Entering The Armory Show at Pier 92 is a little like walking into a giant wall of money. Blue chip galleries like Matthew Marks and Pace Wildenstein are amongst the first you see, their booths filled with collectors and dealers clad in black designer suits. Hung from their walls are the usual suspects Ellsworth Kelly, Elizabeth Murray, and any number of well established artists whose work costs gobs and gobs of money. Given that the cost of a double extra large booth at the Armory will run a gallery close to $50,000, it’s no surprise these high priced pieces are prominently displayed. This is no venue to be experimenting with new artists in, the stakes are too high. Not that Matthew Marks is known for taking on newbies anyway, but my point is only that if you are going to see a bunch of art made by artists you’ve never heard of before, this isn’t the fair for you.
Curiously, there are some notable absences in the crowd. Gagosian, Luhring Augustine, and Mary Boone Gallery have all either been excluded (unlikely), or are not participating in this years fair. I suppose these galleries must feel they can afford to miss it, but frankly, I’m surprised. For galleries of their size, it’s a little like deciding like their location in Chelsea isn’t a necessity either.
The smell of money at this fair is so thick, it’s hard to properly evaluate anything. I actually began to suffer from some anxiety due to my inablity to identify what was good and bad While I was there. I have finally come to terms with the fact that it is an impossible task. This years Armory brings a brand of homogeny that is a dangerous combination with collecting. No one can be impervious to the sales hype the fair brings out, and since so much of what is shown at this fair pushes a formalist aesthetic, it is hard to know the difference between those things that are legitimately good and what merely looks good. Everything looks like you should buy it.
The highlights of this show are few, but certainly worth noting. For instance, Pace has a great animated wave drawing by Michal Rovner called Pencils. It’s a very simple understated piece in a muted palette, and it’s also right near the entrance of the fair, so even as a small piece it will be hard to miss. Also, Pierogi has a great Twelve Monkey’s inspired piece of tech geekiness. The ball of video cameras and TV’s is designed so it can be rolled…if you dare that is. Despite the several hundred furniture feet attached, it seems unlikely that a rolling video ball is going to fare very well – even if it is on the plush carpets of the Armory.
Undoubtedly my favorite piece in the show was done by David Opdyke at Roebling Hall. This highly detailed model of a stadium displays a mastery of construction, and is one of the few examples of sculpture in the show. My only quibble with this booth is that there are no labels or price lists to be found. I understand that the dealer philosophy on this is that it makes people talk to them, but it’s annoying because I don’t feel I need to discuss cataloguing information with anyone.
According to the write up on the gallery site, Opdyke’s work has a low humor to it on occassion. Although I assume pieces like this exist, I’m having a hard time imagining this being an element that’s of any value to the work. I see no indication of them in the reproductions on the site, and obviously the constructions at the show are completely lacking in toilet humor. Thank God.
The Marianne Boesky booth is located nearby Roebling Hall, and if you haven’t heard is sporting a giant Barnaby Furnas. You can’t say the painting isn’t impressive, but due to it’s size I spent more of time wondering how the piece was installed than I did contemplating the Sea of Blood. It’s impossible to know from this picture, but this painting filled the entire back wall of a booth which had at least one half wall in front of it. As for whether the piece warrents the amount of discussion it has recieved, the answer is probably no*. The work makes sense in the context of his larger body of work, but ultimately lies in the realm of average Barnaby paintings.
Finally a tip of the hat must go off to Deitch Projects for delivering only what Deitch can deliver: corporate scenesterism. I watched the Deitch kids finish their installation efforts during the press preview. It really is a mystery how this company is still in business.
*Read Art Soldier for his response to critic Calvin Tomkins: The Pour, (on Barnaby Furnace’s, The Red Sea) in the New Yorker.