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Fair Game: On Armory Week, NYC 2009

The Armory Show 2009, Piers 92 & 94, March 4 - 8, 2009
Pulse New York, Pier 40, March 5 - 8, 2009
Volta NY, 7 West 34th Street, March 5 - 8, 2009

Bradley McCallum/Jacqueline Tarry, Detroit Boys, Michigan, July 1967, 2007

Although swimming in space on its West SoHo pier, Pulse basically sucks. There are exceptions to any rule, and Ms. Diaz is right to cite McCallum/Tarry. I would add Jim Lee’s wall sculpture/paintings at Freight & Volume, Vadis Turner’s femme/folk wedding fantasia at Lyons Wier Ortt, Eckart Hahn’s cross fixations at Pablo’s Birthday, and various work at Conner Contemporary, Magnan Projects, Daneyal Mahmood, Bravin Lee and P.P.O.W. Was also glad to see Constance Collins-Margulies given space for her non-profit Lotus Endowment Fund, a portfolio of photographs by women artists to benefit a Miami women’s shelter.

But Pulse was a general morass of post-student fiddlings, jejune installations and mindless decoration, not ready for prime time. Ironically, the Parsons MFA booth came off better than many of its surrounding “professional” counterparts. Or was I influenced by the spirited advocacy of Parson’s new Fine Art chair Coco Fusco? — we escaped the fair together by taxicab.

In additional to the asinine mechanical bull mentioned above, there is also the lingering bureaucratic bull of the Blue Menials, who have inexplicably been retained to “manage” Pulse’s PR. Quelle horreur!

Another problem for Pulse is its banishment to the Hudson River littoral. Even after arriving at Pier 40, it’s still necessary to skirt several soccer fields just to reach the action.

Alejandro Almanza Pereda, 153.68 Net Hours, 2007

Volta fares better with a central midtown location, a compact, concentric imprint and the elegance of its one booth/one artist rubric. I particularly enjoyed David Kramer’s satiric journey to the heart of American pop yearnings (at Aeroplastics, Brussels); Lisa Sigal’s collages/paintings on paper at Frederieke Taylor; Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s sculptures combining a meditation on strength of materials with formal strategies of repetition (at Magnan Projects - yes, they had booths at both fairs); Karen Heagle’s drawings and editions at I-20; and Trong Nguyen’s participatory pillory project near the elevator bank.

Trong Nguyen, Colección Whitney, 2009

But both fairs suffer from a zero sum deficit, due to the Armory Show’s expansion from Pier 94 to also include Pier 92: 50% more space than last year. Combine this with the economic downturn and a significant group of major players who are sitting it out this year - including Gagosian, Gladstone, Marian Goodman, Lehman Maupin, Greene Naftali, Andrea Rosen, Matthew Marks, Luhring Augustine, Metro, James Cohan, Petzel, CRG, The Project, Gavin Brown, Maccarone, Casey Kaplan, Postmasters, Patrick Painter, Blum & Poe, David Kordansky - and the potential for attrition is obvious. Exhibitors who could never hope for Armory participation in fatter moments are able to “move up” - if they can afford the tariff. This leaves slimmer pickings and a potential dilution of quality in satellite fair participation.

As the Dow quickly heads south and the Obama team attempts to jump start the economy with sudden (and hopefully necessary and sufficient) infusions of cash, the image of a flatlining patient, supine on the gurney and awaiting cardiopulmonary resuscitation, looms ever larger. It’s a relevant image not only for the severely injured macro sphere, but also for the bleeding, gasping art world. It makes one wonder what elements of “genuine surprise and authenticity” will prove an effective jolt to a patient in triage.

Christine Hill, The Volksboutique Armory Apothecary, 2009

Certainly Christine Hill’s botanica at the Feldman booth conjures up a ready metaphor for our current beleaguered zeitgeist. That’s why it has garnered such immediate attention. We all want to escape the pain, to place our faith in a fast and simple cure. We will accept the solace of theosophy, incantation and folk wisdom if it is correctly packaged and presented. No one actually expects Hill’s potions and amulets to work, but the modesty of her “nation of shopkeepers” gesture charms us into becoming her willing accomplices in performance/installation. We understand our belief is both conditional and consensual, and also recognize her underlying conflation of sincerity and irony: “if you feel, you’re healed” meets “caveat emptor” under the carny tent. But at $25-50 a pop, the cost effective price for a leap of faith, circa 2009, seems just about right.

Hill’s Apothecary is designed to signify as genuine. But it is anachronistic, self consciously embracing time-tested virtues that Andras also finds of value in the rickety, provisional stairs connecting the Armory piers. Funky = honest. Less slick = more authentic. Embracing the jerrybuilt and familiar is, not surprisingly, a nostalgic retreat back from the studied perfection that has become the paradigm of the art fair experience, but which does not suit the reduced financial expectations of the moment. We should understand, though, that “the authentic” is still a construct, as much a product of artifice as is “the slick”.

How will all this inform the future of the art fair? If we need to increase the comfort level of the art market by more fully embracing a “constructed nostalgia”, then the organizers of the Armory seem right on target with their “Modern” pier. I am writing this at 6 pm on Sunday, an hour before the fair shuts its doors. So we will soon know whether the many Tom Wesselmann paintings and editions, and the plethora of mid-sized Louise Nevelson sculptures, have found new homes. But certainly one of the reasons that many major US galleries opted out of the Armory Show this year is that they were able to display their wares, less than a month ago, under the “constructed nostalgia” of the ADAA fair, a more modest, “authentic” and guild oriented experience.

This material originally published online on Artworld Salon.