We Went to The Armory Show: HOW TO SPEND IT

by Michael Anthony Farley and Molly Rhinestones on March 4, 2016 Art Fair + We Went To...

Alex Katz again armory show

It’s not an art fair until you spot an Alex Katz! There were (of course) many at The Armory Show this year, but this one at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (Paris/Pantin/Salzburg) was probably the biggest and most prominent.

Michael: Every time I go to a fair I’ve been told is going to suck, I’m pleasantly surprised by the first few works I see and actually like that are somewhat engaging. Then, usually within an hour of arrival, fair fatigue sets in and I want anything to shatter the stifling boredom. This iteration of The Armory Show seemed deliberately stacked to position most of the highlights near the entrance or high-traffic areas. By the time the realization that we needed to escape dawned on us, we were so deep within the doldrums of blandness in the recesses of the fair that it felt like a much longer walk out than in. I think we lost any and all sense of time—like a casino where the first few slot machines give you a small payout but everything else is a trap to rip you off.

Molly: Agreed. I was excited by the first row of booths we explored but about halfway through my excitement dissolved into the sea of interchangeable neons and mirrors, and weirdly, cowboy art.

Michael: OMG! So much cowboy art! And so many Damien Hirst “Spot Painting” knockoffs/puns/tributes!

Molly: Yeah, I am naming the buzz I got from the beer we needed to push us through the second half of the fair “The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”.

Douglas Copeland Armory

Douglas Coupland for Artsy

Michael: What is this? What is this selling me? A grid of candy-colored 8.5×11 posters warning “THERE’S ALWAYS A VIP CARD BETTER THAN YOURS.” It feels like a kiosk trying to get me to sign up for a credit card.

Molly: Why aren’t these bigger? I really want a painting that says “I CAN FEEL THE MONEY LEAVING MY BODY” and “SHINY BUT DEEP” the size of the wall.

Michael: Okay Barbara Kruger! You do you! Mostly I thought “DEEP FACE: ________ WITH YOUR FUTURE SELF” sounds like an awesome time travel porn.

Molly: I’m more of a Jenny Holzer girl but fair. There was a news stand in the VIP lounge with a magazine called “HOW TO SPEND IT.” I found that aggressive interjection more interesting than this work. Art with undertones about “internet fatigue” and mourning “pre-internet” always makes me involuntarily roll my eyes so I’m kind of biased.

Ed Young Your Mother

Ed Young, “All So Fucking African” 2015.

Michael: It’s hard to see in this backlit photo, but the stuffed animal is wearing an Oakland Raiders cap and holding a bunch of black balloons that say “YOUR MOM”. The piece is one of the Special Projects curated by Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba as part of Armory Focus: African Perspectives. The wall text describes the piece as “critiquing the current automatic pimping of extrinsic culture for the benefit of appearing as all-inclusive or alternative.” It’s probably the smartest possible way to respond to a curatorial request based solely on demographics. In a fair that—at times—felt to be exploiting the identity politics craze as a marketing gimmick, this banner mimics a box-store advertisement. But perhaps as a happy consequence of this black-washing, a lot of dealers seemed to prominently feature black artists, which is a baby step in the right direction for the commercial art world—even though they were mostly the same familiar names.

Molly: I’m honestly devastated I didn’t know that the “YOUR MOM” balloons were free for me to take.

Kehinde Wiley, “Bound,” 2015 at Sean Kelly (New York)

Kehinde Wiley, “Bound,” 2015 at Sean Kelly (New York)

Michael: This Kehinde Wiley felt like a cautionary tale from Greek mythology. The expression on the figures is somewhere between regal and concerned. They’re all beautiful but ensnared by their hairstyles. Is this a commentary on vanity as a collective trap?

Molly: I like Kehinde Wiley but after seeing his paintings so frequently his work has started to feel a little formulaic. I was excited to see “Bound” featured, as a break from all that. I agree that the women felt like mythological and regal beings. Often in mythology hair is a symbol for wild, animalistic, and sexual power. I viewed the entanglement of the hair as less of an ensnarement and more a symbol for community and strength.  

Galerie Eva Presenhuber1

Verne Dawson, “Trog & Frog,” 2007 (L) and Valentin Carron, “Mario,” 2013 at Galerie Eva Presenhuber (Zurich)

Michael: Galerie Eva Presenhuber had my favorite booth. All of the works were totally different but united by an endearing awkwardness and weird, semi-narrative quality. I wanted to know what the story was with this woman and frog. Likewise, whose legs are these? What’s up with this voyeuristic giant (Below) watching a woman in the pool?  Every layer of this painting is totally different and so many decisions seem arbitrary. I was just as curious about the construction of the painting as I was about its content.

Molly: I was silently playing this game where I named art work’s after all my ex boyfriends so I really liked that those disembodied legs were just named “Mario.” I love anything I can project a narrative onto, especially anything overtly referencing folklore so this was one of my favorite booths as well.

Henry Taylor

Henry Taylor, “why look, when you can see?” 2014-2016 at Galerie Eva Presenhuber (Zurich)

Sigalit Landau, “Restive Products” at ] Hezi Cohen Gallery (Tel Aviv)

Sigalit Landau, “Restive Products” at ] Hezi Cohen Gallery (Tel Aviv)

Michael: This table is full of strange specimens from Israeli sculptor Sigalit Landau: crystallized shoes and nooses, a jar with some preserved curiosity, a pair of oblong silver orbs that look like testicles (“gazing balls”?). It took me a minute to process what the shape on the right was. It’s a pair of women’s legs kneeling with two foot pads on her thighs like a squat toilet. Presumably, someone could buy this and then shit into her lap and out through her anus. It’s really, really uncanny. I bet this is what the bathrooms looked like in the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange.

Molly: If I were going to have a crush on a booth it would definitely be this one. I was immediately drawn to what I presumed were two corsets encapsulated by crystals on the table.  I corset train and the objects in this booth evoked the same sensual yet painful feeling of the moment right before you untie your bodice after being bound a little too tight for hours.

Ala Dehghan at Kalfayan Galleries (Athens/Thessaloniki)

Ala Dehghan at Kalfayan Galleries (Athens/Thessaloniki)

Michael: At first, these hanging pieces from Ala Dehghan are just pretty, but up close, there are all these really creepy images of women hidden behind the sheets of colored gels. They’re obscured but partially visible. It speaks to the veil, gaze, and probably other topics I didn’t pick up on. I’ve never been to Kalfayan Galleries’ brick and mortar locations in Greece, but they’ve consistently impressed me on the art fair circuit. They have a knack for showing visually attractive works that pack a conceptual or political punch the more time you spend with them.

Molly: The tiny paper woman hanging by her teeth from a thread of Mardi Gras beads was one of my favorite parts of the show.

Michael: YES! I didn’t notice that until we had spent about four minutes with these works. Everyone is excited about Spring Break!

Laure Prouvost, “Ideally here all the people you love will lye down on the floor to make a path for you to walk on,” 2015 at MOT International (London, Brussels)

Laure Prouvost, “Ideally here all the people you love will lye down on the floor to make a path for you to walk on,” 2015 at MOT International (London, Brussels)

Molly: This was the first piece I loved when we first walked in. Prouvost’s truisms give up a certain level of artistic control by prompting viewers to imagine themselves outside of the sterile walls of the fair booth and create a space that is more appealing to themselves. I came up with a few of my own,

“Ideally, I won’t see one more terrible Damien Hirst knock off in pier 92”

“Ideally, Vincenzo Peruggia arises from the dead and takes Tony Oursler’s work at Lisson Gallery far away from me”

Michael: Yes! This was so good. There’s something so “off” about it too, like the misspelled words and the crisp white lettering against a background that’s so texturally uneven and already starting to crack. Those flaws aren’t as visible because the paint is black, but it suggests there’s another (presumably less bitter) image that’s been abandoned and painted over.

Shih Chieh Huang, “Disphotic Zone” at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Michael: I think everyone was unanimously seduced by this jellyfish/chandelier installation by Shih Chieh Huang. The whole booth was utterly transformed into a dark space hung with bottles of fluids rigged to electronics. I have no idea what was going on here, but I loved it. The artist even printed diagrams of the tech involved that were hung on the exterior of the booth, but I didn’t bother looking. I didn’t want to shatter the one brief moment of wonder at the fair.

Molly: “Ideally, I could have sat in this installation for most of my visit to Armory.”

Roxy Paine

Roxy Paine, “Rug no. I,” 2015 at Paul Kasmin Gallery (New York)

Michael: Another major trend we identified: rugs or tapestries hung on walls. This one from Roxy Paine is one of the best, and covered with sculptures of mushrooms. I really wanted this to be on the floor, because it’s so evocative and inviting like you could just lay on it.

Shannon Bool "Position #4," 2016 (L) and Vlassis Caniaris, "Observer," 1980 at Dusseldorf's Kadel Willborn.

Shannon Bool “Position #4,” 2016 (L) and Vlassis Caniaris, “Observer,” 1980 at Dusseldorf’s Kadel Willborn.

Michael: This is a shitty photo, but case and point: a Shannon Bool tapestry hung next to Vlassis Caniaris’s “Observer.” Both wall-hanging fibers works and mannequins were EVERYWHERE this year. Mannequins in weird positions. Mannequin limbs. Mannequins dressed as cowboys. Gold mannequins:

Yves Scherer at Galerie Guido W Baudach

Yves Scherer at Galerie Guido W. Baudach (Berlin).

Molly: Oh, naked Emma Watson. I didn’t realize this was the figure that made my social media implode months ago over accusations of misogyny and exploitation until reviewing pictures after the fair. I’ve struggled with this work because while I like that it plays with people’s bizarrely intimate relationships with celebrity social media brands, interviews I’ve read with Scherer about the production of the work come off a little too stalkery. I think the most interesting element is that through the process of gathering hundreds of Emma Watson images to create of 3D print of the “average” Emma Watson, her identity was obscured to the point I didn’t recognize the figure. It made the sculpture feel less “Helga Pataki’s Gumball Arnold Shrine” and more a conversation about our relationships with the digital holograms of strangers.

Michael: I also didn’t realize that backstory, but I think it’s much more interesting now. I just thought of the figure as a proto-classical stand-in for something. Like an Oscar award or a  goddess. Overall I really enjoyed this booth. I think the piece in the foreground is called “Merman”—implying some mythical creature who is half man, half aquatic pet that died from neglect. The fur is so decadent. The sweatpants are so tragic. I simultaneously pitied this sculpture and wanted to touch it.

Mario Pfeifer at KOW Gallery Berlin.

Mario Pfeifer at KOW Gallery Berlin.

Michael: This is a redux of a video installation I reviewed last summer at the Goethe Institut’s Ludlow Curatorial Residencies. The piece is a collaboration between German video artist Mario Pfeifer and the African-American rappers Flatbush ZOMBIES. It presents images of police brutality on one monitor and a short documentary about 3D printing guns as a method of self defense on the other. It’s an odd choice for an art fair, because I doubt anyone is going to buy this pretty disturbing work. But I’m glad it’s here, in this fair that’s so focused on representations of blackness. I think it complicates the viewing relationship liberal white art audiences have with art about black people.

Molly: I totally missed those videos because I was asking the bartender what beer had the highest alcohol content.

Nick Cave, “Soundsuit,” 2012 Jack Shainman Gallery (New York/Kinderhook).

Nick Cave, “Soundsuit,” 2012 Jack Shainman Gallery (New York/Kinderhook).

Michael: To the surprise of absolutely no one, Jack Shainman brought a Nick Cave “Soundsuit” to an art fair. What was surprising, though, is that it gave me pause. I think in the context of a fair making an effort to have a probably-inappropriately-commercial discussion about race, seeing a figurative artwork (that’s easily identifiable as being by one of the most successful black artists of a generation) with a target for a face felt a little more poignant than it might’ve otherwise. Especially after re-seeing the Mario Pfeifer work and having the #blacklivesmatter movement forefront in my thoughts. Then again, this could’ve just as easily been interpreted as another foray into branding at art fairs for retailer Target.

Tadaaki Kuwayama, “Untitled” series from 1970s at Hill Gallery

Tadaaki Kuwayama, “Untitled” series from 1970s at Hill Gallery

Michael: In general, I found The Armory Modern section on Pier 92 insufferably dull. And I love modernism! Here’s an exemplary booth showing pretty much what my mind saw when I looked at any work here: blanks.

Molly: Are you there, Barnett Newman? It’s me, Tadaaki Kuwayama.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, “50 Azione,” 1962-2004 at Repetto Gallery (London).

Michelangelo Pistoletto, “50 Azione,” 1962-2004 at Repetto Gallery (London).

Michael: I’m not sure this qualifies as a highlight, but I’m mentioning these Michelangelo Pistoletto pieces because he spent nearly half a century making them and it seems as if all of them ended up at The Armory Fair in one booth or another. The pieces with the Euros and the cell phones were our favorites (we’re predictable). Also worth mentioning, a gallerist came sprinting across the booth to yell at us for touching these despite the fact that we were standing a good three feet away. Perhaps the optical illusion with the hands in the mirror is that effective?

Molly: The woman who yelled “EXCUSE ME, can you please TRY to not touch the art work” is obviously the only one not excited for Spring Break

Michael: EXCUSE ME, can you please TRY to understand that you’re selling a mirror with an optical illusion that makes it look as if the viewer is touching objects that are in actuality photographic images against a flat plane of glass?  I was in this booth for exactly 30 seconds and understood that. Has she been in this hall of mirrors for so long she’s lost her grip on reality? No, we’re not rubbing our 1990s cell phone against your piece of selfie art.

Molly: I think I actually did yell “I went to art school! I would never do that”

Andy Warhol, “Neuschwanstein,” 1987.

Andy Warhol, “Neuschwanstein,” 1987.

Michael: Pretty much all of Pier 92 was boring fair fare, but there were a few highlights among the staple names. For personal reasons, this is one of my favorite Warhol pieces. It’s incredible to stand in the presence of the original drawing. “Neuschwanstein” was one of Warhol’s last works, and he created it the week I happened to be conceived at that very location (way TMI, but my parents were on a Valentine’s Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle). Although it’s not considered a “masterwork”, I think it’s actually a pretty important piece that should really be in a museum collection. I love this paragraph from Smith Mathew Wilson’s The Total Work of Art From Bayreuth to Cyberspace:

Finally, Warhol’s return to the German roots of his own Geist would emerge again in 1987, when he silkscreened an image of Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein, marking yet one further reproduction in the history of reproduction of which Neuschwanstein was an already simulacral point of origin. Neuschwanstein, a copy of Romantic copies of medieval castles that never existed, copied again in countless objects of German neo-Romantic kitsch and once again as the centerpiece of Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom, which is itself reproduced with slight variations at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney, is the ideal architectural object for the Warhol treatment. If ever a structure were a mass-media celebrity, it would be Neuschwanstein;  Neuschwanstein is the Mickey Mouse to the Wicked Witch of Speer’s “Cathedral of Light.” One wonders whether, having reproduced this perfect object of reproduction, this tower at the very heart of the Gesamtkunstwerk, Warhol simply had no further to go. A few days later, he would be found dead in a New York hospital.

Really, I think it speaks to the quality of works on display at Galerie Michael Shultz. They’ve picked lesser-known, but truly fantastic work from blue-chip artists in the art history canon. Apart from the Warhol, I think this Rauschenberg (below) is a great example of that. It might be my all-time favorite Rauschenberg. I had never seen it. The gallerists clearly have a knack for hunting down exceptional pieces that have somehow been overlooked. How were these not already in collections? By the time we publish, they probably will be.

Molly: I had never seen this Warhol and was shocked how it weirdly made me really emotional? It’s a beautiful piece.

Robert Rauschenberg, “Brush Man (Anagram A Pun),” 1998 at Galerie Michael Shultz.

Robert Rauschenberg, “Brush Man (Anagram A Pun),” 1998 at Galerie Michael Shultz.

Michael: Mostly, though, the fun stuff was back on Pier 94. Below, in no particular order, some more of our picks:

Jose Dávila “Untitled (Sex and Death/ Double “69” at Galería OMR (Mexico City)

Gabriel de la Mora, “CI   /   100 at  Galeria OMR (Mexico City)

Gabriel de la Mora, “CI   /   100″ at  Galeria OMR (Mexico City)

Pierre & Gilles, “Disco Ball (Model: Russel Westbrook), 2015” at Galerie Daniel Templon

Pierre & Gilles, “Disco Ball (Model: Russel Westbrook), 2015” at Galerie Daniel Templon

Marc Bijl at The Breeder (Athens).

Marc Bijl at The Breeder (Athens).

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