Monday, March 31, 2008

Art: SCOPE and The Armory Show

Why would an artist who can do this:
do it, but also do this:
These are two pieces by Karl Haendel that I saw at the Armory Show this year, which highlight the kind of confusion endemic to the art scene these days (you'll find it at the Whitney Biennial, gallery-hopping in Chelsea, and so on). The first picture is a pop/photo-realist pencil drawing, about three feet wide; the reflections are the fault of my shoddy photography on the glass. The second picture is of a work about the same size, but portrait instead of landscape: a list of ways in which Hitler and Karl Haendel are different. It's funny, but I would personally hesitate to call it good art. I would be less hesitant to call the giant baby good art, but I wouldn't buy it for my house, either. It feels a little dated. Both pieces do, actually, although they represent opposing ends of a dated spectrum (pop and conceptualism; all image versus no image).

The positive thing that I can say about Haendel's work is that it caught my attention and made me want to take a picture and write down his name. I didn't take pictures of any of the exploded-craft-store variety (the kind of work we see a lot today, in which labor intensity is highlighted, while "craftsmanship" is ignored, using a good amount of sequins, tape, fabric, wax, blinking lights, vinyl banners, colored plexiglass chips, markers, sparkles, rhinestones, day-glo paints, and all other ephemera of bling-meets-kitsch). I didn't take pictures of any of the so-tedious-I-walked-right-by-without-noticing stuff, either. I didn't take pictures of anything at the Eleanor Antin booth, because I couldn't decide whether I liked it or didn't (I know I don't like the Eleanora Antinova film, but I do maybe possibly like the photographs, and the concept of Eleanora Antinova, and I do probably like the new photos, the full color ones that play with the photography/sculpture/painting and post-modernity/antiquity (they would have fit in nicely with my graduate thesis), but I do remember it, which is more than I can say for much of the rest of it.
I also didn't take pictures of my favorite thing at the show, because I instead bought the book: The Hyena & Other Men by Pieter Hugo. I really wanted to buy one of his gorgeous, serene, dingy pictures, but at $9,500 a piece, that wasn't really a possibility. While I didn't see anything else at the show that I would have actually wanted for my own collection, I wrote down a few names of artists whose work was sort of maybe remotely interesting: Anthony Goicolea (it must have been photography, because looking at his website now, his drawings are awful), Dan Perjovschi (who did a fairly amusing installation at MoMA recently, although I've already forgotten what he had at the Armory that made me note his name), Juliao Sarmento (whose paintings I remember seeing last year and liking then, too), Youssef Nabil (whose small, hand-tinted pictures grabbed my attention at first, but quickly grew tiresome and gimmicky, and don't work as well in large format), and Justine Kurland (whose name I wrote down, but whose work I can't remember at all).

I feel like I actually had better luck the day before, at SCOPE. Perhaps the smaller festival is just less overwhelming, or perhaps I was a bit more fresh. Or, perhaps SCOPE features art that's way less hip (I think it does), and my tastes are sort of dated (I get that feeling more and more; when it comes to art, I can defend my generation against an older naysayer, but I'm not genuinely of it, and amongst a group of peers, I'll play dinosaur). At SCOPE I fell in love, really in love, with a painting by Gavin Nolan. It was already sold, so I didn't bother asking the price (I think that was a mistake), but here it is; I love it, and I can't even tell you why. It's just brilliant.
The gallerist showed me some photocopied images of some other Nolan paintings they still have "in stock," but I didn't like them at all; they were very Bacon-inspired. . . sort of Bacon-meets-Interview magazine. They didn't combine the hyper-real flesh tones with the blocks of print and color; this is apparently a new departure for him. I hope he sticks with it, because it's great. It's the best painting I've seen in a long while.

The other thing at SCOPE that really caught my eye was a group of little icon-like paintings, on small scraps of wood and tin, in brilliant orange and greens that were clearly heavily influenced by graphic arts, but maintained that extra je ne sais qua that makes art art. They were hung on a wall with no label, and were minded by no gallerist. I had to circle back a few times, hoping to find out what they were; at long last, I was able to interrupt an obnoxious L.A. slag wearing a clingy leopard-print wrap dress with spike heels while she chattered away with a (male) client, refusing to give me the time of day. I stood next to them for a few minutes, looking at her pointedly, and being pointedly ingored, and then they started to walk away. I had to interrupt and ask her cooly "excuse me, but does this artist have a name?" "The Date Farmers," she snapped, and walked away. And so, to the internet, where I found some more pictures, and decided that these guys are totally awesome, wherein painting is concerned (I'm hesitant on installation in general, and their installations looked a little. . . crafty/cloying/tedious). But their paintings? Brilliant.

No comments: