Blogging it out with myself at the fairs, I ventured forth for a tough week ahead. Penciling in my thoughts here and there I remember it all even when I was in a daze from all of those parties high and low. There were pretty faces to see and I was going to navigate them amidst all of that etiquette. Here, then, are my recollections straight and anecdotal as they occurred and as I noted them collectively.
The fiction that the Armory Show is on the downslide is the stuff of internecine wishful dreams. For all of the issues surrounding art fairs and global trade, this is still where you still find the best context.
Did anyone really care that there was a small coterie of important established Chelsea galleries absent from the roster? Were they missed? Nope. Everyone who is anyone attended, including those AWOL dealers. So enough about bad blood, this is still the action.
As for competing fairs, who is kidding whom? Pulse made a fine showing save for the threadbare carpeting covering the aisles. It deserves to return in a smashing soaring space to take its place as a solid middle ground between the jetsetter Armory and the anarchist antics of Scope.
Walking Scopeís leaky hallways I got gum stuck to my shoe, cursed the day Iíd come there and ran into artist Frank Schroeder wearing a snappy beige corduroy suit and an argyle zip sweater. Very Colin De Land-ish, I wanted to say, but was distracted by a redhead passing by. Next I found myself a hit of tequila, bottles having been passed about. I was going to need it just to get through Scopeís gangland-style alleyways.
As the days and hours passed by, party after party turned into a montage. I recall swanky restaurants and lots of bubbly drinks. I got tipsy, left text messages for dates that never happened, laughed a lot, caught a few hours of sleep, made the rounds the following day. A brunch here, an opening there, and all for the cause of my contemporary art addiction.
Back at the piers, the sense was plush football field-sized booths cheek to jowl with the occasional closet space for emerging galleries and first-time participants. The first genuine impression on my radar was 303 gallery, with a jewel of a painting with pluming violet brushstrokes by Karen Kilimnik, The New Palace at Dawn (1998). It had a serious $65,000 price tag and was sold, no doubt to a connoisseur, and if you keep score in the numbers game itís a steal.
Also at 303 was Rodney Grahamís Allegory of Folly: Study for An Equestrian Monument in the Form of a Wind Vane. The big diptych light-box shows the artist himself (looking like Erasmus) seated atop a faux horse on a plinth reading from a book. A commission for a real life monument, one of its three editions sold for a cool $300,000. Impressive numbers for any fair any place.
Santiago Sierra pushes those buttons on socioeconomic disparity and fruitless labor. So it is with The Visit, his new 2006 black-and-white video of a handicapped beggar journeying via taxi then plane from Mexico City to Bremen, ending with a ride in the back seat of a chauffeured Mercedes Benz. No one bit on the tragic absurd documentary-style piece (edition of three), listed for $15,000 at Peter Kilchmann Gallery from Zurich. It was the best piece in the booth.
Everyone talked about it, but thought it was any good? Barnaby Furnasí blood red painting took up a lot of square footage at Marianne Boesky Gallery and no doubt had a high price tag. It remains foggy who bought the work and for how much. Six figures, certainly. The wise who are willing and able to spend this kind of money can keep their own counsel, they donít need advice from me.
Produzentengalerie Hamburg always shows interesting artists, and a personal favorite is the Bremen-based Norbert Schwontkowski, who makes small to large paintings that show the peculiar and charming side of quotidian scenes from daily life. Look for his unassuming but potent works at the forthcoming Berlin Biennial. They flew off the walls at the Armory, with at least 12 of 15 sold.
Marcin Maciejowski is an emerging painter out of Kracow, and a contemporary of Wilhelm Sasnal. He culls images from magazines and television that encapsulate the social context of a post-Solidarity Poland. The booth at Meyer Kainer of Vienna yielded excellent results for his canvases priced at €16,000-€40,000.
An undertone of the bleak and abject permeated the fair. Sleek, greasy or slithery jet-black three-dimensional works by the trio of Urs Fisher, Terence Koh and Banks Violette, for instance.
Fischer is an interesting artist, though I didnít favor Domestic Pairs Project (2000-05), a gooey black enamel pole that snakes through space in the shape of a stairwell with a skull at the bottom, which was at the booth of Eva Presenhuber of Zurich. Verging on Franz West in style, the selling price was a cool $80,000.
What was so good about Kohís crude piss closet painted pitch black with a bare incandescent bulb above a urinal and to the right, a row of protruding phalli? Nothing! Koh was in the 2004 Whitney Biennial and is famous for his former asianpunkboy persona and its decadent installations and performances on gay subculture. Heís created an intriguing, if self-obsessed body of work that is on the international radar so this thing supposedly sold to some sucker for $50,000, according to his dealer Javier Peres.
Violette, finally, is a keeper and through heterosexual eyes able to reconcile the post-gothic metal theme with minimalism convincingly with Not Yet Titled (Cobain Guitar), a low-lying platform bed construction with a cast-salt sculpture of a broken guitar, which sold out an edition of three at $45,000 each, including assembly instructions, of course. Team galleryís Jose Freire had to beat off the collectors at his knockout booth.
Clegg and Gutmann, a class act, scored with a unique 1985 photo portrait of legendary dealer Leo Castelli seated as the grand duke he was, brought to New York as a special treat by Viennese dealer Georg Kargl. A $30,000 bargain but one with no takers, and with all of this talk of photographic records being set? Many a third-rate photographer has secured more support than this duo. That will change, as Clegg and Gutmann have had a steady fundamentally sound trajectory, and still have room to grow.
Cologne power broker Christian Nagel moved a suite of seven Michael Krebber watercolors for a tidy $31,000, and a mid-sized vertical Merlin Carpenter painting for $17,000. One of the more interesting contemporary Chinese painters, Zhao Gang, who paints a true hybrid of eastern and western European influences, coloring-book-style, sold four canvases in the $5,000-$7,000 range.
Looking positively demure in person and on canvas was the lovely Ann Craven at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc. Her Portrait of a Bird (After Picabia) (2006) was on reserve for $20,000. Not a bad price for quality painting when you see how many weakling collages were shucked around the fair.
"People are shy about this picture," said Postmasterís Magda Sawon referring to Claude Wamplerís provocative photo of a Pomeranian dog cornered, hooded and "tortured" as in Abu Ghraib. As part of a series on love and torture itís appropriate material for the geo-politics of the art world. An edition of three was still waiting to find its match at $2,700.
Not hesitant was the collector who snagged the vertical Jonathan Messe canvas Noel Coward Is Back VII (2006) at Stuart Shave/Modern Art from London. The artist portrays himself as an effete dandy in a red smoking jacket. It was marked sold at €25,000.
No matter how big or small the fairs are, itís always fun to find new talent. After all, knowing how to spot Ďem takes a real skill and a knowledge of whatís out there. Arndt & Partner, Berlin, has a real winner in the Romanian artist Veron Urdarianu. He makes rough-hewn architecture models and equally tough paintings of said architecture in flat neutral colors. Analogue architecture you might call it as it moved briskly in the $9,500-$18,000 range.
Another comer is Jessica Lopez, whose portrait drawings of young females on lined yellow notebook paper moved for a mere $700 at Enrique Guerrero from Mexico City.
Never underestimate the subversive acumen of artists right before your eyes. Such is the case at The Project and Maccarone inc., where Daniel Martinez and Christoph Buchel, respectively, provided some necessary edge. Buchel youíll recall last year played a tragic-comic sampling of Bush 43 giving a tour of the White House with his discombobulated narrative. This time around itís a reedited video straight out of Iranian television showing the Ayatollah and a military procession circa 2006. At €5,000 and an edition of five it was a tough sell but great to see.
So too was the great Daniel Martinez work, In the Shadows of Ivan Illich (2006), meaning the Viennese-born intellectual who founded a radical think-tank in Cuernavaca in the 1960s and wrote Deschooling Society (1971), which gives props to Trotsky via images appropriated from the Siquieros Archives and mounted on placard-style posts that leaned en masse along the walls. The figure of Trotsky has been removed and weíre left haunted by the shadow.
That salty old dog William Eggleston had photographs at Cheim & Read that were surprisingly still available on the last day for $15,000 and $20,000. For all of the hip portraiture around, keep in mind these large format headshots of teens, untitled works from 1973.
A wall full of drawings, photos, and appropriated imagery on the topic of heavy metal subculture, all framed and arranged by artist Steven Shearer, sold to a private collector for the educated guess of say, $25, 000 at Franco Noero of Torino. †
Galerie Frank Elbaz, a first time entrant, deserves a return trip from Paris, and gets the best emerging artist booth. Olivier Babin currently in the farewell Bourriaud/Sans exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo sold a unique piece for a modest $5,000. Filled with the neon spectrum, itís a witty take on Dan Flavin in a carry-on suitcase. Five numeric prints by Marcelline Delbecq showing the contours of the Hollywood homes of celebrities went to Dutch and French collections. By the way one of the neon icons of the fair was by Delbecq, and it read "Silence Plateau," as in "quiet on the set."
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin sold a Jin Meyerson painting (slated to be in the next Saatchi painting show) depicting fluorescent colored figures on scaffolding just below what looks like the eye of a tornado. I asked Perrotin director Nathalie Brambilla how much it went for but she got tight-lipped and I lost my crush on her. Well, sweet Nathalie, a reconnaissance mission told me it moved for $26,000, so there!
How amusing with money being topic A1 during the fairs that some galleries fear disclosing the very thing they lust for all of the time! Anyone who clammed up, well you didnít make the editorial cut (except for you dear Nathalie) and quite frankly everybody knows more or less what things sell for. Collectors talk and brag, writers keep score, gallery A talks to gallery B, etc.
Word on the street is that there are rumblings that the Armory Show ought to move to the roomier Javits Center. Be careful what you wish for. The danger lies in being lumped in with the numerous widget conventions and becoming an overly branded corporate art fair. The piers do work, although I would put the magazines and editions back where they belong downstairs. Find a way to do ancillary projects as Basel does and FIAC is doing with the Louvre. The current art world is all about the meta-narratives created by collectives and collaborations. It really is a three-ring circus, and the Armory committee should not rest on their laurels as some exclaim something is missing. Perhaps itís the zany spirit of Colin De Land and Pat Hearn. Let us not forget them.
All in all for all of the bitching and moaning that comes with the terrain, I still love the action of the Armory Show, still king of the hill, as well as the many offshoot fairs and events. In a time when both politics and popular culture amounts to fluff the art world toys with its disposable content in a trenchant manner of myriad forms. What then is cooler than to be a contemporary artist, dealer, curator, writer, or hey, even editor? Nothing. There is no greater learning curve than in the trenches of the buying and selling of cultural production. Amen.
MAX HENRY lives in New York.