2015 Armory Show - Contemporary: An Overview

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

2015 Armory Show - Contemporary: An Overview

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Fri Mar 06, 2015 7:26 pm

Those of us who have been suffering through another winter in New York are done with the imprisoning grey skies. Yet, remarkably, the air still has been leaking spring everywhere. The unlocking has begun, where the air has some moisture, the temperatures start wildly fluctuating, and one feels like they can begin to breathe, even amidst the snows that enshrouded any hope of a full bursting from the primal rhythms that one can feel even in the miles deep concrete and steel thundering canyons of New York. Those rhythms of spring were reflected everywhere in the 2015 edition of the Armory Show with colors exploding everywhere, and the natural blooming world was embraced.

About the fair itself: Entering the fair is entering a singular world, and it is a massive, overwhelming crush. Gallery booths line corridors and regions in every conceivable direction. Paintings, sculpture, and various video and other installations hang everywhere in splashy commotion. Attendees and exhibitors are chattering and running, dressed in high-end aesthetics, many in lip-smacking leather, chunky, oversized round or rectangular framed glasses, with thick gauzy layers of black draping across bodies everywhere. Body distortion is on full effect, with proudly evident plastic surgery stretching ancient faces to proportions that match many of the highly worked art pieces themselves. Dizzyingly high heels threaten ankles everywhere, many marked on the soles by the trademark Louboutin red. I heard non-art deals in the millions being battered around, assuring potential investors of no-risk returns. The entire scene causes untenable sensory overload that can quickly create disorientation and emotional distress leagues beyond a foray into Bed, Bath and Beyond on a Saturday in the fall.

The fair itself is housed in sprawling buildings on piers 92 and 94 that sit on the Hudson River along the west side of Manhattan. Pier 94 contains the contemporary fair, the primary event, while Pier 92 is a smaller segment labeled as the modern portion. Once inside the contemporary, you will see no more natural light, or other exposure to the outdoor world, unless you are near some of the doors on the east side. The structures are warehouse-like with forever high corrugated rough metal ceilings with exposed beams.

In terms of layout, just behind the main entrance is a central champagne bar/counter, with a sitting and schmoozing/resting area. Lining the area are MENAM artist installations, hawkers of Art.sy and Ouvo, who trade personal information in exchange for cleverish tote bags (Art.sy marked one side Life Imitates Art, and the other Life Imitates Ads) that attendees carry as prestige marks that yes, they were there. Around the corner are the endless lines for coat check, then the VIP lounge, conveniently set-aside from the rest of the mayhem. From this central point one can venture in multiple directions - to the south are the shorter corridors. To the west are the longer sections, with canals of gallery booths on either side. Food, coffee, publications, and of course champagne are evident in frequent stops along the way.

I entered the show from the media room, which opened into the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean (MENAM) Focus area. Aside from a exceptionally wide-smiling gallerist, the first visuals to hit me through the buzzy environment were rectangular bales of bright red and pink fresh carnations wrapped plastic that had been deposited on the floor in the Focus lounge (apparently the metal wire from a description was too dangerous for the crowd). These bales, a MENAM installation entitled Incarnation, by Socratis Socratous, offered an organic yet prickly alternative to the various scattered low seats in the lounge section, and were to decay over the course of the show, blanketing the lounge area with the petal bodies.

From there, I turned around and made my way down a stretch of corridor, where I quickly encountered the hulking figure of The Thing, the musclebound, made of stone comic book hero from the Fantastic Four. But instead of it being “Clobberin’ Time” (his iconic mantra), The Thing’s time looked long past, with the sedentary figure lounging in a leather easy chair with a footrest, while various plants and vines prodded and twisted out, overgrowing him. Indeed, this piece, by Gillies Barbier at Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois (Paris), was entitled A Very Old Thing. (see http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog ... rmory-show.)

Although the merits of both of these pieces are debatable, and although they deal with quite different underlying subject matter, they shared a common underlying quality: the willing use of plant driven material to represent life cycles of death and rebirth associated with apathy and former sources of power. And the references back to nature felt indicative of the overall feel of the show rising up from the unenergetic and diffused slumber the fair has been mired in over the past few years since the economic collapse of 2007/08, and its austere phase. There was a lot more fun to be had at this year’s show, and proved to be a welcome reprieve from years past. As I mentioned, color was everywhere. It felt like everyone was breathing a bit easier, more carefree, more willing to play. Or maybe just the gallerists and collectors were, based on the ample cash being made. Still, I was optimistic with the refreshing optimism.

Some works that caught my eye:

Delightfully fun in the back corridor region at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, in work by Bjarne Melgaard with Bob Recine was a small human sized multi-hued bird-man with huge hands looking menacing, comprised of synthetic hair, resin plastic, and oil paint. A large detritus and wooly material collage in which various lip-smacking colored abstract faces and rivulets, also by Melgaard and Recine, looked on. To the left wall were the words, in various shapes and materials - "A Youth of Rare Beauty" (by Jack Pierson) completed the three-piece set.

Lehmann Maupin was showing what seemed to be a large hanging paper shredder, constructed from a paper shipping barrel, spewing out lines of colored shoelaces, by Nari Ward in a piece called Oprama. More vomited color, and not the most compelling, but still a visual treat that someone will no-doubt launch in a room above a couch.

At Edwynn Houk Gallery, was a large dimensioned chromogenic print of oily paint looking still life of flowers in a vase and fruit next to it, but upon close look was in actually a hypnotizing collage of magazine print bits - faces, bodies, words, symbols, other plants. The pieces, called Flowers and Fruit, After Pierre-Auguste Renoir was by Vik Muniz.

At James Cohan, a sculpture by Folkert De Jong, called Spiritual Generator consisted of patinated bronze included a human head on metallic centipede-like body with organic balls and cones on a plant-like stem rising out of the back-end, all fixed on a moss green splashed base.

Ohwow Gallery was showing large flattered mossy bark of American Pine and steel crafted into painting sized pieces, and appeared to be literally growing off the wall, by Nick Van Woert.

Two pieces by by Mickalene Thomas at Susanne Vielmetter, Portraits of Qusuquzah #6, and Portrait of Sidra #2 stood out against the wall. Comprised of rhinestones, acrylic, oil and silkscreen on wood panels, these showed regal bright figures, in collage and paint with alternatively creamy and jagged elements.

There was much more than than the color orgy and plant references. There were easy favorites too - against the back end of the region was the Jack Shainman Gallery having what seemed to be flexing of power and a victory lap showing hit artists: multiple rippling pieces by El Anatsui filled the back walls, and in front of the El Anatsui was one of Nick Cave’s abstract extended head, humanoid figures, coated in various sized buttons, with a steel bars forming a cage on the torso.

There was actually very little direct social or political based pieces (apart from the works at MENAM) - different from a few years ago, but not entirely unexpected. The great exception being one of the only large installations, by Michael Müller, a joint presentation by Galerie Thomas Schulte and Aanant & Zoo. Here was an area coated in pink from carpet to walls, to the items hanging and objects within. They mostly dealt with sexuality and various aspects of his life, and his ideas of art. Lining the walls were text translated into English from German seemingly articulating a manifesto starting with the questions “What is considered art? What does it mean to be true to oneself?” Within a few moments, though, I didn't care. Although some portions were were provocative, overall the text was self-indulgent and failed to provide many insightful ideas. Still, it was a great to see a more risky piece, especially one that large, in a show that is necessarily constrained by the context of commerce, and therefore low-risk.

For all the focus on the MENAM and its importance, there were not very many galleries present from the Middle-East and North Africa, with a greater representation from Turkey and Greece. At the single Egyptian gallery I spotted, the Gypsum Gallery in Cairo, I spoke with the Director, Aleya Hamza about the current climate in Egypt and her gallery. She re-emphasized the oft-mentioned theme of the distinction between nonprofit and for-profit spaces, citing the importance of for-profits in an area that has limited desire or resources for providing non-profit funding for contemporary artists. Represented at Gypsum was Setareh Shahbazi, whose collage-looking works utilized large bright hues of rich lavenders shades, with yellow paint, and included palm trees. Down the stretch, another standout in this area was a series of large golden military chest and head figurines by Wafaa Bilel, in a show called Canto III at the Lawrie Shabibi gallery. The military heads were seemingly topped by disco balls, and were inspired by a tribute that never occurred where a golden replica of Saddam Hussein was to be sent into space. The pieces in part were constructed with help by US Iraqi war veterans. (See http://www.lawrieshabibi.com/art-fairs/14).

An excellent installation on a wall at MENAM, Cowboy Code (Hadith) by Ahmed Mater was a depiction of two sets of rules side-by-side in large scale letters, vacancies in a large sheet made from connected red plastic round cap-gun caps. One the left in English were rules constituting a Cowboy Code with lines such as “A cowboy never takes unfair advantage - even of an enemy.” On the right in Arabic were portions of the Hadith, or Islamic code based on the Prophet Muhammed.

Along with the art, I was hoping for a good selection of organic salad oriented foods, or just good food, much like the Frieze has offered the past two years. But nothing doing here. Instead, the tell-tale signs of corporate overlording were present. The food selection was almost dire.The Brooklyn-from-Montreal smoked meat (the Montreal equivalent to Pastrami) shop Mile End provided primary catering, but remarkably, there was no actual smoked meat to be had. Why bother catering the event- were they afraid to see people chewing through greasy smoked meat in the midst of high end art? Instead we had niceties such as boiled egg with kale pesto, ham and onion. Ok, this was in actuality very good. But still. Other selections were more homogenized boring tuna with mayo, and various salads. Large background lettering informed everyone that coffee was provided by Stumptown, but there were no actual Stumptown people seemed to be brewing. At a different show later, people were complaining that coffee ran out at Armory. An additional area on the streetside area near the entrance showed promise, with a pleasant looking glass enclosed seating area that offered some light and respite. But the food and coffee offerings were pathetic: the selection consisted of items one hopes to avoid at an airport, such as sad boxed created sushi and pringles.

The Armory show is what it is at this point - a mass frenzy of money, varying quality art, dealers, collectors, and investors all set in a corporate based housing. It is a far cry from 1913, but still a fun entree into Spring, and a gravitational center that brings out other more intriguing fairs and exhibitions throughout the city over the week. I’ll head back tomorrow, but will be more drawn into the small satellites rather than getting caught in the hypnotic luxury bent daze of the Armory.
Last edited by NYC_Correspondent-tm on Mon Mar 16, 2015 12:55 am, edited 13 times in total.
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Re: 2015 Armory Show - Contemporary: An Overview

Postby CAP » Sat Mar 07, 2015 4:01 am

Thanks for that. Melgaard just doesn't do it for me, unfortunately. :(
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