New York held the international art world in the palm of its hand this past week. The openings of the much discussed, revitalized 2004 Whitney Biennial Exhibition and the superb Dieter Roth retrospective at both MoMA QNS and P.S. 1 were followed in short order by the Armory Show, Mar. 10-14, 2004. The times are more event-driven than ever. The razzle-dazzle of well-heeled collectors at gala openings, the long-limbed lasses in designer getups and high-key art salesmanship all make for fascinating interplay. While blue chip contemporary art is conspicuous and seemingly plentiful, it's the less known quantities, the up and coming talents, the odd or strange, and the underrated that astute esthetes can spot at the right time for the right price.
While the party after the Armory Show's opening night, hosted by the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), notoriously left throngs of art-world insiders standing at a velvet rope outside a Chelsea nightclub (prompting gentlemanly Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg to skip the whole thing), clearly the fair as an entity unto itself remains the bedrock of market stability. All roads pass through New York. That's where the money is, that's where the money goes.
So, dear readers, with a sleuth-like demeanor and a wily sense of direction, I've kept careful score in order to lead you down the road less traveled and come up with a few populist picks and a couple of reigning big guns.
The euro's strength over the U.S. dollar made for some strange pricing after the exchange rate was accounted for. An example would be the $16,200 dollar price tag for Scottish painter Callum Innes' subtle painting, Two Identified Forms (2003), at Galerie Paul Andriesse of Amsterdam and London. A refined black field with a shock of lightning gray peeking through, a la Barnett Newman, the painting is kin to both Albers and Ad Reinhardt. The Jerwood Prize-winning Innes, who has shown in New York at Sean Kelly Gallery, is underappreciated on this side of the Atlantic.
The Dublin gallery Kerlin also carried a fine Innes painting, listed at $24, 000, titled Exposed Painting Charcoal Black/Red Violet (2003). In works like this one, Innes uses a squeegee to pull the initial top layer of color until a translucent, barely there color surface is achieved.
Some dealers could sell ice to an Eskimo. Tanya Bonakdar needs only to bat an eyelash and the buyers line up. She energetically installed a different exhibition each day in her Armory booth. Rotating stock included whimsical modular abstractions made with off-the-shelf materials by Los Angeles sculptor Jason Meadows. Word on the street had the Tate Modern buying one with a $14,000 list price. The gallery also moved some of those ghostly, romantic drawings of found photographs by Peggy Preheim at around $4,000 plus.
Princess Diana is once again an art-world subject, as London collector Charles Saatchi makes news with his support of the painter Stella Vine, whose brash canvases depict the late princess in a less than flattering manner. A more gentle homage could be found at the booth of Williamsburg's own Roebling Hall, where London-based Hew Locke was exhibiting a folksy four-foot-tall sculpture of the princess. A hodge-podge of 99-cent materials, the work sold to a private collector for $15,000.
According to affable Roebling honcho Christian Viveros-Faune, all indications are that Eve Sussman's much-anticipated video re-enactment of Velazquez' Las Meninas, which she titled 89 Seconds at Alcazar (2004), is close to selling out to numerous American and European museums in an edition of 10 -- with prices astonishingly climbing towards $65,000. The work is also one of the successes of the Whitney Biennial.
Also exhibiting at Roebling Hall was the artist David Opdyke, who currently has a show at the Corcoran Gallery. His three-dimensional work, titled Unity, is an eight-foot-wide wood-block map with every country of the world jammed into the outlines of the U.S. It went to a private collector, who dug in at $17,000.
New York dealer Florence Lynch was featuring colorful, off-kilter geometric abstractions by artist and critic Odili Donald Odita, whose works merge Western and African influences, from Op Art to textile patterns. One went to a private collector for a sweet seven grand.
New York being a true international city, it's an indication of the cultural moment circa 2004 that two Chinese galleries and one Korean participated for the first time in the Armory Show.
At ShangArt, for example, were works by Yang Fudong (b. 1971), who is championed by uber-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and short-listed for the Guggenheim Museum's Hugo Boss Prize. Yang is the new thing on the emerging Shanghai scene, so one can say his small color photographs from the series "Honey," in an edition of ten, were a relative bargain at $2,800.
Fudong recently showed his slow-moving films and videos at the nonprofit Chelsea gallery TRANS and at the MoMA Gramercy film program. His works evoke the painful transition between the China of the past with the rapidly modernizing one of today. Sober, poetic and painterly, the works are meditations on China's quasi-capitalist present.
Speaking of capitalism, at the booth of New York dealer Leo Koenig, paintings by the GDR-born and Berlin-based artist Norbert Bisky were listed at around $18,500 and moving fast. Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz was spotted studying Bisky's bright, poppy, nouveau Social Realist works, which are replete with nubile young males competing in athletic contests or military cadet exercises. Works by the young buck Justin Faunce, who has yet to have a solo show, nevertheless sold for $9,500 and $12,000. He appropriates images from Internet search engines and collages and Photoshops the pix into taut tondo-like arrangements that depict New World Order iconography and counterculture figures like Guy Debord.
Cologne's Galerie Michael Janssen was tight-lipped re details about the sale of a painting by Enoc Perez on opening night. Perez uses a variation of the monoprint technique for his paintings -- he sketches on waxy paper from a photo, colors the drawing with oil paint and then rubs off each color layer by layer onto the canvas rather than brushing it on. It's a labor-intensive method with lush filmic results, the color looking intense and faded. Female lovers and still lifes are his specialities.
Janssen was also featuring portraits by the Berlin-based painter Christoph Steinmeyer, which were listed at around $4,500. One can read a critique of the fashion industry in Steinmeyer's brightly colored digital composites of high-fashion model types, whom he gives a rather synthetic, android look.
Postmasters gallery recently exhibited works by Jack Risley, the form and function sculptor whose recent show featured constructions that combined drumkits and bicycles with large abstract forms made of brightly colored plastic. At the fair, two snappy shelf-sized pieces, mini-me's of larger works, were looking good at $2,800 each.
The Paris gallery Almine Rech featured a pair of Ugo Rondinone c-prints with the artist portraying himself as an androgynous playmate, along with a sculpture from his 2003 "Moonrise" series -- an African mask made from latex and suggesting sadomasochism.
The charming Paris dealer Anne de Villepoix featured an embroidered decorative piece on silk shantung with dangling Swarovski crystals by New York artist Angelo Filomeno for $20,000, and a big, mostly recycled styrofoam sculpture by disaster specialist Christoph Draeger. Called One Thousand Times More Powerful than the H-Bomb (2004), the model is like a schoolchild's volcano, and includes a turntable, amp and loudspeakers. The price: $13,000.
Galerie Nathalie Vallois from Paris brought to the fair works by the slapstick artist Martin Kersels, including a black-and-white triptych from his 1994 "Falling" series. One set of the edition of three sold for $10,000.
London gallery Asprey Jacques featured this year's Armory Show signature work, a pink neon sign reading "feelings" by Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed. Also available was a small framed sheet of 8.5 x 11 in. paper with the words "fuck off" printed in block letters. Signed by the artist, of course.
Anthony Wilkinson had a fine pair of George Shaw paintings from 2004, Scenes from the Passion Valentines Day and The Anniversary. Moody and haunting, his everyday scenes of suburban England are devoid of people. He gets a glossy effect using humbrol enamel on board, and the pictures maintain a quiet intensity. Shaw's prices have skyrocketed, and are now in the $30,000 neighborhood.
A nice selection of vintage color Polaroids by Carlo Mollino, the Italian designer whose secret fetish was photographing prostitutes in hotel rooms, were on view at Artemis Greenberg Van Doren. Listed at $22,000 each, they're racy and unique. More current erotica was found in a small, untitled black-and-white photo from 1988 by Malerie Marder. A young man's head lies between the legs of a nude woman -- one can only imagine what happens next. Done in an edition of eight, the work had a list price of $1,100, surely one of the best bargains to be had at the fair.
Another Jeannie Greenberg artist, Cameron Martin, is also in the Whitney Biennial, and at the fair was represented by two classy paintings of rocky jetty formations set against a shimmering gold monochrome. Four were sold at $4,000-$17,000. A whimsical David Hammons tabletop sculpture called Duck Tape (1992) -- a wooden decoy duck wrapped in silver duct tape with a purse shoulder to match -- was priced at a cool $40,000. Mark that one sold, as was another by the elusive Hammons, listed at $45,000.
Antwerp's Zeno X gallery is known for showing a strong lineup of painters, including the famous Luc Tuymans, who had a fine work here. But it is Michal Boormans who intrigues the knowing collectors, who snap up his paintings at prices the gallery wouldn't disclose. Boormans, who could be called Belgium's answer to Neo Rauch, makes mysterious and cinematic pictures that have owe a lot Belgian symbolism. In both The Shift and Replacement 1 (2004), faceless men follow one another in a dark airless room as if in a trance. With Boormans, the question remains -- how long before his work comes up for auction?
New York dealer Ronald Feldman installed an odd but neat Panamarenko from 1984-85, a flying contraption with a cloth mannequin called Rucksack.
New York dealer Barry Neuman and Modern Culture showcased young video hotshot Alex McQuilkin, whose work has been championed in Artnet Magazine by Charlie Finch. Teenage Daydream in Vain (2002-03) was moving for $1,600 in an edition of nine. Chicago gallery Bodybuilder and Sportsman featured a mysterious lead-lined container by conceptual trickster Charles LaBelle, a time capsule emblazoned with a silver skull and the word "die." No one knows what is inside -- but a collector with $8,000 can find out (if he dares).
Some punchy watercolors of randy males in the nude by artist Bas Meerman were at Frankfurt gallery L.A. Galerie-Lothar Albrecht for a modest $3,150 (there's that funny exchange-rate price again).
I-20 featured the neo-conceptual work of Stefan Bruggemann, the Mexico City and London-based artist now showing in the Chelsea gallery. His white neon sign spelled "rubbish" and was priced in the $4,000 range in an edition of three plus an AP. Spencer Tunick's market continues to thrive; his large color photograph Barcelona 1 Institute de Cultura 2003, which shows hundreds of nude Spaniards prone in a city street, is available in an edition of three, two of which moved somewhere within the $36,000 list price.
Dresden painters always show well internationally and are definitely on the radar of painting collectors. Eberhard Havekost is one of those highly skilled painters who makes ambient, spatially illusive paintings and always sells well. One moved for $18,000 at Anton Kern, who also featured rising Berlin-based sculptor Manfred Pernice, who incorporates architectural elements and low-grade materials like fiberboard and plywood. Also at Kern was a patchwork tent-like structure made with wood, bed sheets and draperies by the Dutch artist Lara Schnitger, whose work shares some of the whimsy of Rachel Harrison.
Galerie Gerbr.Lehmann of Dresden sold two smaller Havekosts for an undisclosed sum, but the find at his booth was Thoralf Knobloch, who makes pictures of everyday suburban scenes. Mid-sized works were going for $6,000-$8,000. A large abstraction by Frank Nitsche of overlapping boomerang shapes in various hues was sold in the neighborhood of $20,000.
Speaking of Rachel Harrison, the shy Brooklyn-based redhead can always be counted on to turn out good work for her super-hip galleries Arndt & Partner of Berlin and Green Naftali of Chelsea. Hey Joe (2004), a mid-sized freestanding work with two flags affixed to its colorful bulbous form, was sold at a list price of $16,000. Interest was strong, too, for the silvery moon landscape with an action figure climbing between crevices at Arndt & Partner.
Some historical drawings by Franz West were quietly hanging at the Zurich gallery Eve Presenhuber. Made in 1974 in pencil, ballpoint and paint on small sheaves of paper, they were priced at $15,000 apiece. Titled Gebrauchsanleitungen Im Aktionismus, the drawings refer to the Austrian artist's plaster and metal rod-armature sculptures.
Expressionistic painting and portraiture were plentiful throughout the Armory Show. Enchanting were two small works by Hans Jrg Mayer at the booth of Cologne dealer Christian Nagel. Verkunder and Blinder Engel (2004) show the figure of a winged damsel in a scummy field of red -- perhaps she's a burlesque performer. Mayer's style owes a bit to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, among others, and the image might be a reference to the Wim Wenders film, Wings of Angels. In my book, this work, priced in the $3,000 range, was another bargain.
Produzentengalerie of Hamburg featured intimate paintings by the Bremen-based artist Norbert Schwontkowski. His nave images of strange figures and markings are painted in diluted color. A nice find at the fair, they are somewhat melancholic and were available for a modest $3,500. A tall signature Thomas Schiebitz painting was sold at the opener in the neighborhood of $30,000.
Murray Guy featured the film stills by March Artforum cover boy Matthew Buckingham, whose Untitled (The Truth About Abraham Lincoln) (1992-99) is produced in an edition of three.
Brent Sikemma is soon to expand his 22nd Street gallery (into the current American Fine Arts space), all the better to accommodate artists like Saint Clair Cemin, who has joined the stable. His Philosopher & Sphinx (2000), a painted hydrocal sculpture on a pedestal beneath a Plexiglas box, sold for $12,000.
American Fine Arts showed some new works by Frank Schroder. After assembling a collection of thrift shop portraits of women and contextualizing them as highbrow art, Schroder has recently returned to painting. A row of small portraits of women, looking like girly illustrations from a vintage fashion magazine, were priced at a very modest $2,000 each.
Speaking of vintage, at the booth of New York dealer Jack Shainman was arguably the highest ticket item at the fair, the 1933 Portrait of d'Olga Mohler by Francis Picabia, with overlapping images done primarily in emerald green and gold. Priced at $450,000 euros, the work was said to be on reserve towards the closing bell.
Galerie Neu from Berlin had two interesting sculptors. The abovementioned Manfred Pernice is represented here with a small floor piece, while nearby was a constructivist work by Thomas Kiesewetter, who recently showed for the first time in New York at Jack Tilton. Painted metal and wood are joined into abstract forms that have just the right scale. They suggest objects such as chairs, or reject robots, even Frank Gehry-style buildings. The work was priced at $7,000.
Numerous onlookers at Galerie Lelong gawked at a magical piece of sculpture by Petah Coyne. Untitled #1103 (Daphne) (2002/03) is a wax-embalmed rose tree that has the authentic air of a true gothic about it.
Clearly this was a fair top heavy where painting and sculpture were concerned, with choice works by big guns like Anish Kapoor, Franz West, Peter Doig (a real sweet pick), Luc Tuymans and Gary Hume. Collectors were also buying a lot of works on paper, sometimes in bulk. One example is Kay Donachie, whose drawings at the booth of London dealer Maureen Paley sold out at $3,000 a piece. That's a nice nut, with minimal shipping cost and without taking up too much booth space.
The galleries that brought some edge to the Armory Show -- and some are "made" members of the New Art Dealers mafia -- included John Connelly Presents, who sold well, including three Michael Wetzel paintings between $3,500-$,500, and LFL, with a nice Jules di Balencourt installation. The grand dame of Williamsburg, Becky Smith of Bellwether, did exceptionally well with Sharon Core's color photographs of real cakes and pies arranged as replicas of classic Wayne Thiebaud paintings.
Some names to watch in the coming year (off the top of my head) sure to garner more and more attention are Michal Borremans, Kay Donachie, Thomas Kiesewetter and Manfred Pernice, Matthew Buckingham, Koen Vanden Broek, Thoralf Knobloch and David Opdyke.
Kudos goes to veteran art scribe Linda Yablonsky for her poignant biographical text on the late Colin DeLand and Pat Hearn, co-founders of the fair with Matthew Marks and Paul Morris, in an addendum to the catalogue, the fair's best to date. If you haven't read it, there are some great pictures as well as funny anecdotes about the madcap downtown art duo, who helped shape this impeccably organized fair into an excellent primer on the 21st century art world.