REFLECTIONS ON NEW YORK’S ART FAIR WEEK

Another New York Art Fair week has come to a close, and everyone in the art world seems to have survived the crowds, parties, as well as sales of good art and bad. According to Mayor Bloomberg, that rare beast who is technically a Republicunt but is a champion of the arts, the fairs collectively brought in $40million in revenue for the rest of New York City. Taxi drivers, restaurateurs and hoteliers are devoted fans of the art booth throng.

THE ART SHOW

Dubbed “The Art Show,” the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) went first with its gathering of 70 Exhibitors at the Park Avenue Armory uptown. Billing itself as the fair with “museum-quality” work, The Art Show lived up to its reputation this year by continuing to tread the atmosphere where classy meets staid. Safely marketable, expensive works were in fact selling on opening night, including pieces by Alice Neel, Cindy Sherman, Joseph Cornell and some early Diebenkorn drawings. Blum & Poe exhibited memorable notebooks and small watercolors by David Reed. The often unfairly criticized Regen Projects had one of the more successful booths, presenting works by Catherine Opie, Raymond Pettibon and Lari Pittman. The LA-meets-New York theme seemed a winning move. For most of us, this fair was a worthy destination for looking rather than shopping. All in all, it presented solid works by important artists. But I’m calling bullshit on Peter Freeman, Inc., for its booth that featured dumb, geometrical cutouts by Franz Erhard Walther. The wall-mounted foam shapes were like a Tetris video game gone stale. And it’s a bit sad that people are happy to part with $20,000 for a posthumous print by photographer William Klein, simply because they recognize the image.

Huma Bhabha at Peter Blum, the Armory

THE ARMORY SHOW

Not the first fair, but it remains the godfather of them all. The Armory Show, which of course is not at The Armory but on The Piers just across the West Side Highway from Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, boasts over 60,000 visitors, many who parted with the steep $30 entrance fee just to get in to soak up the atmosphere and browse the aisles. For some of us, it was a great time to socialize with old colleagues and meet new contacts. Absolutely everyone I talked with was in a fine mood and happy to chat about artists, prices and the fluctuating weather in New York. This year on Pier 92 – the Modern section of the fair, which claims to present “historically significant works of the 20th and 21st centuries” – we saw a large amount of female cheesecake. A kitschy sculpture by Mel Ramos of a buxom blonde nude riding a roll of Life Savers candy was on display at Berlin’s Levy Galerie. One could find canvases with three-dimensional boobs protruding off the paintings of women and a few bits of third-rate girly Pop by Tom Wesselmann. It was a treat, however, to visit the booth of Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, which showed several incredible canvases and drawings by Di Chirico. The medium-sized paintings were all priced in the $750,000 range.

Over on Pier 94, which features Contemporary art and a hipper crowd, visitors strolled the aisles, as dealers showed collectors additional works with the help of their iPads. Jack Shainman Gallery had put together one of the best booths, showing mainly black artists. A large painting by Kerry James Marshall, Vignette #6 (2005), was available for $250,000. The booth also contained a large, memorable c-print by Zwelethu Mthethwa and a wall sculpture of a NYPD squad car door by Jonathan Seliger. Shainman represents Hank Willis Thomas, who was one of the best artists at the fair, and is sought-after by many after his star turn in this year’s Greater New York exhibition at P.S. 1. Thomas’s photographic tableaux of male basketball players, that contain nooses and chains as well as basketballs, are borderline ham-fisted, but haunting nonetheless.

Other highlights included Paul Kasmin Gallery’s neon installation by Ivan Navarro. The white neon fence ran along the perimeter of the square booth, blocking it off completely. Neon could be seen everywhere, as in previous years, and Martin Creed, at Hauser & Wirth, was represented by a single word, FRIENDS, in neon which blinked on for three seconds, then off for the same amount of time. (The piece, in an edition of 3, was available when the fair opened for just $85,000.) I loved Roger Hiorns strange resin form that vaguely resembled two anthropomorphic hares copulating, at L.A.’s Marc Foxx Gallery, which was priced at £35,000. Gallery owner Foxx called me over, reached inside the colorless wallwork, and pulled out something the artist had secretly placed inside: a small plastic bag holding a piece of dried cow brain. Bjarne Melgaard’s giant oil on canvas works at Galerie Krinzinger Vienna, depicting 1970s SCREW magazine covers repainted with the artist’s signature thick splashes, were eye-catching. Elmgreen + Dragset’s Grown Up Rocking Horse (2010), which was commissioned by Pinchuk Art Centre, was impossible to miss for its gigantic scale, simplicity, and lacquered whiteness. Without question my favorite work at this year’s Armory was Huma Bhabha’s all-white, Styrofoam, chicken wire and clay untitled figure that stood guard at the entrance to Peter Blum’s booth. It was a masterpiece with a price tag of $90,000.

Jonathan Seliger at the Armory

Grown Up Rocking Horse by Elmgreen & Dragset at the Armory

Mel Ramos at the Armory

Ivan Navarro's Fence at Paul Kasmin, the Armory

VOLTA

Considered the sister show to the Armory, VOLTA takes place on the 11th Floor of an office building across from the Empire State Building. VOLTA presents booths that each gallery gives over to a single artist’s work, and is more curated than other fairs as a whole. This year there was plenty of skill and craftsmanship, if not much conceptual meat on most of the bones. One could see works made of neon, if the Armory’s neon wasn’t enough, and a column of empty doodles depicting art world inside jokes. One of the most crowded booths when I attended VOLTA was that of Jonathan Ferrar Gallery from New Orleans, who chose to devote its moment to large photographs of cleverly folded dollar bills by Dan Tague. The bills utilized words on the almighty dollar to spell out ransom note-looking phrases such as “love and hate,” or “live free or die.” The decorative works were a snack consumed in four seconds flat.

Highlights included Ryan Schneider’s booth for Priska Juschka Gallery. Schneider, a painter whose work I’ve always been drawn to, presented large new works in a pop-up version of his messy, bottle-strewn studio. The artist’s large, personal works depict colorful, Matisse-influenced domestic vignettes and reward prolonged viewing. I was also intrigued by the tapestries and photographs by Athi-Patra Ruga at Whatiftheworld Gallery from Cape Town. Ruga’s gender-bent, political weavings and performance-based images felt rich with insight on race and isolation.

Athi-Patra Ruga at Volta

Ryan Schneider at Volta

SCOPE

The first thing that must be said about SCOPE, in which Saatchi Online participated with a booth of its own, is that it could benefit from a reorganization. With the combination of a solitary location (on the West Side highway at Spring Street in Soho) and a shockingly unhelpful website, SCOPE could have been a complete bust. Several visitors complained about the website not even displaying the fair’s address on it unless you dug down. [The address information has since been made visible to the website.] But I was one of the sorry lot that went to the only address on the website, that of the SCOPE offices in the West 30s. Like others, I arrived on the first day at the address on the website and was told by a woman in the office that their goal was to “keep the whole thing more exclusive,” because “except for VOLTA, all of those other fairs are crap.” Exhibitors at SCOPE were constantly grumbling about the lack of foot traffic, though Saturday night was well attended.

In my impartial opinion, some works in our own Saatchi Online booth were among the best on display at the fair. Noa Charuvi’s magically realized portraits of destroyed homes in Palestine were magnificent, and painter Farrell Brickhouse and photographer Andrew A. Lucas contributed fresh, potent works.

Ordinary objects made large was another theme of the 2011 fairs, such as the huge paper airplane made of marble at VOLTA and SCOPE’s giant red Popsicle. As at the Armory, female nudity at SCOPE seemed simultaneously ubiquitous and coy. One booth displayed holographic-type images of the worst kind of tasteful, empty black and white body portraiture. A few had inexplicably (or perhaps predictably) sold.

Andrew Lucas at Scope

Noa Charuvi at Scope

Farrell Brickhouse at Scope

INDEPENDENT

Without question the best fair of the week was the Independent Art Fair at the former DIA Foundation on 22nd Street. The open floor plan, solid groupings of artworks and free admission for the public made the fair seem like an exuberant museum opening. Among the best of the best was Kalinka Bock’s Miles and Moments (2010), a terra cotta tube that captured the imprints of tire tracks and stretched across the floor into several different gallery areas. The piece was apparently aging before our eyes. Collaged drawings by Eva Kotatkova were also a highlight, as were the sculptures by Josephine Meckseper (still available on Saturday for $40,000) and paintings by Sanya Kantarovsky (both sold in the $3,500 range.) Galleries such as Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Anton Kern, Maureen Paley, Artists Space, Jack Hanley and Elizabeth Dee were on hand proudly displaying (and selling briskly) works by their own artists. The not-for-profit space White Columns, which continues to thrive under the directorship of Matthew Higgs, had sold several dozen of its editions. And Artists Space had a similar success with the launch of its new portfolio, a bargain at $1,000 for six artworks.

Josephine Meckseper at Independent

Sanya Kantarovsky at Independent

Miles and Moments by Kalinka Bock at Independent

THE DEPENDENT

The Dependent Art Fair was held at The Sheraton Hotel for just a few hours on Friday night. It was enjoyable to elbow one’s way through the partying crowd, inching from room to room. Like The Armory in its first years, The Dependent rented hotel rooms for galleries, including Cleopatra’s, Recess, Specific Object and Silvershed, to display their wares. Beds were strewn with artwork, walls were crowded, video monitors played and a haircut performance took place in one of the bathrooms. Though I didn’t see a large amount of memorable art, the hip-casual vibe and the low price point of the works made the evening a brief, memorable success.

The ordinary object made large? Quinn Taylor’s gigantic novelty Groucho Marx nose/glasses/mustache in Specific Object gallery’s hotel room.

PULSE/IMPULSE

The final fair that I attended this year was PULSE, which was held at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street in Chelsea. PULSE is a group of booths on the main floor and the smaller satellite fair, IMPULSE, takes place just one floor above. At first glance the fair seemed like a room of decorative collectibles, but this was definitely a function of my overloaded art ingestion parts, and I discovered some rewarding pieces once I dove into the mix. Photography by Matt Lipps, painting by James Benjamin Franklin, and watercolors by Matthew Watson won me over. It was a visual treat to see the underappreciated (in New York anyway) Rachel Lachowicz represented by a giant red lipstick painting and other cosmetic and conceptual works at the booth of Shoshana Wayne Gallery. Crowds constantly gathered around the paintings of Luis Lorenzana, who paints cartoony girls and clowns in a hyper-realistic, neo-baroque style. Like the figurative paintings of Mark Ryman, Lorenzana’s work is of the kind that is loved by many, due to his obvious skill and accessible outlook on sex and life.

I noticed quite a few red dots at PULSE, and gallery owners seemed pleased to be a part of this clean, well-trafficked middle market New York fair. As I passed the booth of Samuel Freeman gallery, from Santa Monica, California, I stumbled upon a $75,000 sale in progress. The piece was an eight-feet tall sculpture by Ewerdt Hilgemann, an artist I had never heard of. His tall metal rectangular box had had the air sucked out of it and was then upended by the artist, so that as shiny and important as it looked, its tilt made it appear to be withering gracefully. The collector’s dialogue with the gallery rep is of the classic art/design/clueless/prestige mash-up:

Collector: Our floor is pretty much as dark as the base, so that works.

Collector’s Wife: [gently shaking the leaning form] Do you have it shimmed?

Gallery Person in White Gloves: It leans a little bit more forward than I like. But you could re-shim it.

Collector: It’s gonna have to go on the rug—but it’s deep pile so I’m not worried.

Maybe during next year’s Art Fair Week they’ll be able to locate a new Renoir to match their sofa.

About the author

Doug McClemont
Doug McClemont is a writer, curator and critic and the New York correspondent for Saatchi Online's magazine. He has contributed essays to several monographs on contemporary art, and his writing appears in publications from ARTNews to Publisher’s Weekly. As the former editor-in-chief of the infamous magazine HONCHO, he has been the subject of profiles in Time Out New York and Frieze. You can now following Doug on twitter @duggworld

7 Comments

  1. Fresh informative review of the week in New York and thanks for the thumbs up mention.

    Reply
  2. Rebecca Wilson says:

    Thanks Doug. So glad you came by our booth and found some work you enjoyed. Rebecca

    Reply
  3. keyfunk says:

    sounds exhausting but fun! look for me next year!

    Reply
  4. Project M says:

    Lovely report. Great eavesdropping. I now need to find out what is the hottest sofa style / colour is for next year.

    Reply
  5. kerri says:

    U woke me up at republicunt

    I love huma bhabha Would let him live at my house
    And the imprint of tire tracks can come over too

    Keep up the good work
    All the best
    K

    Reply
  6. kerri says:

    P.s ‘ the sheep look cold ‘

    Reply
  7. Esky says:

    The ART Is DEAD

    Reply

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