4.28.17 — The Challenge of Photography

To wrap up this week’s report on the March art fairs, you know the challenge of pier 94. You know it from the first weekend of that month, when the pace is blistering and even the VIP lounge is a madhouse.

Big, bright images from instantly recognizable artists assault you from every side, all of it for sale and spilling out onto the adjacent piers as well. And then, after that long journey west of the theater district, competing fairs demand your attention all over town. Well, guess what? If you have any energy left four weeks later, the challenge of the AIPAD Photography Show is that none of this is true. Mark Lyon's Defunct (Summer), Newburgh, NY, 2013 (Elizabeth Houston Projects, 2016)

Photography is bound to be a challenge for a big fair, given a medium that does not often reward a distant view. With its move from the Park Avenue armory to the Hudson, this fair has expanded to well over a hundred exhibitors, every one of them asking you to get up close, to take your time, and to look around. They include more than two dozen nonmembers of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, many of them smaller galleries in rows of smaller booths, as “Discoveries.” They also include Lucien Samaha, who makes his booth his studio, where those with appointments can sit for portraits with (he swears) the world’s first digital camera. They do not pack the pier anywhere near as densely as the Armory Show—all the better to suck you in. They share the pier with a spacious area for publishers and three private collections as well.

For all that, they are notably traditional. They reach back to Gustave Le Gray and the 1850s with Hans P. Kraus and to what another dealer dares to call a history of printing. They include such well-deserved staples as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy with Robert Koch, Man Ray and André Kertész with Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, Margaret Bourke-White with Howard Greenberg, and Robert Frank or Richard Misrach more than once. Contemporary photographers, too, reach back to the Bauhaus or Surrealism—like abstract landscapes with von Lintel, the view down a spiral staircase by Luciano Romano with Sabina Raffaghello, and an interior overlaid with UTOPIA by George Rousse with Sous les Etoiles. Steven Kasher boasts of twenty-one photographers but just one straight white male. That sounds ever so millennial, but it spans the years from Diane Arbus to Mickalene Thomas.

In short, this is photography as art. It includes several dealers that do not specialize in photography (and omits at least two in New York that do), but new media are rare apart from cascading blue pixels by Clifford Ross with Ryan Lee and a projection on the pier’s glass entryway outside by Colleen Plumb. So are abstraction and other crossings of genre and media, apart from Niko Luoma with Bryce Wolkowitz. So is anything resembling photojournalism, apart from classics of street photography on film in a “screening room.” So, too, is fashion or even portraiture—apart from Samaha and the Walther collection, with photographers who examine people as types, or “Structures of Identity.” That surely flatters August Sanders, but maybe not Richard Avedon, and both look the better for it.

So what's NEW!In their scale alone, many of the photos call attention to themselves as art objects. Ahmet Ertug’s library interiors with Ellipsis Projects and Christian Vogt’s museum galleries with Unix adopt the large format, sharp focus, and subject matter of Andreas Gursky and Candida Höfer. Jefferson Hayman with Michael Shapiro goes to the opposite extreme, with small photographs in thick frames like forgotten family treasures. Strictly conceptual art hardly appears, as do overlays of text. I might have glimpsed both in a booth empty but for text high on the wall, but no: its statement that an Iranian dealer had withdrawn in the face of Donald J. Trump’s travel ban is all too true.

Elsewhere politics stands at a distinct remove. The Madeleine P. Plonsker collection captures “The Light in Cuban Eyes,” but with an eye more to the light than to the regime. The third private collection, from Martin Z. Margulies, presents international artists—but the brute facts of concentration camps, Mideast photography, and the refugee crisis get along peaceably with the allure of the exotic. A fair with few solo shows obliges you to pick your own favorites. They might include towering industrial landscapes by Edward Burtynsky with Koch and, among Discoveries, garage interiors wide open to the light by Mark Lyon or walls as visual collage by Andy Mattern, both with Elizabeth Houston. The challenge comes in slowing down long enough to take them in.

4.27.17 — Moving On

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To continue my report from last time, not every cool kid has a trust fund. At least two exhibitors at NADA have galleries about as small as their booths—and those are members of the New Art Dealers Alliance. Meanwhile nonmembers line the former High Line terminal, well west of Soho, with displays the size of closets. For all that, the show runs to packed group exhibitions, and painting, the dominant medium, runs to messy or out of control. MutualArtNot surprisingly, it does not look anywhere near its best either, although chaos has its own rewards. AES+F, a collective with Transfer + Mobius, indeed translates modern office life into a carnival, in slow motion.

Speaking of new media, Moving Image has moved. No, its twenty-eight artists still occupy the comforting Tunnel warehouse west of Chelsea, but with a strikingly global cast. More to the point, they are able to return home, thanks to virtual reality, with you as their guest. For Jakob Kudsk Steensen, home is a tropical island, only partly of his imagining. For Rebecca Allen, it is a space apart shared with a nude cyborg, green mountains, and the interior of the brain climaxing in a burst of light. They and others ask you to put on a headset and to explore, if you dare.

I was mostly too terrified of falling, especially when Christopher Manzione and Seth Cluett placed me high above a ravine and a studio interior. Whatever else, this art is vivid. So, too, are equally bold but less immersive media. John Craig Freeman offers an app that overlays Saint Petersburg onto Chelsea as you walk, including the High Line. Yet even the predominant single-channel videos tend to focus on single actors with their own challenging environments. Casey Reas's Process 4 (Bitforms, 2005)They include an African woman warrior from Robert Hodge, burn victims from Damir Očko, a man ascending a high rise open to the weather from Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani, the displaced in an internment camp from Tamiko Thiel and Zara Houshmand, and a man out for a walk on a shifting slope in Rio from Marcus Bonisson and Khalil Charif.

Not that the fair entirely neglects its old staple in pulsing abstract, natural, and fractal images, most notably from Casey Reas. Its altered reality may also seem at times more a demonstration of the media’s power than of art. With a biker held close to the picture plane in the rain, from Alexandre Mazza, it returns to Bill Viola territory, overstatement intact. Still, the emphasis has shifted to the subject’s or viewer’s eye, and that eye is now global and gendered. Arda Yalkin, in turn, captures a moment in a job interview, with a demand on the candidate to surrender privacy forever. And when Yalkin places you in the center, between employer and candidate, the demand may come from or extend to you.

Whatever the future, it will not be Scope. It has in its superheroes and its pop stars. It has enough gold leaf for Kehine Wiley, Zarina Hashmi, Barkley L. Hendricks, and then some. It has only token presence from New York galleries, if at that. Just on the way in, at Soho Arts Council, oversized museum wall labels by Brian Blocks face abstract tokens in the negative hues of a photogram by Harry Buzman—as the twin markers of conceptual and sensory overload. Even so, intellect and visual acuity will be few and far between.

So are the fairs any less oppressive—or any more essential to the future of the galleries and of art? After a week devoted to the art market, is it any clearer what they bode for art or for business? I have my doubts, but it plainly depends where you stand. Someone high on the food chain may be struggling to care, and someone low on the food chain may be struggling to survive. Yet both may feel the pressure to stand on the side of glitz and not art. The question is who is left in between, and I wrap up my report on the March art fairs next time, with photography.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

4.26.17 — Cool Kids

To continue my report from last time, Spring Break is finally cleaning up its act. For such an upstart, the fair sure has an eye for real estate. Perhaps it is in the wrong business. Now it has moved from the confining grandeur of the Farley Post Office behind Penn Station to the Conde Nast building.

True, it settles for the anonymity of an office building and the tourist clutter of Times Square, with a long elevator ride at that. Yet the work gains from keeping up with its surroundings.

Right off the elevators, one can detect a new professionalism. One floor opens with dismembered buckyballs by Michael Zelehoski and a skeletal horse that Deborah Butterfield might have left out to die, by Wendy Klepper. Beverly Buchanan's Untitled (Slab Works 1) photo from estate of the artist/Jane Briggs, private collection, c. 1978)The other opens with a constellation of scrap wood overhead and warnings of monsters and fuckers on the wall, by Gregg Haberny. Within, Spring Break plays to a warren of small offices and a conference center with floor cushions and playground colors. It has also dispensed with pile after pile of worn clothing, like a homeless shelter after the lights have gone off and the homeless have gone to die. For once, a Chelsea gallery joins the independent curators, and they appear to be curating.

It even has painting and sculpture. Actually, it has too much of everything, with a good one hundred exhibitors—and ever so many more artists. Labels are scarce, so excuse me if my reporting lets you and me both down. I do not know who left the massive table of flashing sound and light as Knotted Gate or the scarred remains of torched buildings as Broken Homes. I know a room with robots, the kind that change direction when they run into something, only as THEM. Still, with robots more often used for house cleaning than for potted plants, the fair is already cleaning up.

A sign for “Immersion Room” could well describe almost everything here, with real and sculpted people as couch potatoes and cooks. Jason Peters multiplies his twisted and tubular Japanese lantern with mirrors for a dark, disorienting, and powerful presence. Kenny Rivera continues his painting on the floor, with BravinLee, not unlike Sarah Cain. Even on canvas, Srigon Chowdhury brings together abstraction and illusion, with solitary souls that find their way through curtains out of Ken Currie. RHW Enterprises toils away at an alternative to the entirety of fair week. Its women in white suits seem to be crafting decorative art with a diligence that larger commercial ventures can only envy.

In no time the Independent has established itself as the cool kid with an upscale lifestyle, even more so since its move to Tribeca. This year should cement its reputation. A more domestic cast includes more downtown galleries along with others from Chelsea and Europe—plus one from Bushwick and Elizabeth Dee, its founder, now in Harlem. It also has the contents to match. What other fair dares one to find value in conceptual art, such as Travel Posters by Barbara Bloom, at David Lewis? Amid global collectors, her “English Spoken” takes on new meaning.

Painting tends toward big and beautiful, but without empty excess. That includes Ted Stamm at Karma, David Diao at Bureau, Sue Tompkins at the Modern Institute, Loïc Raguénès at Clearing, Katherine Bradford at Canada, Despina Stokou at Derek Eller, and Tatiana Trouvé at Galerie Perrotin. Others combine the formal and conceptual—like Anne Doran at Invisible-Exports, with crosses like those of Robert Mangold refashioned from advertising. Red telephones inserted into white sculpture recall not just the land lines and Minimalism that millennials have abandoned, by Zak Kitnick at Clearing, but World War II bunkers clinging to communication with the outside world.

African American women, too, have a place, with blurry screen captures of athletes by Howardena Pindell at Garth Greenan and shacks in scrap wood and oil pastels by Beverly Buchanan at Andrew Edlin. They supply a chastening reminder of what a week of white male preening leaves out, and I continue my report next time, with NADA, Moving Image, and Scope.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

4.25.17 — Armory 2.0

To continue my report from last time, the 2017 Armory Show is determined to reinvent itself. It has done so before, in moving to the piers west of midtown, but this time it starts over at every turn.

It can feel like the latest operating system that has users scrambling to find the start button. You can still find most anything you like, though, because everything these days is up for sale. I need not tell you which artists are perennial market favorites. They probably hang just past the champagne bar. Carrie Moyer's Canonical (Canada gallery, 2011)

Like the latest software, the fair means to stay competitive and contemporary. It responds to the trend toward single-artist booths with Insights, which promise a closer look at the twentieth century. It responds to the global present with Focus, a curated section of just nine artists. It responds to the trend toward big work with Platform Projects, sculpture scattered throughout like a massive treasure hunt. It responds, too, to competition from younger fairs with Presents, for first-time exhibitors at an introductory rate. It even has Armory Interactive, for those who just cannot look up from their cell phone or computer.

As with software, too, features may add more flash than substance. Insights permits not just solo acts, but also two-person and themed booths—like “Trajectory of Dreams,” a quote from André Breton, at Mayoral of Barcelona. Focus is forgettable. Platform Projects play all too obviously to the crowds, like the sculpted blobs by Yayoi Kusama or Lego towers by Douglas Coupland. Presents counts any gallery less than ten years old as emerging, and even half off is not cheap. Visitors seem more interested in charging their cell phones or computers than in using them for Interactive.

Still, starting over can be fun, like the next round in a video game. The past division between one pier for modern and one for contemporary art is officially gone, but it still mostly holds, and guess who has been promoted to modern master this year? How about moose heads and landscape photos by Dennis Oppenheim at Montasio of Milan or fluid abstractions by Carrie Moyer at Marlborough? (The gallery still has room for her and Robert Kushner on the other pier.) Discarding the rule has its surprises as well, like Florine Stettheimer at Jeffrey Deitch alongside living artists—a near reprise of his booth at the first Armory Show, in 1995. Her cathedrals of art and fashionable society look wilder than ever.

Besides, flash can be fun, too. Kathy Butterly joins the fashion for coarse ceramics at Tibor de Nagy, with a touch of nail polish. Levi van Velum makes an environment of darkness, including a black cube that one can enter for a moment of silence and a table to display black stones, again at Montasio. A fragile boat packed with upturned legs by Abigail DeVille speaks to the refugee crisis, as a Platform Project. Among the first-time dealers, Nicelle Beauchene displays suggestive black marks on elusive brushwork by Ryan Nord Kitchen, while Lyles & King has photographs by Ethan Greenbaum as the central point in what might be the challenge of collage, painting, or sculpture. Wherever you land, though, you can always move elsewhere on fair week for more.

Volta, for one, began as a challenge to what an art fair could be, but what happens when its challenge succeeds? It still calls on exhibitors to show a single artist, so that a fair can be about not just sales, but also art. It asks visitors to linger for what emerging and midlevel dealers do best—to nurture careers and artists. Now, though, even the classier fairs have their focus booths. Can Volta still offer an alternative? What can keep even single-artist booths from looking like just another day in the galleries, only cheesier?

Volta cut back on the cheese in moving to the pier next to the Armory Show, but the challenge keeps getting harder. Even attempts to stay current can dilute its impact. This year’s fair includes a group show curated by Wendy Vogel, “Your Body Is a Battleground,” along with the single artists. One dealer displays two artists as well. Still, one can seek depths in a dark but ebullient paper mural by Sandeep Muherjee at Chimento, a wall of bird carvings as unnatural habitat by Manuela Viera Gallo at Y, old luggage as the site of strange growth by Kathleen Vance at Rockelmann &, or weathered screen prints merging into abstractions by Levan Mindiashvili at Lodge. Robert Henry even takes the solo show a step further, by pairing its display of layered, cut, and knotted paper by Liz Jaff with a show of her ink silhouettes and drips back at the gallery—as two views of a woman’s contours, craft, and surrender to chance, and I continue my report next time, with Spring Break and the Independent.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

4.24.17 — The Pressure Is On

What can you find at the art fairs? Whatever you want—perhaps even that endangered species the dealer. With the May art fairs heading into New York next week, you are sure to have the spectacle on your mind. Let me use all this week then (with a couple of bonus posts) to recap the variety of 2017 March fairs. Together, they are the subject of a longer review and my latest upload.

Already a few years ago, celebration of the growth and diversity of New York art fairs mixed with concern for the pressure they put on galleries. It costs real money to compete for attention, Mel Bochner's Going Out of Business (private collection, 2012)in a week that practically requires a short attention span. Just last year, a panel asked whether galleries might just as well pack it in, and many have. Does one need to pay the rent on a “brick and mortar” gallery if one can just as well work behind the scenes—and in public at the fairs. That alone makes the 2017 art fairs less superfluous for New Yorkers up on the galleries. At least they would like you to think so.

And the pressure is on. You can see it in the Armory Show, which has added so many features that one can barely find one’s way, or at NADA, which has moved up to join the action, leaving Frieze almost alone in May. You can see it in Pulse, which has packed up entirely. You can see it in galleries that shell out for more than one fair at a time. And yes, you can catch lost and lamented dealers, although only a handful—although I can name a survivor, based elsewhere, who relied on the fairs for his sole presence in New York but has now given up. Thankfully, though, you can still find plenty when it comes to art.

You can find what you want at the ADAA Art Show, if only you aim high. Seeking a new history of Abstract Expressionism? Jackson Pollock, at Washburn, faces off with the woman he betrayed—with late work by Lee Krasner at Paul Kasmin that trades her usual structure and complexity for bursts of color. Norman Lewis at Michael Rosenfeld and early ink drawings by Arshile Gorky at Hauser & Wirth provide pointed alternatives to both. Looking for other strong women? If you are male, Betty Tompkins at P.P.O.W. and Joyce Pensato at Petzel are once again in your face. Tompkins also takes a break from her female private parts to paint Man’s Best Friend, and she does not mean a woman.

George Inness shows the mistier side of the Hudson River School at Thomas Colville, while Chris Ofili at David Zwirner tries his level best to stay relevant without the imagery or the poop. Bill Jensen turns to black, at Cheim & Read, and Sarah Crowner to silhouettes like clothespins, at Casey Kaplan. Alabaster blocks by Ettore Spaletti, at Marian Goodman, meet rag blocks by Michelle Stuart, at Leslie Tonkonow. Olafur Eliasson aspires to grandeur in a large white block mostly eaten away, at Tanya Bonakdar—but then real grandeur comes the roster of names around him. One can find something else at least as welcome, too, in the quiet of the Park Avenue Armory. I could only brace myself for the Armory Show.

Salon Zurcher, too, serves as a warm-up exercise for those scared by the sheer volume of fairs to come. One can treat it as a test of one’s prejudices at that. The Nolita gallery invites half a dozen exhibitors, not one this year from Manhattan. Sure enough, Paris is up front but within late Modernism’s mainstream, Belgium sports an elegant return to the past, China brings glitter and cartoons, Oslo with its altered paintings and photos has an impenetrable reserve, and Provincetown is quiet but knowing. Barbara Cohen from its AMP Gallery adds painterly traces to murky photographs of interiors, as the outlines of dumpsters. She speaks to openness and containment—and to art and architecture.

Still not ready? Consider the intimacy of the media at the core of Art on Paper, on a pier past the Lower East Side, but do not expect to hold art in your hand. Right by the entrance, the fair is out to make an impact, with paper towers by Tahiti Peterson, a scribe’s inner chamber of yellowed pages by Pablo Lehmann, a living room of gray felt tumbling out the fireplace by Timothy Paul Myers, and a wall of electrifying blue above the bar by Valerie Hammond. Video by Peter Sarkisian inserts him into his books, where he, too, looks helpless.

The busy displays err on the side of sophistication, size, and fame as well. I feel guilty singling out overlays of acrylic and text by Mike Smalley at Grande Contemporary, industrial piping in white paper by Wataru Ito at ex-chamber museum, the blackboard equations of “Concinnitas” at Nancy Hoffman, the meeting of bedrooms and industry by Everett Kane at Black & White, or the cyanotype traces of Ellen Steinberg at LOOC Art. Rashaad Newsome at Tamarind extends lithographic traces into real and imagined spaces with colored thread and silver leaf shadows—and I continue my report next time, with the Armory Show itself and Volta.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

4.21.17 — Hard to Choose

The revival of painting has a serious down side: it becomes hard to choose. When anything goes, who is to say what matters? How can any artist leave a signature, when the very idea of authenticity has taken a decades long beating?

Still, the sheer lack of firm directions allows abstraction to cross boundaries in genres and media—and critics like me to make guilty choices. Call everything out there derivative art if you like, but then it has plenty to draw on, or call it “zombie formalism,” but then the dead can walk again. Stephen Maine's P15-0720 (Hionas gallery, 2015)

Two years back, Jackie Saccoccio and Stephen Maine offered a study in contrasts in all-over painting. And Saccoccio still invites comparison to Jackson Pollock, at 11R through April 30, but her canvas has come more and more off the floor. It also combines oil and mica, with small strokes that approach circuit diagrams in their fixity, brushed onto larger splashes of color. She also turns to paper on much the same scale, in what is hard not to call painting. Gouache and ink spill into one another, for a continued play of fluidity and line. Both series make ample use of the ground, whether the weave of canvas or the white of paper.

Maine still pursues a kind of relief printmaking, at Hionas through April 30, with plates the size of canvas and with all sorts of materials in place of wood. They leave quite an impression, with cracks and ripples in their acrylic layers. They also push more determinedly than ever to the edge of the canvas. Speaking of a printer’s blocks, does Sean Scully in his seventies still make oil look like brickwork? Now his work admits as much, with “Wall of Light Cubed” at Cheim & Read through May 20. Some paintings depart from two dimensions through illusion, adding angled planes to the edge of his gridded rectangles, while sculpture takes the stacked colors into the center of a room.

Like Saccoccio, Michael Rouillard works between line and color—and, like Scully, between Minimalism and illusion. His paintings depart from white only with slim verticals and horizontals that cross at regular intervals, sometimes with thinner and darker lines at their center becoming darker still where they meet. Together, they transform the gallery walls into layers of white, at Pablo’s Birthday through April 23. He has also been drawing on paper torn from spiral notebooks until they fill the sheet with a near uniform blackness, much as Callum Innes uses small gestures to create simple monochromes at Sean Kelly through April 29. The torn edges serve as drawing, while the drawing serves as painting and the long row of sheets as installation. After twenty-four years and one hundred sheets, he may finally be calling it a wrap.

Erin O’Keefe looks back to an earlier Modernism, at Denny through May 14. Overlapping planes have the jagged or curved edges of the transition to abstraction in Fernand Léger and Francis Picabia. They do not, though, look at all like bodies in motion. Rather, they sit still for good reason: a lighter touch and greater gradation of tone allows the planes to concentrate light. The effect is all the more striking in two paintings that stick to black and white.

Other work departs further from Cubism to focus that much more on the glow. The easel scale and near uniform dimensions of her work brings out the shared interest in color and light. In one, a bubble appears tucked into the corner of a room. In another, a strip folded twice seems to float in space. It looks almost like a computer graphic. O’Keefe’s compositions and colors can seem arbitrary, but they underscore how abstraction is still learning from both modern art and the present.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

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