The Armory Show 2009

April 22, 2009

Over the last three years The Armory Show has changed remarkably. 2006 was the year of big photography. Whether or not this had something to do with Jeff Wall’s opening at the MoMA during that week isn’t clear but the influence could certainly be felt. Last year, the photographs were gone and there was an abundance of garbagey stuff, shiny bits and pieces, and Day-Glo paint and plastic. This year? A surfeit of small, but not insignificant works, fought for space. There is always a lot of painting and the serving this year seemed polite, grayish, with painterly grids of all kinds.

At a fair like the Armory, you’re facing a cacophony of visual voices, all vying for attention and a potential sale. I had a chance to talk with quite a few people: The large, blue-chip galleries have too much invested in keeping the art bubble of the last few years afloat to say anything that might bring it down any further. For them The Armory was all good. So I talked with the more interesting, smaller spaces, where the gallerist was usually standing in front of the art. Most booths had that high end boutique feeling, however, the CANADA (New York) space stood out for both its lack of glitz and the economy of presentation in the understated art of Matt Connors’s.

Talking about how the gallery might address the current economic conditions, Wallace Whitney, a member of the gallery’s collective, brought everything down to a place I could relate to.“Pain is not something artists are unacquainted with, and I hate to romanticize suffering, but we at CANADA can cut back fairly easily because we only recently started to spend money on things like art fairs, our small salaries and extra staff (usually friends in need of part time work).” Watching the bottom line, like in any business, is the only sensible survival tactic. Having been realistic from the start, CANADA and galleries in a similar position vis-à-vis the global art market have the best chance of being around in a year’s time. In this same vein, Toby Webster from The Modern Institute (Glasgow) added, “What the artist does has always led the gallery. We just have to be careful we don’t overreach ourselves.

We fit to the landscape.” Keeping it real, keeping it simple, and keeping it focused on the art. As to what the collectors wanted? It seemed they wanted to talk about it more. Maybe it was just a form of therapy, getting things off one’s chest, a confession, so to speak, or maybe they actually wanted to engage and think about the work. Catriona, from the Catriona Jeffries Gallery (Vancouver), made the point that, “It’s always about important, critically relevant work being made by an artist, be it younger or older practices.” She then added, “The discussions are more serious and focused, the dialogue about the work is more attentive.” Good news for those of us who have been around awhile and feel that their work is getting better as it matures. Over at Pulse Art Fair, a smaller and more alternative venue, gallerist Andrea Pollen from Curator’s Office (WashingtonD.C.) had a similar observation. “While I think the market for emerging artists is still somewhat strong, there is definitely a turn to more mature artists who have gone through the test of time.”

All week I kept hearing just over my shoulder the immortal words of Mike’s uncle Bill from, where poor old Bill, coerced out of his money to fund the film, is enlisted to act and has to repeat his lines over and over until he gets them right. “It’s all right. It’s okay. There’s something to live for. Jesus told me so.” By all accounts, we might actually be okay after all, and good art will continue to be made and exhibited. According to Ed Winkleman, who’s Winkleman Gallery (New York) was at Pulse, “Dealers seemed in much brighter spirits than they had been in Miami… it was by far a more relaxed and enjoyable fair by most accounts.” After the initial shock of previous fairs I got a sense that most people were relieved, like when you finally accept the bad news and start to figure out how to move on.

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