There’s an old joke in Hollywood that someone once robbed a bank and ran into the William Morris Agency, where he was never seen again. A thief could find the same kind of cover within the bowels of the Armory Show, the four-day art fair with more than 270 gallery booths jumbled in two massive enclosed piers along the Hudson River in Manhattan.
Held over the weekend, the show seemed to grow even bigger this year, and that’s not including the usual battery of support fairs -- which number around 10 these days -- exhibition openings, and book signings spread all over the city. It can be overwhelming, and it’s impossible to see everything – you always feels like there’s something better somewhere else – so you do what you can, have fun doing it and not feel to badly about the things that you’ve missed.
At least that’s my strategy. And for every morsel of art that I bypassed this year, which was quite a bit, I’m sure, I’m appreciative of what I did see.
First, there was the Thursday opening for José Parlá’s exhibition “Walls, Diaries and Paintings” at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, where Parlá ’s very personal paintings of external decay look as alive as ever. At the opening, he told me that the way he paints is very active.
It’s physically demanding on specifically my arms because I’m not just painting slowly.
“It’s physically demanding on specifically my arms because I’m not just painting slowly,” he said. “I’m painting fast and large. And there are times when my arm is up – there’s a specific rhythm and energy I need to keep going with – and my arm is up for hours. And then it’s dead. I’ve got to go to the chiropractor and get that worked out. And it is physically demanding.”
The same night, the Paul Kasmin Gallery held an opening for Ivan Navarro’s show, “Heaven or Las Vegas,” in which the artist, born in Santiago, Chile, created fluorescent light sculptures based on the floor plans of 12 skyscrapers, including the Flatiron Building in New York and the Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai.
Navarro also had perhaps the highest profile artwork in the entire Armory Show. It was a fluorescent white picket fence enclosing a swath of bare show floor – it’s called “The Armory Fence” – as if shunning the commercial activity that’s typical of gallery booths. The gallery sequestered itself to a bench nearby.
There were other great moments at the Armory Show and beyond. I was happy to see Kaws take another step in deconstructing his style in a series of black-based circular canvases at the Honor Fraser gallery booth. I was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of works by Julian Opie – a British artist who is under-appreciated in the United States – throughout the show. And Ryan McGinness threw a party at the Standard Hotel, where a handful of blacklight paintings from his recent show in Miami Beach served as a backdrop to pole dancers, painted to match. “Yeah, so what did you do Friday night?”
On a smaller scale, one of my favorite events from the week was the opening for the artist Mike Ming, who, like Jose Parla, is a member of the Brooklyn-based Barnstormers collective. The show, “All Over the Road,” was a low key display of huge works at Nepenthes, one of those very well edited and cool clothing store that only the Japanese can put together in the Fashion District. It was off the beaten path from most of the Armory happenings. Ming, who recently designed limited edition products for Dell and Ray-Ban, displayed his paintings above the clothing racks. It wasn’t about commerce as much as it was about celebrating a collection of paintings that represent an artist in a specific creative place. The show also embodied the refreshing encouragement that there is great new stuff on the horizon, which provided an optimistic takeaway from the week.
For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter: @r_s_c