Thursday, March 27, 2008

Art Colony in a War Economy

26 March 2008

Before I head downtown to "get bombed" at the artillery</span> party at Bar 119, let me just share a few preliminary observations. Certain galleries seem to have their pick of the prime siting -- on the central axis and/or relatively close (but not too close) to the entrance. E.g., Victoria Miro (London), Mai 36 (Zurich), White Cube/Jay Jopling (London), Sean Kelly (NYC), Hauser & Wirth (Zurich/London), Matthew Marks (NYC), Blum & Poe (LA), Anton Kern (NY), David Zwirner (NY), Emmanuel Perrotin (Paris). I have to assume these are veterans of long-standing at the Fair, who therefore merit prime siting. Coincidence or not, some of them seem to show the same groups of artists they had on hand last year -- strong work, not to diminish it, but nevertheless not particularly new (or always noteworthy), and certainly not entirely representative of these galleries' stables of artists considered altogether. I assume that's one reason why the Armory selection committee placed a few new participants among these old hands, e.g., notably, Simon Lee (London). Placement isn't everything, though. Rivington Arms seemed slightly hidden in its prime space directly across from Simon Lee (is it smaller this year?) -- right next to Elizabeth Dee. And some of the spaces seem to have impact no matter where they're situated: e.g., Paul Kasmin (who, as he did last year, show-cased only one artist), or newcomer Erna Hecey (Bruxelles, Luxembourg) (forgive my missing accent marks; I'm working with a different laptop and it's hard to even see what I'm writing).

27 March 2008 (2:00 a.m.)

No, I'm not blind drunk -- though with this tiny screen, it hardly makes any difference. Boy -- and I thought I was political. Stephen Cohen really gives me a run for that standing. I knew I had to catch up on my Artforums; who knew I had to catch up on my Nations, too? The spirited conversation continued up in my editor's hotel room between Tulsa, Paige Wery and me -- perhaps a bit too spirited -- the front desk rang up to let us know we were disturbing everyone on the eighth floor. (Tulsa said this was the second night in a row of complaints from her neighbors.) And we were discussing ART -- not politics. It was about as loud as a museum gallery. Quick -- someone call the police! four minutes 33 seconds of silence -- it's gotta be a terrorist plot! Gimme a break. I have to say that was another thing I noticed at the Armory: a plodding earnestness from so many gallery assistant directors when queried about this artist, that work. You'd think they were writing it all down in an exam blue-book, and frankly I don't think half of them would even earn a passing grade at the Marlborough School. (Or Dalton ? Fieldston?) Hey -- it's ART, not plumbing. (Or to Tulsa's hotel neighbors -- Hey, it's LIFE, not plywood.) Having had no more than a bite all day, Paige took me out again for a pizza-cap at a pizzeria on Lexington -- meager but much needed before I cabbed it back to Harlem.

It was nice to run into a few familiar faces before the evening was over on Pier 94. Heather Harmon fresh off a plane and still looking FABULOUS at Patrick Painter; Patrick himself of course and the rest of his staff, who are always so helpful; Superkathleen -- as in Kathleen Cullen, of Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, one of the most energetic people I know, and the most fun -- in the company of collector Melissa Wolfson -- who knows a good thing when she sees it. One artist we couldn't stop talking about was Michael Vasquez, who himself materialized as we were toasting his praises with Champagne. I had myself only just seen his astounding paintings of neighborhood homeboy/gangsta mentors(he's from the St. Petersburg-Tampa area of Florida) earlier in the afternoon at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery (Miami) space (right next to Mai 36). He's only 25 and already a commanding painter. What a talent.

As for Mai 36, as I said above, something just a bit predictable about it -- not entirely a bad thing: wonderful pixelated Thomas Ruff C-print, John Baldessari's play on animal harvesting (e.g., turkeys, fish; the contrasting solitary praying mantis); Troy Brauntuch. A bit more interesting to me were the Jurgen Dreschers in gray mettalics -- one a panel covered in bubble wrap; also an ambiguous, deconstructed cardboard box -- all painted silver. the most interesting was an enigmatic Konrad Dedobbeleer -- "Anger takes the place of what is ignored." I wonder if American politicos are getting that message this political season. I think Obama has. Similarly at Victoria Miro -- except maybe I'm wrong. Yes, they showed Peter Doig -- but what Peter Doigs -- an amazing panel, 25x243.5 cm., "The Drifter" from 1996; also a number of Grayson Perry ceramics in a very new (for him) vein inspired by a residency in Japan. But the most interesting work was painting by an Italian woman, whose name I can't read from my notes. (Is it the hour or my amazingly illegible handwriting?)

Speaking of Simon Lee, who as I mentioned was placed in some proximity to these spaces, there were many very fine George Condo fright masks/figures available. Two beautifully geodesic puppies iin triangular-folded cardboard by Toby Ziegler, a Sherrie Levine O'Keefe appropriiation (beautiful -- but BORRRRRR-ing) and a marvelously witty John Armleder array of fake firelogs.
At Praz-Delavallade (Paris/Berlin) -- one of the most interesting (and political?) spaces of the afternoon, there was a great Andrea Bowers tribute to Marla Ruzicka (way to go Andrea); also great work by Edgar Arcenaux, Robyn O'Neil (a wonderfully terrifying poem for our time in grisaille) and Erik Schmidt (a man brandishing a hunting rifle). Also John Miller -- not the project you made in second grade. Rivington Arms showed John Finneran (whose work always has an amazingly flat yet serendipitous quality -- thought balloons with the most compressed expressions) and Leigh Ledare (she has a show coming up -- can't wait. Except I really can't wait -- I'll be back in L.A.)

A few other things: John Miller is suddenly (and I do mean SUDDENLY -- like, uh, where was he last year, and the year before that, and the year before that? Or did I just by sheer coincidence miss those shows and those reviews. Okay, it's possible.) HUGE. I wondered about this for all of two minutes -- which I think is when I ran into a few more specimens at a second gallery. Then it all began to sink in: war, the economy, and children -- the children we remain (and not necessarily in a positive sense, the children we obsess about -- yours, mine, theirs -- and the children we no longer seem to know quite how to raise. So we have to go back to second or third grade where we made those "arts and crafts" projects with macaroni or other shapely pasta and bits of sandbox detritus and rudimentary collage, gluing them to cardboard or plywood or some other sturdy support and painting them all gold or silver for a jeweled or encrusted effect. "Look, Mom! I made a decoration!" ('Yeah, and you're STILL an ugly little freak!' says Mom. Now I seem to remember that I didn't like second or third grade too much.) Instead of pasta or macaroni, though, what seems to be bubbling up through the gold paint is weaponry: guns and various gun parts, knives, grenades, bombs. 'It's the war economy, stupid. Oh and by the way, we'll need some of those neglected, maleducated kid sto kill some other people and maybe finish off each other once they're finished. Okay I have to stop for now.

Ezrha Jean Black, from New York

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