The Armory Show 2009

On Friday, I headed into Manhattan for The Armory Show, located on piers 92-94 at 12th Avenue and 55th Street.  (Since the show didn’t open until noon, I had some time in the morning to catch up with Bonnard at The Met, but I’ll write about that in a separate post.)  This year I didn’t try and stuff four art fairs into a single day (perhaps art is like ice cream, wonderful stuff but if you try to take in too much too fast you get a headache?).

As with last year’s event (wow, I’ve been blogging for over a year now), there was some confusion at the entry to the show that could have been prevented with better signage.  Even though I had an e-ticket purchased ahead of time (recommended), there was still a wait as people sorted themselves out into proper lines and the staff gated people into the lobby rather ad hoc.

This year, the exhibition is comprised of two separate pavilions, the main “contemporary” show (“International Fair of New Art”) in the same upside-down T-shaped pier as last year and a “Modern” component in the adjacent pier.  Both parts are included with the same $30 (!) entry fee.

Turning the first corner in the show, I noticed a large epoxy resin painting by Peter Zimmerman at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin.  Zimmerman writes that he used Photoshop to abstract an image of a book cover algorithmically and used the resulting design as a starting point for his painting.  This seems similar to a process that I’ve used on some of my own recent paintings, where I’ve used photographic reference material and my own Photoshop algorithms to create the framework for a painting.

I noticed two or three different artists using Venetian blinds prominently in their work — something symbolic of the time or just a coincidence?  Evan Gruzis @ Deitch Projects hangs black blinds in front of a plasma TV displaying a bright orange video loop to create an eerie but intriguing object.  (I don’t normally go for this type of piece, but this year I found several assembled objects or sculptural works to be compelling and worth looking at for more than a few seconds.)

Also at Deitch was something completely different, a huge Kehinde Wiley painting (“oil wash on paper”) depicting an African American man in a pose entitled “Confederate Soldier from Mississippi Memorial” with trademark decorative elements floating in the background.  Having only seen Wiley’s canvases before, I enjoyed examining the different texture and brushstroke application in this oil wash on paper painting.

Another assembled-object piece that was visually enjoyable was Cornelia Parker’s “Composition with Horns” (similar to this one) at Frith Street Gallery.  It’s comprised of two instruments, a cornet and a bugle, hanging from thin threads just an inch or two from a pedestal (think Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible), with the cornet hanging perfectly vertical and a flattened (steamrolled?) bugle hanging horizontally at its side.  I’ll assume, given the title, that we’re to appreciate the object’s formal qualities (which I did) and not try to figure out the meaning of the flattened bugle and upright cornet.

At the same gallery, Anna Barriball’s “Green Glass 2008” reminded me of a James Sienna drawing, or an Altair Design, or a construction from World of Goo, with thousands of delicately drawn green lines connecting to fill a sheet of paper.

One of my favorite paintings in the show, and one that captured the zeitgeist perfectly, was Carl Hammoud‘s “House by the Rai…” at Magnus Karlsson.  It showed Hopper’s House by the Railroad, but half of the house was falling down, crumbling, in disrepair.  Maybe it’s too literal, but since I love Hopper, this painting “hit home” for me.

Another favorite, and another “object” work, was Ján Mancuška‘s “Tatlin’s Tower (this time in proper direction)” at the Andrew Kreps booth.  I’d prefer to call it “Filmstrip Yoga”:  it’s a strip of film with images of someone doing various shoulder stand yoga poses, with the strip twisted into a spiraling twirl, strung up with dozens of white strings and suspended adjacent to a fluorescent bulb lighting a plane of frosted glass.  My description isn’t doing it justice and I’m sure my memory isn’t completely accurate, but what I liked was that you could enjoy the piece at various scales — either up close by looking at the images on the film or the way it was strung up, or from further away by looking at the overall shape of the piece.

I found two Anish Kapoor pieces (both of which I think were sold), one a straightforward concave highly polished mirror that does typical fun house inversions and one that was much more interesting:  a bright magenta open-ended “semi-sphere” where, as you look into it’s interior, you lose all sense of depth and your eyes can’t focus on the back of the piece.  Mesmerizing and beautiful.

Over in the Modern wing, there was quite a lot to enjoy, though I won’t go into all of the details.  Highlights for me included a high quality Philip Pearlstein 2-figure oil painting, a Vasarely that happens to use almost the same palette as a painting I recently finished (oddly enough at the same gallery as the Pearlstein), some nice little Oscar Bluemner watercolors at O’Hara that are alas way out of my budget now, and a few nice Sol LeWitt wavy ribbon gouaches.

Overall, I found the contemporary part of The Armory Show to be about what it usually is:  enjoyable though a bit overwhelming; full of much that wouldn’t garner a second glance, but also providing enough that I enjoyed looking at to make me glad that I went.  Thankfully, this year the $30 entry fee gives you acces to the Modern part of the show as well, where you can take in and enjoy some familiar museum-quality pieces to help get your money’s worth.

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