New York's newest and best contemporary art fair, otherwise known as the Armory Show, went off with a bang last month, Feb. 18-22, 1999. It was really the five-year-old Gramercy Art Show in disguise, mounted just up the street from the Gramercy Hotel on the site of the original 1913 Armory Show. In any case, dealers and collectors were very cheerful with the airy and professional setting, the deluxe cocktail parties and brisk sales. The art was so fresh that this event may some day rival Art Chicago, the country's other important fair of contemporary art.
Galleries took the opportunity to present new inventory and, yes, dealers seemed to be having a good time! The zany work by Franz West epitomized the fun-filled atmosphere. Brooke Alexander carried a $7,500 West edition that consists of a do it yourself table with two chairs and a lamp -- made out of the very plywood crate that it comes in. Eight rolls of colored duct tape are included, and the collector becomes collaborator with the artist, decorating the "sculpture" at will.
Working from its convenient New York base, Bonakdar Jancou was able to install work by a different artist each day of the fair. Artist Charles Long, at his turn at bat, presented a project with the mod-pop music group Stereolab. The work, called B.U.A. (Burnt Umber Assembly): An Entanglement of Wholes, had five headphones attached to two large, rust colored objects -- they look like giant suppositories. One lies supine and the other upright, and the tunes are all easy listening at $20,000.
Zeno X Gallery from Antwerp showed a new black and white photograph by artist Noritoshi Hirakawa. This work is an inventive take on a woman's derriere, featuring an eyeball lodged smack dab in the you know where. There are only two photos, priced at $1,800, in the edition.
Colin De Land's American Fine Arts had a pair of color photos by Alex Bag tucked into the corner of the booth. Called Ziggy Stardust, they picture Art Club 2000's Patterson Beckwith in convincing '80s neo-glam masquerade, posing like Bowie on the album cover and in action apparently snorting a big line of cocaine with a rolled bill.
Also notable were works by the German abstract painter Franz Ackermann, on view at Mai 36 Gallery from Zurich, and Daniel Pflumm, who showed light boxes that suggest monochrome paintings at Galerie Neu from Berlin. At the booth of Brussels dealer Rodolphe Janssen were works by the American Sam Samore, whose black-and-white photos have a noirish beauty, especially the images of young women.
Another good photographer was Nina Levy, whose self portraits wearing oversize masks or prosthetic body attachments on view at I-20 were drawing the interest of collectors. Her show "Spare Parts" just closed at the Chelsea gallery.
Elsewhere in the city, the more established art business carried on as usual. New work by veteran art stars Edward Ruscha, David Salle and Malcom Morley stood in nice contrast to the glut of young painters. Ed Ruscha unveiled his new series, called "Metro Plots," at Gagosian uptown, proving that his vision of urban landscapes has lost none of its narrative punch.
Ruscha continues to haunt the counties and districts of Los Angeles, painting grainy fields crossed by horizontal and vertical lines like some kind of aerial map. They convey a mood of place that suggests old hotels and literary haunts, crime scenes and just plain passing by. Las Vegas homeboy Dave Hickey wrote the catalogue essay, and portrays Ruscha as a Chandleresque figure. Noir aficionados could also match Ruscha's works with John Fante's fiction, stories that resonate with a fleabag romanticism set in a Los Angeles of the 1930s and '40s.
Downtown Gagosian brought us David Salle (also at Lehman Maupin). "Bear and Interiors" showed the famous postmodernist reaching back to his vintage '80s form with eight new paintings selling for between $110,00-$160,000. Salle still sells, no matter what anyone says….
Malcom Morley's paintings at Sperone Westwater depict ships, WWI-era planes, disaster scenes at sea and landscapes from his travels, a theme he's been playing for several years now. Morley was the first recipient of the much ballyhooed Turner Prize (1984).
Jordan Tinker's solo show at Spencer Brownstone, his second appearance at the SoHo gallery, was called "American Dream." It featured faded ink drawings on the wall based on 19th-century American Romantic landscape paintings, and photo transparencies mounted on light boxes that are clearly influenced by Ruscha's work. Texaco, Shell, and the famous 76 sign are the focus of dramatic sky imagery.
Other news: In case you haven't already heard, famed Brooklyn nonprofit gallery Pierogi 2000, notorious for its flat files filled with (relatively) inexpensive works by young artists, has moved from its closet-sized storefront on North 9th Street in Williamsburg. Its new home is …next door, in a cavernous and raw two-story space. The inaugural exhibition was a survey of artists who had showed at Pierogi over the last four years. The gallery is open to the public on Sundays.…
Flash Art magazine has launched its new website. Check it out but be sure to come back to Artnet.com....
MAX HENRY is a New York-based poet, curator and critic.