By Carol Sims
NEW YORK CITY – The Armory Show 2002, which opened with a gala benefit for the Museum of Modern Art on February 21, took up Piers 88 and 90 and included about 173 contemporary galleries from all over the world. It ran through February 25, each show day opening at a civilized noon. In combination with The Art Show that was exhibited at Park Avenue and 67th Street in the Seventh Regiment Armory, it was a terrific weekend to buy art in New York City.
Six dealers formed a selection committee to decide which galleries would be allowed to participate in The Armory Show. This year’s committee was Marta Cervera, Barbara Gladstone, Georg Kargle, Maureen Paley, Alexander Schroeder and Bob van Orsouw. It was easy to see the aesthetic control that these dealers exerted over the field. (Simply rule out anything that smacks too much of boundaries or tradition.) With one more Pier available for future growth, one wonders if they will ever run out of applicants to fill this burgeoning demand for “new” art. This year there were 41 galleries exhibiting for the first time.
After the show, first-time exhibitor Nicola von Senger, director of ArsFutura wrote, “Back in Zurich I look back to an exiting week on Pier 88 and 90 in New York. For me it was the first time participating at the Armory after I was last year in Chicago and the years before at art fairs in Europe [Basel/Cologne/Berlin/ Paris]. The quality was excellent, the choice of the galleries was good, and the size of the fair was also good. The staff was very friendly and helpful. I [made] a lot of interesting new contacts with collectors, curators and artists and I look back very satisfied.”
Although there were representational plastic arts to be found, either the scale or the subject (somehow in your face) or its nondecorativeness (ugly is good sometimes) made it palatable for the show. Sometimes it was the unusual media that caught your eye. Materials exist now that artists in the past would have loved to play with – electronics, video, new plastics, etc.
Truly international in scope, The Armory Show dealers came from Amsterdam, Antwerp, Athens, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Cologne, Copenhagen, Dublin, Geneva, Glasgow, Hamburg, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, New York (about 70 galleries), Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Tel-Aviv, Tokyo, Toronto, Vienna and Zurich. To be affiliated with the Armory Show definitely adds to the coolness factor. The original Armory Show of 1913 was cutting edge in its day and is considered the progenitor of this show in the spirit of newness.
Eric DuPont of Galerie Eric DuPont, Paris, wrote, “I am surprised to see how much US collectors, advisors and curators were interested in discovering new artists. I [displayed] four French artists. The first day I sold to an American collector the big sculpture by Damien Cabanes, and the last day his huge work on paper. Didier Mencoboni’s gouaches had a lot of success. Many people were interested and several of them have been sold. The same for Corinne Sentou, whose works on paper were sold but at lower price than those by Cabanes and Mencoboni.”
DuPont continued, “A curator of a museum in Florida seemed keen on the gouache by Carlos Kusnir [an Argentinian artist living in France], and Damien Cabanes has been invited next spring by a curator for group show in New York.” Damien Cabanes’s loose gouache paintings of children at play managed to be joyful and true to the subject without any hint of being cute or exploitive. Cabane’s emotions came through in his expressive brushstrokes, done alla prima.
The open airy space of the Piers worked well for the atmosphere of the show. This art definitely needed room to breathe. Galleries looked elegantly sparse. Also, displays frequently violated walking space and head room. Showgoers had plenty of room to navigate around these innovative pieces.
Much of the art at the show was “new” in a derivative sense, building on what artists have done in the past. What would an Armory Show be without urinals? Hearkening back to Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” a urinal exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show, Henry Urbach Architecture, New York City, had a row of gleaming porcelain urinals called “Pee-Scapes” by Alex Schweder of Seattle. The work included unique urinals for men and urinals for women. They were conceived and designed to be functional and were produced by Kohler through their artist program.
Another nod to Duchamp was “Guinevere Descending a Staircase” an enormous C-print of a voluptuous young blonde woman on a staircase wearing a choker, sleeves and above-the-knee pink stockings (and nothing else) by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Cubism has been updated with technology, and now our nude descending a staircase has a face and a name. She could be found at the display of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York City.
We are always building on our past. “SEX,” a graphic pop art painting by Christian Schmidt-Rasmussen, came after Robert Indiana’s “LOVE.” Galleri Nicolai Wallner of Copenhagen presented his painting along with a color flyer that showed the artist painting in the nude. Perhaps this does set him apart from Indiana.
Nudity has always been popular in art. Some things never change. Just talk your friends into getting naked and take pictures of them or draw them. The more the merrier. I-20 Gallery, New York City, had a triptych of photos by Spencer Tunick with hundreds of nude men and women posed lying on a city street in Montreal in front of the Quebec Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal.
Now at least we have equal opportunity nudity. Not since antiquity have there been so many penises as were being presented in the new art. Many of these were drawn in graphic sexual acts. (If it were a rated film, this show would be NC17). Attractive nudes still have the edge (Carey Grant rendered meticulously without clothes), but beauty is not required.
Violence or the results of violence were evident in countless pieces. Photographs of severed hands. Sculpted decapitated heads to be stepped over. “Walk Tall,” a painting by Dawn Mellor, 2001, showed a calm and beautiful Nicole Kidman holding the bleeding but still smiling severed head of Tom Cruise. While there are art historical references for famous severed heads, this imagined beheading has been applied to popular living figures with macabre wit. Two rats skulk around the figures.
As a counterpoint we have “Blood Solid” by Anish Kapoor. A brilliantly executed sculpture in the form of a huge droplet of blood on the floor, it is lacquer-painted bronze, measuring 12 inches high by 351/2 inches in diameter. The shiny scarlet piece had a joyful life of its own. Art of this Century, New York City, showed the piece.
A dead parakeet was neatly divided in two, each half perched in half a cage. The work “Split Pain is Half Pain” by Via Lewandowsky of Berlin was found at the booth of Arndt & Partner, Berlin. The artist, now in his 30s, remembers East Germany before the wall came down.
Is it art boundaries or sensibilities that are being shattered by the “new” art? Probably neither. Life is still stranger than art. The breaking story of the week of The Armory Show was the nonfunctioning crematory in Georgia (hundreds of corpses were left to rot unbeknownst to loved ones).
Human history has always had a vile side. We cannot (always) count on art to lift us above that vileness. One work by Tom LaDuke, “Bodies of My Enemies,” 2001, in Casteline showed 365 miniature corpses (cast figures of the artist) piled in a heap. Neat and tidy and almost cute in scale, it is nonetheless horrifyingly reminiscent of Nazi footage of death camp victims’ corpses being bulldozed into piles. This piece was at Angeles Gallery, Santa Monica, Calif.
Now onto the beautiful. Yes, there were tons of beautiful art at the Armory Show. Photographer Rodney Graham’s “Schoolyard Tree, Vancouver,” 2001, shows us beauty anew by having us perceive it upside down. It is more beautiful that way. Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, displayed this magnificent photograph, which measured 94 by 74 inches framed.
Monica De Cardenas, Milan, had a gigantic painting by Alex Katz entitled “Harbor #4,” an oil on canvas measuring 96 by 126 inches. Katz indicated the horizon line with a few moored boats on an otherwise flat green space. The barest of essential waves and mottled sand in the foreground further indicate the subject. It works as an abstract and still evokes a place. The gallery hung several very small Katz landscapes too. Scale, very big or very small, was important at the Armory.
Pierogi, Brooklyn, N.Y., brought a few miniature pieces by Patrick Jacobs that defy categorization. Each was about five inches in diameter and installed flush with the display wall. Lenses in front of meticulously crafted dioramas of a field with weeds, interiors, were lit from behind. The effect was somewhat like looking into large, beautifully crafted paperweights because of the luminosity – keyholes into the artist’s private miniature worlds.
The Armory Show is still hewing a path for itself. While the show has overcome many obstacles, a new one cropped up this year. Wrote exhibitor Nicola von Senger, “A very bad thing was that every [piece of] equipment – like DVD-players, video- and digital cameras, computers, calculators and so on – were stolen. What is worrying is that this equipment was stolen during the night; even closed locks of galleries [were] opened and everything inside got stolen.” She was careful to take her laptop with her everywhere, even to the bathroom, to keep it from disappearing.
The Armory Show is not as big as Art Basel (which nearly expanded with a second show in Miami Beach this year but was postponed after September 11), is commercial in nature (as opposed to say, the Whitney Biennial), and has had a change in venue nearly every year since its reincarnation at the 69th Regiment Armory. None of these factors put a damper on the coolness factor. New York is still New York, and the vision of the show’s founder, Pat Hearn, is living on in style.