The new Armory Show 1999 has just concluded its run at New York's historic 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street, Feb. 18-22. On the same spot, back in 1913, the original Armory show introduced European modernism to a cranky American public.
This time, 74 contemporary galleries set up shop, most of them from Manhattan but 11 from Germany, five from London and a smattering from other points east and west. The fair was organized by the same pack of Manhattan go-getters who founded the Gramercy International Art Fair four years ago in the eponymous hotel -- Colin De Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks and Paul Morris. Finally, they managed to promote themselves out of those cramped furniture-clogged rooms and into a proper fair setting.
Interesting new works were plentiful. Deitch Projects had not one but two spectacular works on view. Lane Twitchell's This is the Place or In our Lovely Deseret (1999) is a giant snipped paper snowflake mounted on glass. A matrix of concentric, kaleidoscopic patterns that look like the dome of a mosque, every single shape is in fact an image or symbol from his Mormon upbringing, decipherable through a key he supplies with his work. The piece sold for $8,000 early on in the show.
Also at Deitch was Ghada Amer's Untitled (blanc/rouge no. 2) (1998), which sold for $5,000. Jeffrey Deitch called the work a painting "because it's read like one," but it's really embroidery on canvas. Using red thread, Amer loosely stitched two horizontal rows of images, alternating between a woman's face and a high-heel sandled foot. Between these two rows is a third row of embroidery, a set of five delicate, female hands. Excess thread hangs off the canvas, stringing the images together like dripping blood. Amer used to show with Annina Nosei, where her images tended to be more pornographic.
At Marianne Boesky was a pair of lithographs on Okwara paper by Sarah Sze, calledFar Site and Near Site (1999). From a distance they resemble delicate Chinese landscapes, with craggy hills and cherry blossoms weaving around the page. A closer look reveals an animated drawing of a chaotic, vertical assemblage of small, faceless men maneuvering around cars, hospital gurneys, beds, open rooms and the like, linked by narrow, precarious stairs and ramps -- a disorienting fever dream. The images are rather like a two-dimensional version of Sze's wiry, dangling installations. An edition of 25, the works were sold as a pair for $1,800 or singly for $1,000. Boesky had sold four sets by Sunday evening.
At Kohn Turner, one of two galleries at the fair from Los Angeles, Bruce Conner's inkblot drawings were getting a lot of attention. Inkblot Drawing (C), Nov. 21, 1993 includes at least 50 little Rorschach images arranged in rows like the space aliens in a video game. This work, priced at $7,000, was still available at last look, but a similar Conner drawing did sell for $10,000. Given the artist's retrospective coming up at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the price almost seems a bargain.
New York dealer Anton Kern was showing works on paper by Alessandro Pessoli, all called Untitled and priced between $500 and $900. My favorite was a small watercolor divided into four quadrants, each showing a rubbery little figure laboring with what appears to be metal tools and machinery amidst saturated colors and rusted tones. The setting looks polluted chemical and hostile, like the after effects of a nuclear war, but the colors beautifully melt together and the figure coyly poses for viewer. A little devil in a futuristic hell?
Holly Solomon was also showing little devils -- that is, Bullies by Virgil Marti. Covering the walls of her booth was neon-colored, velvet flocked wallpaper of 1970s yearbook photos of adolescent males, each within its own floral, baroque frame. The smirking, freckled boys immortalized forever in flowery bliss were irresistibly comic. The gallery refers to it as an "evolving multiple" and sells the paper for $250 a yard.
There was little at the Armory as old fashioned as abstract painting, but Jason Martin's pair of purple paintings at London's Lisson Gallery stood out all the same. As juicy and visceral as abstracts get, Regulator (1998), a pair of 120 cm. by 120 cm. monochromes, was made by horizontally dragging thick, slick dark purple paint with a rake-like tool across an aeroglam surface. Martin optically tweaks their surfaces so that they bend and fold -- even in the harsh light of the Armory. By Monday afternoon no one had bought the $20,000 set, despite the British artist's firmly established reputation as one of Charles Saatchi's new Sensations.
There was at least one "old timer" on hand, albeit with an interesting new work. Gerhard Richter's 128 Photos from a Painting (1998) at Marian Goodman is a grid of photos of black-and-white images of paint surfaces, a work that closes in on the chiaroscuro at play between the nooks and crannies of raw brushwork. Although each image is only a few square inches, the perspectives are vast, like aerial topography.
Finally, at 303 Gallery's space, Doug Aitken's 1998 photograph of the Pacific Ocean at night, titled Untitled (Oil Rigs Off Santa Barbara), provided a soothing elixir to bustle of the fair. The big (ca. 40 x 60 in.) photo is almost entirely black, with tiny oil rigs glowing orange in a row at the bottom. The first print from the edition of five was priced at $4,000, with each subsequent print going for $500 more. Two had been sold by Monday afternoon.
All in all, the vibe at the new Armory Show was good and a lot of work sold. If you didn't make it to the fair this time, maybe you'll have a chance again next year.
MEREDITH MENDELSOHN is associate editor of ArtNet Magazine.