Monday, March 9, 2009

Art: The Armory Show

I almost didn’t make it to the Armory show this year, citing general artistic exhaustion along with extreme disapproval of the $30 admission fee (when was the last time you paid admission for the right to shop at the mall, which is basically what the Armory is—a poorly-curated international mall of art up for purchase). Because I was pressed for time, annoyed, and exhausted, I didn’t make it to SCOPE, the Armory’s low-brow ugly stepsister that I’m not ashamed to admit I usually prefer to the bigger, better, more-renowned thing. Too bad, because it was probably better than the Armory.

At first, I did think that this year’s Armory was an improvement over last, but it was so extensive that after the first two hours (I was there for three, and technically “saw” [often meaning glanced at dismissively] everything) I really couldn’t be attentive to anything. I did have a notebook, though, and jotted down the following trends:

Art that is interesting but not moving.

Art that is pleasant but not good.

Art that appeared again and again in different booths (and unwarrantedly so).

More specifically, I noticed a greater incidence of pen and ink virtuosity (something that I saw seeds of at SCOPE last year, but which has fully exploded since then) and highly textured collages—huge creations of layered paint, photographs, cut-outs, woodchips, threads, and sequins. Craft, it seems, is making a come-back, even if it’s not in a traditionally aesthetically-pleasing way. Artists are back to laboring hard and taking their time.

Less pleasingly, a lot of artists are relying on tacky technology—LCD screens and flashing lights, Jenny Holzer 2.0s, “look at me!” art that is generally less interesting than the floor (which concrete landscape of trapped shipping flotsam is actually pretty captivating in places.) Other gluts were of a more traditional kind—much too much photography from Diane Arbus and Robert Maplethorpe (though I did make a great photographic discovery—one gallery had a few huge prints from Paul Himmel, a mid-century American photographer whose name I’d never heard and whose work I instantly loved).

The other great find was a group of ink drawings by Hope Gangloff, a series of Egon Schiele-meets-Zak Smith (with a taste of the Wallace Smith woodcuts in Fantazius Mallare) portraits of women in bed and men in bands—hipsterish content that would have no staying power if not for her technical virtuosity, and distinct ability to use line to imply rather that demonstrate—the quality that makes Schiele’s drawings so emotive and powerful.

Her biggest drawing (which wasn’t big at all, maybe 18”x24”) was selling for $8,000, and if I were a collector of any means, that’s the thing I would have bought that day. Hers is a name to follow.

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