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Kurt Kauper's painting of Cary Grant at the booth of Deitch Projects

Jay Jopling-White Cube, with works (from left) by Steve Gontarski, Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst

The art dealers' video game at Emmanuel Perrotin
The Armory Show Runs its Course
by Charlie Finch

The 2003 Armory Show, Mar. 7-10, 2003, at Piers 88 & 90, 12th Avenue and 48th and 50th Streets, New York City.

Tromping through the slush to the West Side Highway, most of the working press arrived at the Armory Show on Thursday afternoon, just to have the so-called "professional" art-fair management and its security goons shut the doors on the press preview at exactly 3 pm, before most of the fourth estate could see the show. Perhaps they were afraid that we might dare to mingle with the criminal element attending the Museum of Modern Art benefit preview later in the day.

In the spirit of Colin de Land, the captivatingly casual co-founder of the Armory Show who died on Mar. 1, most of the booths were not assembled in time anyway, so the press really didn't miss much, and one wandered away to search for a cab thinking that perhaps the whole idea of the Armory Show had run its course. Surely in the future the fair might be held in a more hospitable venue than the place where the French cruise ship Normandie burned and sank 60 years ago.

More seriously, it appears that there is a dearth of high-quality work available in the contemporary fair market, analogous to the similar paucity in the markets for Modernism, Impressionism and Old Masters.

In this bare environment, even a life-sized nude of Cary Grant by Kurt Kauper, featuring a munchable penis, stood out at Deitch Projects as an exceptional piece, compared to the work around it.

Of the few works worth buying the best by far was Shana, Mystic Lake, Medford, a luscious blonde leaning on a porch with exposed pudenda, by Katy Grannan at Artemis Greenberg Van Doren. Also exciting in the female category was Salla Tyka's big color portrait of a young woman, Anni, at Yvon Lambert, and Alicia Framis' Burka 2003 at Annet Gelink Gallery, a photo of a bikini-clad woman with only her face and shoulders draped in a golden scarf, like a Muslim Britney Spears.

Meanwhile, all the dealers were discussing the latest sales-tax scandal in the New York art world. We asked the Paris dealer Amine Rech what she would do if an FBI agent came around, as one reportedly did at the Art Show last month. "Charge him sales tax!" she said.

Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin took the dilemma of art-market competition to the max with a video game in which eight international art dealers blast away at each other with guns. Players can choose an armed dealer and go forth to art-world battle, for a $5 fee, which gets you a poster.

Americana was another sector that was unusually strong. These pieces included Rodney Graham's Fishing on a Jetty at 303, a 10-foot-wide, c-print Jimmy Buffet rhapsody of a Hemingwayesque fisherman; Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Swing at Lombard-Fried, showing an innocent stripling in a white dress on a swing against a green background, an excellent piece right out of Bonnard that is way overpriced at $12,500; Paul Graham's beautiful cityscape American Night #1 at Artemis; and an extraordinary portrait of Mr. Rogers in chocolate syrup by Vik Muniz at Rena Branstein, San Francisco.

Overall, however, the quality pickings are far slimmer than in previous Armory shows, and almost nonexistent compared to the Gramercy Hotel shows in the 1990s when Colin and Pat Hearn were thriving. We had a lot more fun at the hotel, too.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).