You know the art world is in trouble when the two things that attracted the most attention at the Armory Show yesterday were a nude woman who had painted her body and a mechanized talking raven on a tree limb. I actually saw people standing beneath the latter with their mouths agape (I kept hoping the raven would start dropping worms at them), as if they had never seen an automaton before. Walt Disney was smirking somewhere, “You see! Genius!”
The other takeaway from yesterday’s show: irony is really killing art. It’s as if artists are not brave enough to take themselves seriously anymore. Too much nudging, winking, and self-centered displays of cleverness (that weren’t really all that clever to begin with). Don’t get me wrong: a sense of humor is great in art. But, paintings with cartoon characters? Kind of been done to death. And way too many paintings with messages in type. Been done a thousand times over now. As for the sculpture and installations, it was craft fair time. Right, no one has ever thought before that using stuffed creatures in a piece is ironic. Brilliant. Genius. That display of kitsch almost attracted as much attention as the talking raven. Lots of iPhone cameras going off. Bloody e’ll.
The only upside was seeing new work by all the painters I discovered at last year’s Armory Show. Once again, the day was saved by interesting work from Gottfried Helnwein, Annie Lapin, Tom LaDuke, Adrian Ghenie, and Deborah Poynton, whose work is still stunning, despite the fact that she’s doing simple portraiture. The only new discovery was Natasja Kensmil, who happened to have a painting hanging on the outside wall of a gallery booth. I actually wish I could have seen more of her work, especially after looking for her paintings on the interwebs. Click on the images below to check out some of the paintings.
… but it’s vital signs don’t look so hot.
I walked away from the New York City armory show thinking one thing: all process and not enough passion. The art, especially in the contemporary pier, was very lackluster. In fact, the photographic work on display was head and shoulders above the paintings, cementing a thought I’ve had as of late: that photography has become far more groundbreaking. But for the most part, many of the pieces seemed as if the artists we really trying to impress with the amount of work they were putting into the project, rather creating art that struck one as truly memorable or innovative. All the Italian galleries seemed to be employing Darrel Hannah’s character from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street as their curator. It was that bad. Thankfully the Swedes and South Africans came with some very interesting pieces. The Modern Pier (up the treacherous improvised staircase) had more going for it, but even there it was more “eh” than fascinating.
However, there was still enough good art at the show to make the trip worthwhile. I was able to see “Arrest” by my favorite living painter, Odd Nerdrum. As always, I never cease to be awestruck by his work — the flesh lives and breathes on his canvases. Seeing his painting “The Dying Couple” at the Konstmuseet in Göteborg, inspired me to write “Taking the Happy Bus on Home,” which you can read in The Love Book. In many ways, Deborah Poynton’s great “Untitled” reminded me a lot of Nerdrum’s style with its unflinching portrayal of human ugliness (that still resonates as beautiful). Both Annie Lapin’s “Affection Experiment” and Adrian Ghenie’s “The Collector” were wonderfully macabre. The former was almost a rendering of the now infamous soft mother/wire mother psychological experiment and the latter was very much in the Francis Bacon style with a grim Death-figure in a military uniform floating above the recently deceased. I also discovered the photo-realistic work of Gottfried Helnwein and his eerily gripping “Epiphany III (Presentation at the Temple).” Finally, on the last walk through, I spotted Romare Bearden’s “Of the Blues.” I’ve always been a huge fan of his Harlem street-life and jazz collages, so it feels like seeing an old friend when I spot his work.
Here are some shots of my favorite paintings from the Armory show: