To pick up from last time and conclude my report on the New York art fairs, maybe the one remaining alternative is a touch of class, and the ADAA Art Show is once again delighted to provide it. In the Park Avenue Armory, where the current Armory Show began, the lighting alone is a relief from the glare of more modern arenas.
No doubt change comes inexorably, now that Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik are as ubiquitous as old masters. This year’s model had room for the coarse likes of Tracey Emin at Lehmann Maupin and Barry X Ball at Sperone Westwater, with her sex life and his blatant copies after Futurism. The show even bows to the upstarts with a mix of solo exhibitions and “thematic” ones—a term capacious enough to permit business as usual. For all that, more than one hundred years after the 1913 Armory Show (actually in the Lexington Avenue Armory further downtown), the Art Dealers Association of America is still bringing modern art to America.
Where else can a dealer, like Galerie St. Etienne, celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary—or two different booths hold Morris Louis at his largest? Where else can Op Art, with Maxwell Davidson, or a relative outsider like Forrest Bess, with David Zwirner, look sedate and sophisticated? Where else can James McNeill Whistler, for Thomas Colville, still plead for his influence with his grayest and most somber work?
I could still find surprises, though, like an accordion book by Etel Adnan, with Galerie Lelong, or Alice Aycock, with Fredic Snitzer, at her rawest and most open. Al Held, with Cheim & Read, turns out to have reached his geometric illusions through gestural abstractions that grow vertically, like marshy landscapes. And a booth for Jan Groover, with Janet Borden, will just have to do until a museum gets around to showing how she put color photography center-stage.
That leaves everybody else and so the Armory Show. One does not cross the four lanes of Twelfth Avenue to learn about art, although it could offer a slightly biased refresher course. No, one goes to learn what is available—that and what has now been promoted from contemporary to modern. For the first, the Armory Modern offers the expected names from the 1960s, as traffic in earlier art shifts to the auction houses. For the second, surprises include Robin Rhode, for his slippery take on street art, and Carrie Moyer, whose paintings literally pour it on. As for what is available on the adjacent pier at the Armory Contemporary, naturally the short answer is everything.
Well, not really, unless you mean everything with a name-brand artist attached. Still, it can sure seem that way, especially in the dense and disorienting passage from pier 92 to pier 94. To help you concentrate, the show has set that passage aside for Armory Focus, sixteen galleries united only by the hope of getting your attention. Mona Hatoum caught mine, at Alexander and Bonin, with a gleaming circle of black stones harking back to ancient civilizations and earthworks. So did Kalfayan, an Athens dealer with photographs of Syrian street corners by Hrair Sarkissian, their ordinariness disguised by the title Execution Square. On the facing wall, altered pages from The New York Times, by Panos Tsagaris, only heighten their insistent riot coverage with massive censorship, not in black but gold.
For the rest, let me nominate not the best in show, but merely an if. Does one have to have “zombie formalism“? If so, take Ryan Blodgett at Richard Teller, with familiar but still lovely lines seemingly squeezed right from the tubes over bright color fields. Does one have to have flashy installations? If so, take Berta Fischer at James Fuentes, with rippling walls of Plexiglas. If not, try Andrew Ohanesian at Pierogi, with working slot machines, give or take the absence of a payoff.
If one has to have sculpture that aims not at formalism but at you, take Glenn Kaino at Honor Fraser, with copper-plated arrows converging on a point in space. If one has to have an old standby, take Bill Viola at Blaine | Southern, with a video of two men, one black and one white, walking side by side but alone before dissolving into a landscape. If one has to have the grandeur that announces big money, walk right up to El Anatsui at his largest at Jack Shainman, with the dark shine of his curtain in black on gold. I know longer even look to see whether it comes from the metal seals on liquor bottles.
Still, if one associates art with a long attention span, go elsewhere. Thankfully, the fairs move on, but the rest of us remain.
Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.