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JOHNNY’S TOO LONG AT THE FAIR

by Peter Plagens
 
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Walter, Spent all day at Pulse and the Armory Show yesterday. Came home and set down some thoughties. Interested? If not, no hurt feelings. Cheers, P

Ambience:
* The Armory Show vs. Pulse: The Armory is roomier and carpeted, which smells nice. The coffee is also much better.

* Among the dealers: “We’re all in this together, and isn’t it nice to have a critical mass?” vs. cutthroat glances.

Art:
* My companion said to me: “Everything seems busy and well-crafted, but with no real sense of form.”

* Lots of what looks like what used to be called “illustration” in the old days; stylized figuration with no structure, just effect.

* Seemingly abstract paintings with buried figurative imagery, sometimes showing through transparent or translucent paint.

* The new “pop” art: like pages from pop-up books, only installed on the wall, and cut-outs that cast shadows.

* Heavy-handed irony: an American flag made out of dollars, a big photo image of dead bodies on a field, with a happy-face sun above them. Get it?

* Big color photographs of architectural oddities.

* German art seems to equal toss-off drawings done in about 15 seconds, with the labels deliberately badly lettered in pencil.

* Very little even near-porn, even less aggressively political art.

* The most tasteless work of art in the entire two fairs: Lisa Ruyter’s glorified paint-by-number version, at huge scale, of the famous Dorothea Lange photograph of the “Migrant Mother” during the Dust Bowl.

People:
* In the audience: husbands who look vaguely like Woody Allen and wives who look as much as possible like Joan Rivers.

* Dealers with nobody in their booths, getting on their cell phones and making like they’re talking to clients. Downside: Viewers don’t want to interrupt them.

* Dealers in booths ordering sandwiches from the official sandwich supplier (who is on-premises) online.

* Half the people here are desperate.

Tentative conclusions:
* Perhaps needed: something akin to the American Medical Association, which keeps the supply of doctors down, allegedly to keep the quality of medicine up -- an American Art Association which does the same with the supply of artists.

* To stand out, the artist must either really believe in something and pursue it regardless of consequences, or the artist must figure out something that’ll simply get attention. At the fairs, it’s about two percent the former and 98 percent the latter.

* Perhaps the fairs should have a crit night, ŗ la Michael Asher’s famous all-nighters at CalArts. “Let’s keep our comments short, people. We’re only at Booth #806, and it’s already almost three a.m.”


PETER PLAGENS is a painter and art critic. His novel, The Art Critic, is published in Artnet Magazine.



 



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