Ok. You caught me. I missed a day. SATs and sports dinners took precedence over art shopping and schmoozing. But we are back for day omega, and some parting musings on the 100th annual Armory Show.
First, do we really need to “focus” on the United States? Don’t we get to see enough of our local contemporary artists without an additional mandate? And how is that even a focus? Artists working in Hoboken or Cleveland is a focus. Brooklyn maybe. Los Angeles is even pushing it. Focus United States is an oxymoron.
Karen Rosenberg, in the paper of record, The New York Times, described the theme of this year’s Armory Show as “give them what they want.” And if that’s the case, is there anything wrong with that? The original Armory Show in 1913 was created to bring new European art to New York City. They came, they wowed some, and they appalled the sensibilities of others. But they sold art, and no one had any problem with that. The difference today is that we are all so global now that nothing is really new enough to wow anyone. But they still need to sell art. That is what galleries have to do when they pay the exorbitant prices required to get a booth at the fair. In fact, that is why they are in business. Say what you want about galleries helping to bring along young artists and nurture careers, but at the end of the day the cynical New Yorker in me understands that they do so in order to build the artist’s following, drive up the prices for the artists’ work, and make a profit. So when galleries come to the Armory Show and bring safe, commercially successful and well known artists is that really shocking?
All that being said, there were a couple of booths that broke the mold this year, either with edgy solo shows, or thematic installations. To flaunt my ignorance, I freely admit that when I saw Rod Bianco‘s booth with little suits hanging off of paintings I didn’t get it. I thought maybe Charles LeDray on steroids? Even when it was explained to me that it was Bjarne Melgaard and Sverre Bjertnes‘ salute to Mary Boone, I thought it was an interesting idea, certainly more interesting than the salute to Warhol’s camoflage at Gagosian, but I still didn’t quite get it. Maybe you had to know Mary Boone better.
The installation best in keeping with the theme of this year’s show, the 100th anniversary thing, was Francis Naumann‘s homage to Marcel Duchamp‘s famous modernist work, Nude Descending a Staircase. Creatures of all shapes, colors and sizes, from Mel Ramos‘ pinup nude, to Peter Saul‘s little green Dali’s, descended en masse and in vivid color. Men, women, cartoon characters and hermaphroditic models all got into the act. Many of the works were made specifically for this exhibit, others were brought together by Naumann, a longtime dealer and Duchamp enthusiast. The focal point of the booth was a three dimensional composition, 75 Years Later Revisited by Larry Rivers which was constructed in 1996. When one considers the relationship between Pop Art, marketing and mass production Rivers’ work becomes an unintentional critique on the commercialism of the current art market and Armory show, as compared to the 1913 show where the original work debuted. It is interesting to note that if the work was indeed created in 1996 then it was neither the 75th anniversary of the show, not the anniversary of the creation of Duchamp’s work. That’s why Larry Rivers is an artist and musician, not a mathematician or historian.
It has been my pleasure to share my often rambling musings. Hopefully the professional staff will be back in action by the next show.
Michael Levine is a New York-based art collector, a graduate of Duke University and a member of the Nasher Museum’s board of advisors. (Thank you, Mike! We’ll try not to abandon you next year!)
IMAGE: Larry Rivers, 75 Years Later Revisited, 1996. Oil on canvas mounted on sculpted foamboard, 38 ½ x 24 x 5 inches. Image courtesy Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York.