra brownie points. Make a note to examine the tilting power lines. At any moment you feel that they might topple. Haffner's horizons appear to extend as far as the eye can see, with no end or beginning. Very relevant work referencing our open-ended existence.
Next up, Don Porcella, also in Room 230. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw his little encaustic Frankencreatures and ghost floaters. There was something wildly fun and at the same time obnoxious, (but not overly so), about his pieces. I felt like I was back in grade school, trading sketches of the snotty nosed kid in the front row back and forth. With each layer of waxy buildup, Porcella's storytelling is whimsical and touching. At times he goes a bit too far for my own liking-- almost a kitschy Clown College-like quality-- but he steadies the course in the end, feeling much more like the "Ghostbusters" Marshmallow Man has been subdued and is now a delicious Smore.
Last, but certainly not least, Debra Drexler in Room 128. I was extremely impressed by her work. Her painterly hand is magnificent. From side to side, I traced the motions of each of her broad-brushstrokes. Her pallette is soft pastel against an underbelly of dark tonalities. There is a "damaged goods" quality to these works. I feel that she has a great mastery of self-reflection and examination in each of her pieces. References to dreams and memory abound. As a professor at the University of Hawaii, you can tell how much the tropical surroundings are beginning to become an influence in her work. In her "Pool of Reflection piece," nature is guarded, but yet the solitary figure contrasted against a dark tree root base is exposed in all its fragility. Fantastic stuff.
Pool runs through Sunday at 8pm. Bring your best Sid Vicious and check it out.
The Chelsea Hotel is located at 222 West 23rd Street in Manhattan.