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FAIR WEATHER?
by Walter Robinson
 
The map of the Armory Show looks like a large phallus, with two square balls on either side of a long central shaft. And the layout of Volta resembles an abbreviated version of the circles of hell (an observation made at the press preview by Steve Kaplan).

Just what are they trying to say about the art market?

The vernissage for the 10th annual Armory Show, on Pier 94 on the Hudson River at East 55th Street on Mar. 26, 2008, went off without a hitch, with 150 dealers from 39 cities in 21 countries. The show had no special "benefit gala" this year, making admission easy for art professionals (and presumably simplifying the lives of the Armory Show staff).

Though the VIPs were typically blasé, noting the absence of any hot new names and the lack of the "feeding frenzy" that has characterized art fairs past, the dealers themselves reported good sales as often as not. Assemblage seems popular, while photography is scarce. With its emphasis on art by living artists, the show skews quite young.

The alternative space White Columns, which under its artist-director Matthew Higgs has embraced the low-end market with a vengeance, was doing a brisk business with its portfolio of signed black-and-white Xerox prints by artists such as Adam McEwen and Anne Collier, priced at $150 each in an edition of 50. The print by Nate Lowman, a jaunty found drawing from the Virginia Slims ad ("you’ve come a long way, baby"), is already sold out.

One new face from overseas is the Berlin-based artist and art professor Wiebke Siem (b. 1954) at the booth of Johnen + Schöttle, Köln. She makes large stick-figure sculptures of Styrofoam covered with cloth that are both melancholic and metamorphic. One work is a giant bunch of grapes, covered with dark pinstripe fabric, with two limp arms and a Pinocchio nose, while Loner, is a kind of inverted tree given oversized cartoon feet and a brown felt surface (in reference to Joseph Beuys, no doubt). The price is €16,000.

As the dollar continues to sink under the stewardship of the George W. Bush regime, many of the dealers quote prices in Euros, now at the rate of €1 = $1.58. Good for U.S. exports, economists say.

At the booth of Galerie Christian Nagel of Cologne and Berlin is a little voodoo doll by the irrepressible German artist Jonathan Meese. With a Teddy Bear body and a grimacing skull for a head (not to mention the auburn wig), the object is an old-fashioned fetish to ward off modern ills. The accompanying inscription, hand-written in poop-colored paint, reads (in German) "boardroom kid," "steel diamond" and "gray," whatever that might mean.

What’s more, Meese’s doll vaguely resembles the great 1920 Francis Picabia assemblage featuring an especially silly-looking stuffed monkey (thanks to its tail, which is pulled through its clenched legs like a penis) that purports to be a portrait of Rembrandt, Cézanne and Renoir. Messe’s version, which swaps the absurdly satyric for the merely morbid, is €20,000 in an edition of five.

At the very end of the fair -- the tip of the phallus, as it were -- is the booth of CANADA, the New York Gallery whose space at the foot of Chrystie Street anticipated the new Lower East Side art scene by at least five years. The gallery’s booth is rather spare, containing a single multipanel vinyl monochrome by Joe Bradley called Bread (2008), aptly named if your bread is an unappetizing off-ochre.

"Our booth was too messy last year," said Wallace Whitney, one of the four co-founders of the gallery. Bradley’s bright arrays of monochrome canvases arranged to suggest a figure, like a cross between Ellsworth Kelly and Joel Shapiro, have been much in demand recently (he’s in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, with a gallery all to himself). But the work he provided for CANADA’s Armory Show booth is not in his signature style -- isn’t that like an artist? -- and it hadn’t sold in the first few hours of the fair.

"The price is $24,000," said Whitney. "Someone told us we should just say $80,000."

Lea Fried at the booth of Lombard-Fried Art Projects was more upbeat. The gallery’s current show of Chinese artist Cao Fei’s elaborate virtual utopia, "Second Life: China Tracy," is one of the month’s more heralded exhibitions. At the Armory, Fried noted that Dan Perjovschi’s "Postcards from America," a wall of perhaps 500 postcard-sized cartoon drawings that the Romanian artist made in the 1990s, was on reserve. The price: €125,000. Perjovschi’s work was showcased in the Museum of Modern Art atrium just last year.

Volta NY in Midtown
The Armory Show’s sister fair, Volta NY -- both shows are now owned by Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago -- is located on the 20,000-square-foot 11th floor of a 12-story commercial building across East 34th Street from the Empire State Building, and boasts its own dedicated elevator bank of three elevators.

Each of about 50 booths is devoted to works by a single artist, giving the fair a curated look that is fresh and notably successful. The new art is here, thanks to Volta’s co-curators, Amanda Coulson and Christian Viveros-Faune. One fashion note -- due to a friend’s fashion connection, Coulson is dressed for the run of the fair in stylish knits by the Milan-based firm Missoni.

Several eye-catching installations can be found right off the elevators. London-based sculptor David Ersser (b. 1976) has filled the space of the London gallery Seventeen with a detailed balsa-wood replica of a typical family room, complete with a DVD player, a desk, and a TV and video-game console. Almost translucently monochromatic, the work sold for $85,000.

The Brooklyn artist Jesse Bercowetz (b. 1969) has provided the booth of Gallerie Michael Janssen from Berlin -- Janssen is closing down his Cologne space, he said -- with a spindly black structure that resembles the ghostly galleon from Pirates of the Caribbean but also, since it is studded with shards of broken glass and old tools, doubles as both a bar and Neptune’s workbench. The mast is a knock-off of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. The price is $32,000.

And the French-Peruvian artist Jota Castro (b. 1965) has blocked entry to the booth of the one-year-old Brussels gallery Elaine Levy Project with a row of three welded steel gates topped with razor wire, a nicely ironic touch. Called Homeland Security, the sculpture is $50,000. He is also exhibiting a sheet of stainless steel with handcuffs glued to it in the form of the letters "US," which is $20,000. "It’s American material," Castro said. "Good quality." He also noted that the letters spelled both "U.S." and "us" -- "now we are all a little bit U.S.," he said.

For painting, the place to look is the booth of Thierry Goldberg Projects, ordinarily located on Rivington Street in Manhattan. The Yale MFA Khalif Kelly (b. 1980), who grew up in Arlington, Tex., and is still resident in New Haven, has filled the booth with stylized paintings of young black kids at play, done with a color palette that is practically Matissean in its sophistication. In the 83 x 107 in. oil Kool Aid Stand (2007), a blinged-out kid kingpin roosts on a heap of gold coin with a girl on one side and his super-soaker wielding muscle on the other. Scary. The paintings sell for $4,000-$12,000.

Scope at Lincoln Center
This year Scope New York, which set up in a workmanlike white pavilion in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park for the second year, was designed to be more focused, with about 50 exhibitors (as compared to 65 last year).

An easy favorite are the small acrylic lacquer sculptures by Kyoto artist Showichi Kaneda at Tokyo Gallery, mutant hybrids that seem part shark, part logo-covered Formula 1 racer. Kaneda has been making them since 2001, designing a new edition each year in homage to one car from that year’s Formula 1 season. The 2008 edition imprints a white hammerhead with Intel, Credit Suisse and BMW Power logos, and a second work, cast from the same mold, was styled in baby blue with nautical tattoos. They’re $18,000 a pop.

Next door at Amsterdam’s 2x2 Projects, the gallery was showing a series of photographs by Dutch artist Hans Eijkelboom, who captures people unawares on the street, all sporting some similar prop, with each photo cropped and framed so that they all look interchangeable. One series features black men wearing skull paraphernalia; another, young women carrying identical Abercrombie & Fitch bags.

Eijkelboom calls the project, in reference to the locales where he snapped his subjects, "Paris -- New York -- Shanghai: The Past, Present and Future Capitals of the World." The works featuring the large photos -- all six in the series are sold as one work -- are $9,000. Aperture is putting out a book of Eijkelboom’s photos, and hopes to tour a show of his work later in the year.

Also of note at Scope was Argentine artist Mariana López, whose painting Dwarves features a deft, brushy junkyard landscape populated by various, well, dwarves, ranging from a determined bodybuilder to figures culled from Velazquez paintings. On view at the booth of the Boston-based Rhys Gallery, the painting is $9,000, and also is the last work the gallery has left from the series, which has been seen in Boston and in Miami last December.

Last but not least was a "special project" located by the entryway to the longue, consisting of 100 framed dollar bills, and a list of the prices for each one, which range from "-$100" (indicating you received $100 for taking it) to "$4,500,000." Red dots showed just how high the attention generated by the gesture had driven the price -- on Friday, it was at $289. The mischievous gesture drew a lot of attention, though apparently little comprehension -- the dealers at New York’s 33 Bond, whose exterior booth wall holds the work, claim not to know who is behind the gesture.

As it turns out, it is the work of Invisible Heroes, a group of art world pranksters brought in by Scope organizer Alexis Hubshman to inject a little irreverence into the commerce. I noticed as I left, however, that the entry marked "$4,500,000" was marked "reserved." Could someone be having a little fun at the expense of the pranksters?

LA Art on West 18th
The scene at the latest New York installment of the LA Art fair is mellow and professional, with 15 or so good Los Angeles galleries spread out in a parquet-floored space. The neon sign at Mary Goldman Gallery says "Naked Artist Inside," but it lies -- instead, the booth features a wall of hand-written cardboard signs by Alejandro Diaz, left over from a series of little-noticed street performances the Queens-based artist did in Manhattan in 2003. "By Disappointment Only," says one. "I Beg to Differ," reads another.

A San Antonio native, the 40-ish Diaz is a comer, slated for a solo exhibition at the Aldrich Museum in 2009 and also included in "Phantom Sightings," a group show that opens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at the end of the month. He’s won a Tiffany Award, and participated in the 2003 Havana Biennial with a series of plastic bags and toys marked with the logo, "I ♥ Cuba," which turned out to be rather popular.

"Business is good," said Goldman, "even though the buzz is bad." The Diaz neon is $5,000, while the signs are $99.99. "I’ve sold about a dozen already," said the dealer, as she turned to answer questions -- the same ones your correspondent had asked! -- from yet another potential client.

At the booth of OMR from Mexico City -- one guest gallery at LA Art is from a city other than Los Angeles -- a LACMA curator was spotted snapping up some drawings by Mauricio Guillén (b. 1971), an artist who lives in London. From his "De la Serie Bilocation," the works feature a hand-written sentence expressing his wish to be somewhere other than wherever he is -- in London he might wish to be in Athens, for instance -- written in the rain, so that the ink runs down the page like tears. The drawings are priced at $1,500-$2,000.

Pulse on Pier 40
The circuitous route to Pulse New York, relocated from the Gramercy Park Armory to Pier 40 on the Hudson at West Houston Street, crosses the West Side Highway, passes a green soccer field and parking structure, and enters through a long red-lit tunnel, one of the many artist projects scattered through the space -- and rewards the intrepid visitor who makes it to the end of the pier with a picture window framing a startling view of the New Jersey shore of the river, now sprouting quite a crop of new condo high-rises.

Pulse boasts almost 100 galleries in a low-key presentation that reminded at least one visitor that looking at new art can actually be a lot of fun. The admission desk is marked by a wall-sized assembly of mirrors by Graham Caldwell titled Compound Eye (2008), a kind of giant robot bouquet that is courtesy of G Fine Art from Washington, D.C.

At the booth of Mark Moore Gallery from Los Angeles, viewers are greeted by a bright red resin-and-fiberglass sculpture of a toy Indian figure, spear and shield at the ready, blown up to life-size, with the extruded plastic scraps still attached. One of an edition of three by Yoram Wolberger, it’s quite dynamic (and priced at $90,000).

And at the booth of New York gallery Caren Golden Fine Art is a suite of three hanging curtains, each made of thousands of colored beads by Devorah Sperber, whose show, "Mirror Universe," is currently on view at the gallery in Chelsea. Celebrated for re-doing Old Master portraits by arranging spools of brightly colored thread that are then viewed through a magnifying lens, Sperber has embarked on a new series based on the classic Star Trek series.

The three beaded curtains in the booth show Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy at the moment that their atoms are metamorphosing in the transporter -- "beaming up" -- a salutary effect of Sperber’s bead technique, as it happens. Done in an edition of two, the works are $28,000 each or $84,000 for the set of three.

Another one of the major public works at Pulse is a large assemblage of ghostly white cast-paper objects, each crumpled in its own clear case in a towering shelf-like array, by the Brooklyn artist Leonardo Drew (b. 1961). Titled Number 90 (2003), the work has was originally exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 2003.

Drew is represented at the fair by Finesilver Gallery from San Antonio and Houston, which does good business with his work, according to dealer Christopher Erck (the artist’s 2007 show at Sikkema/Jenkins in New York was sold out). Number 90 is priced at $350,000, Erck said, and is on hold. In the booth is an array of assemblages by the artist, typically primitivist grids filled with custom-made items like paint chips or cotton gauze, or even pure rust. Prices for these smaller works range from $12,000 to $45,000.

The Bridge Art Fair
A mile up the West Side Highway is the Bridge Art Fair, which presents almost 60 galleries on either side of a rather narrow aisle in the lovely brick Waterfront warehouse building that stretches between 11th Avenue and the highway at 28th Street. It’s a fairly funky gathering, boasting, for instance, the 18-month-old, by-appointment-only Red Truck Gallery from New Orleans, which features in its booth a dense, salon-style hanging of folk and street art by proprietor Noah Antieau’s mom and his friends.

With a special Asian focus, Bridge boasts lots of Chinese dealers, plus one from the Philippines and one from Indonesia. Especially in our global art world, it’s exciting to meet an art dealer from Jakarta. Jason Gunawan founded his gallery, which is named Ark Galerie, a year ago, and at Bridge is exhibiting large paintings, weavings and sculptures by Eko Nugroho (b. 1977), an artist who lives in central Java and whose work shares a certain kinship with San Francisco Street Art.

Nugroho was artist-in-residence at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans in 2008, and already has an auction track record, said Gunawan, and is included in Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction on Apr. 8, 2008. "The contemporary art scene is booming in Indonesia," he said. "The country is embracing anything that makes money." Nugroho’s works range in price from $15,000 to $25,000.

Finally, the prize for Most Daring Self-Promotion goes to Maryland-based artist Eric Finzi, who sent an actual work of his -- a small epoxy-resin painting on wood, a copy of Chardin’s Soap Bubbles, with the bubble replaced by an image of the world -- to yours truly in the mail. It is by far the most elaborate artwork to arrive in our offices by post, and earned him a stop at his show at the booth of Perihelion Gallery from Phoenix, which opened in 2002.

"I’ve been to Albuquerque," I ventured hopefully. "That’s almost Phoenix." According to gallery co-director Amy Young, Phoenix has the longest running "artwalk" in the U.S., now in its 20th year. "You should come." Perihelion showed Finzi’s works in 2006, and the ones at Bridge are $6,000 each. This new series, called "Orbs," begins with images that contain balls or globes -- Salome presenting the head of St. John, for instance, or a goalie intercepting a soccer kick -- and replaces the sphere with a picture of the earth seen from space. A gesture to ecology, and the new internationalism.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.



 



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