In what was a treacherous challenge for the eyes, Armory Arts Week loomed upon us last week with a vast and urgent force. I tried with my dear heart and soul to attend all the major fairs, but alas my mortal stamina was strained after attending five. It was a grueling and tumultuous affair, a cacophonous visual overload that was ever so sporadically relieved with works of hopeful delight. Luckily I didn’t lose my shit. I marched in and out of each booth with determination, albeit with a dose of hesitance and fear of what was to be encountered. At each turn I hoped to be wronged, that this fair wouldn’t disappoint, that that fair would stand gloriously above the rest. And indeed there is but one fair that championed them all, in my humble opinion.
Volta fair stood high and proud amidst the crowd, each booth centered around a single artist, making it SO much more accessible for viewers to appreciate and grasp an artist’s work beyond the mere quick glance. The fair that disappointed the most, to my utmost regret, was Independent. Elizabeth Dee has created a most useful and alternative, not to mention accessible and non-hierarchical, system for discourse in organizing X-Initiative. As a dealer and owner of a Chelsea Gallery she’s stomped on the grounds of conformity within the unregulated art market and has done something so nourishing and sustainable for a rocky and uncertain art world. So without a doubt I expected Independent to be, in her words, a questioning and reexamining of art fairs and how art is exchanged within a heavily commercialized environment. But by the time I finished perusing through each floor of the old Dia space I stood agape at the lack of versatility, readability, cohesion, organization, and relevance. I felt I was awkwardly sitting with the cool kids at lunch. Everything was minimal, chic, black & white, silent, and dare I say, dull. The anti-booth arrangement, with works out in the open, made it near impossible to take notes on artists and galleries. I walked out feeling excluded from the party, afraid I just didn’t get it and didn’t deserve to understand.
In the end, between all five fairs, there were highs and there were lows. Here, the highs are highlighted, starting with Volta.
Samuel Rousseau at Aeroplastics
Tiny video screens fitted inside pill dispensers depicting tiny people walking round and around their perimeter bored or in need of escape. Geometry and anxiety go hand in hand.
Neil Farber at Pippy Houldsworth
This artist’s work was included in multiple booths, in multiple fairs, many in this vain, figures zombified, tainted and possessed by either a dying economy or an inability to escape the mundane. Here, upon viewing closely, figures are labeled as fitness instructor, brain surgeon, dog trainer, and are congregated at some emergency survival shelter in the aftermath of some natural/cultural crisis. There was another painting that combined fabric, costumed animated figures, and a skeleton with a gigantic round head with rays sprouting from his head spelling out “It is not O.K. to eat ___”, blank filled by a myriad of animal species.
Dannielle Tegeder at Priska Juschka
This gallery represents the hip and cool, experimental and awesome such as friends Emily and Carolyn, Jade and Ryan. This artist doesn’t seem to fit their bill so much but I appreciate intricately patterned, abstract, delicate and serial. These are very constructivist, modern, bauhaus. Bundles of them are arranged along three walls on shelves, freestanding. This freedom from the wall made them more fluid and tactile for some reason, more accessible and easy to talk to/look at.
I’ve recently come to appreciate the art of humor, or the humor of art, or humor in art, or art in humor, art as humor or humor as art. Mr. Friedman is a prime example. When humor is consciously embedded into an artist’s practice, a viewer’s is immediately affected and the work grows ever deeper into objective significance. Viewers will relate without necessarily even knowing what it is they are looking at. Cluster of colored teardrops barfing out of a hand, what? But it’s funny, it’s frank, it’s blunt, and touches you in a way serious art couldn’t. More humor to ya.
G L Brierley at Madder 139
Dark, bizarre, nightmarish contorted figures that have an element of cute. They stand on tables as if they are lifeless sculptures, created by a mad artist feverishly adding tendons and random body parts to complete the disturbing but delicate and unassuming bodies.
Carrie Schneider at Monique Meloche Gallery
Somber, lonely, isolated, disconnected, serious in a slightly funny way. I think many of these photographs are in some way very personal to the artist, perhaps a struggle in maintaining and understanding intimacy, toying with the idea of being open and vulnerable. A video titled Slow Dance was set inside a bar where the bartender and viewer witnessed the social dynamics of the bar scene, dancing, drinking, gazing, desiring, jealousy, possessiveness. The video had no dialogue, lighting was eerie and glowing, and figures were lit with crystal clarity. The expressionless, robotic, and awkward movement of the figures were accentuated by a bizarre performance where two dancing couples were each joined by a third figure squeezing their way into the shirts from behind one of two dancing partners, placing their hands atop the other, joining bodies and experience. It was hysterical, pathetic, and pitiful all at the same time. Reminds you how lonely you can be at any given moment, in any circumstance. How distant and disconnected you can feel despite being so intimate with any given person.
Svatopluk Mikyta at Emmanuel Walderdorff Galerie
A red shrine like installation is painting directly onto this booth’s wall, working as a background of a series of drawings superimposed with manipulated found images. A process of erasure and appropriation takes place here, each figures face contorted and refeatured to be off putting, unbecoming, and funny. Accompanying pages of text are blacked out, whited out, crossed, scraped to oblivion. There’s a strong sense of history, intentional or not, rising from the bright red wall, images of soldiers being ridiculed and mocked with their faces graffiti’ed, and an aesthetic that is modern and European, specifically German. I enjoyed the silence chuckling these seem to emanate, the misshapen cuts and precise overlayering in each drawing.
This collaborative performance/installation by Einat Emir and Arlen Austin might take the cake as best booth at Volta. The Holistic Healing Center and Emerging Artist Massage Parlor is “part critique of art world politics, part exercise in social sculptured…and will provide visitors with an opportunity to contemplate the creation of value in the art market in a relaxing and nurturing environment.” Bright and breezy paintings of cabbages (symbol of wealth and prosperity) donned the walls and meditation sculptures, to be used a mantric image for meditative contemplation. A podium with incense was set to “raise your inner awareness by tracing the history of the sexual overvaluation of the phallus”, and a water running foot massager compliments a gazing session with the paintings. The best was the artist Arlen and Einat, costumed in those Chinese silk ware from Chinatown, articulately conversating the significance and relevance of the healing center for folks like us, decrepit and overwhelmed by a failing art economy. It was ingenious.
Boris Hoppek at Helium Cowboy
This time last year at this gallery’s booth (at Scope) I met Jon Burgerman and his Lossy Data Lab. We’ve been inseparable buddies ever since (well except for the hundreds of miles that keep us from drinking tea together everyday). So I have a soft spot for this Hamburg based gallery. This year they brought along the works of Boris Hoppek and he presented a series of drawings of his infamous cartoon figure, you know the one with the eerie blackface-esque features? It was accompanied by a series of photographs with women stuffed, wrapped, and costumed in random props like oversized water filled condoms and cardboard robot heads. These figures are turned to dolls, sexified, brutalized but I didn’t sense an inkling of degradation to the female figure. It was funny.
Christopher Daniels at Number 35
We’re on a run with the funny. Several large works of this artist, hectic clip art board game narrative landscapes, made with crayons, don the walls of this booth. Trail after trail of figures, famous and art related, random and carnivalesque, each with a story of their own that is all but a mystery to me. I did eavesdrop the gallerist explain to a visitor and heard something about Michael Jackson being hit by lightening?
Maximo Gonzalez at Galeria Valle Orti
Currency gone naughty. Outline of figures and objects installed directly onto the walls, all made with monies, heads collaged on top, their bodies void of volume. More impressive were the scenes created depicting warfare and a government life gone awry.
Tamara Kostianovsky at Y Gallery
Giant meat carcasses made out of fabric, clothes that were owned by the artist. Crafty and dare I say, cute, simultaneously disturbing and hyperreal, weaving a statement of personal, geographical, and cultural histories that may be vague but heart-wretched.
Ghost of a Dream at Cynthia Corbett Gallery
This Greenpoint duo presented a sculptural installation using covers of romance novels, used lottery tickets and mirrors. Arranged in pieces of multi-panels viewers were engrossed with self-reflections amidst a land of escape. The patterns emitted from the detritus were dizzying and discombobulating.
Cameron Platter at What if the World
A colorful advertisement to not only enlarge your penis but bring back your lover, get him out of prison and protect you from dangerous jobs. An example of out exaggerated and devoted, relentless and unquestioning admiration for a single mortal.
Todd Pavlisko at Samson
In the video, the hammers a nail into his foot. Yes, it’s disturbing, especially when the screen vibrates with the rhythmic pound of the hammer. And I’m sorry but the press release is complete gibberish: “The works assembled here feed upon themselves, often in unexpected ways, with interrelation and a biting sense of connectivity. The analogousness is not entirely visual but visceral, context built from content (and vice versa, really). The exhibition brings together a handful of autonomous works that, when assembled, have the unmistakable appearance of a very intentionally orchestrated installation. And it’s no accident, from an artist who very intentionally toils in the realm of the non sequitur and theoretic binaries. Todd Pavlisko often employs a sense of disparateness as the very tool for encouraging (self ) discovery—a kind of forced foraging for a sense of commonality and thematic correlation. And, without fail, a careful consideration of any grouping of his works (or individual works for that matter) will reveal the threaded together meanderings of a mind at many odds, oddly mindful, and deeply excavating the cultural and conceptual layers of our lived landscape.” HUH?
This. Man. Is. A. Hysterical. Genius. Installed at the booth were a paper grid of domain names, each leading to a website this internet artist has created. By purchasing the art work you have ownership over the website but it is accessible to all. Interactive, trippy, campy, smart, and humorous.
Karl Tuikkanen at Nordin Gallery
A giant penis sprouting cum made out of an old school bmw. That’s about it.
So as you can see, all the works I highlighted are inadvertently funny. Such serious humor is absolutely called for, especially when you’re trekking all weekend through a grueling journey of art fair land.
Next up: Pulse