NEW YORK–In the absence of our professional staff of curators, directors and bloggers, I have volunteered to provide an amateur account of my travels through Armory Week in New York. Kind of like when you get to your seat at a Broadway show, you open your program and a little piece of paper drops out saying that the part normally played by Hugh Jackman will be covered tonight by Gilbert Gottfried.
So please lower your expectations accordingly.
Day 1 at the Armory Show began with a disappointing experience parking, as the normally very convenient parking lot on the roof was moved over a full pier. In the cold. But we trundled over to the show, and, despite the unusually large crowd of “VIP’s” (the card I have was labeled “#____ of 12,365, but it seemed more like _____ of 12,365,000), we were pleasantly surprised by this year’s crop of galleries. The food services, on the other hand, while a step up from last year, still lag way behind the setup at Frieze. But enough of structural issues.
By far the standout work of the show on Pier 94, as far as I was concerned, was a Kerry James Marshall anchoring the booth at Jack Shainman Gallery. The work has the striking combination of structure and symbolism that has typified KJM’s recent work. The red, green and black color scheme in the background mirrors the color scheme of the flags of many African nations, and the paper sitting on the table appears to be ownership title to some sort of property, with the implication that it could be for slaves.
Also of interest on Day 1 were a Wangechi Mutu (sentimental pick, not my favorite Mutu work) painting at Susanne Vielmetter, and my recommendation for artists to watch, a life-sized work by Natalie Frank. The Mutu work, obviously timely with her show opening at a major Durham institution in two weeks, continued her recent trend towards more sculptural pieces. In addition to her familiar painted and collaged elements there were large, really large, tufts of hair (maybe hair substitutes?), attached to the work, which take the stream of fire? smoke? evil? spewing forth from the subject’s mouth and continue it out of the plane of the picture. The Natalie Frank, at Fredericks and Freiser, was a bit of a departure from her previous body of work. Known for surreal (scary according to my wife) larger scale works a la Francis Bacon, or Pavel Tchelitchew, she seems to be moving towards more figuration, and a sharper image. The work still has its surreal elements, particularly in the center, where a disembodied resident is depicted by a pair of floating eyes, an oval body and a pair of legs that extend beyond the canvas as if the painting is getting ready to walk itself through the wall. Frank received several accolades, not to mention early commercial success, as a student, and shows no signs of stagnation.
More to come on day 2.
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, for being our eyes and ears at Armory!)
IMAGE: Kerry James Marshall, The Academy, 2012. Acrylic on PVC, 72 x 59 3/4 inches, 72 3/4 x 61 x 2 3/4 inches framed. KM12.015. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery.