What I love about art fairs is that there is no grand plan for the art beyond booth allotment for the galleries. There is no theme or thread to follow because the fair itself isn’t meant to be a coherent or even considered aesthetic amalgamation. It is a radical mash-up of everybody’s most striking art objects, all on display at the same time in the same place. Unlike the trove of satellite fairs, the Armory hosts only the art world’s esteemed elite, which means the quality and caliber of ingredients in the mash are bar none.
The kind of stupid giddy excitement I get from attending the Armory only finds its equivalent in the exuberant joy of an obese American in plain view of a well stocked all you can eat buffet. The both of us enter with eyes the size of saucers and leave gorged and dazed, in need of a blank wall and a tall glass of water. This year the Armory is split into two piers, one designated as “modern,” the other as “contemporary.” I found more delightful little surprises in the modern pier, though the contemporary portion is clearly the main dish.
Not everything in the modern pier is modern, that would be far too obvious, though they do have a cache of older work that seems altogether absent in the contemporary section. It’s always nice to see a Marsden Hartley or a painting by Jackson Pollock that isn’t another drip and splash masterpiece. One booth, the Alan Koppel Gallery, stopped me dead in my tracks. In one corner a pair of Hiroshi Sugimoto prints hung opposite a pair of Mark Tansey studies. I’d never considered these two artists kin of any kind, but here they were vibrating intensely off one another. Beside these there was a small Richter abstraction, and next to the Richter hung the dainty image of Yves Klein leaping into the void. Had it not been for a couple of fellow fair goers who decided to admire these same pictures while standing right in front of me, I may not have snapped out of my reverie.
The contemporary section is where all the truly big money galleries have their booths and where the real fun takes off with extravagant showiness. Hometown heavy hitters like Pace and Zwirner mounted one-man exhibitions of famous artists who make expensive work with incredibly cheap materials. (Philip-Lorca diCorcia Polaroids at Zwirner, and a screwball assortment of trashy bric-a-brac by Tony Feher at Pace). Others, like Zach Feuer, went for the shabby chic aesthetic, because no matter how fat your bankroll is jeans and beard will always be hip. The prize for sophistication—no surprise—goes hands down to the Parisian galleries Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac and Galerie Nathalie Obadia. No question the contingent from Berlin—this year’s FOCUS—brought some shockingly fresh attitude.
Now it’s well known that art fair dealers are only interested in collectors. Critics, curators, students, the general public—90% of the people who attend—are not catered too, and this enables a unique viewing experience. You might see, as I did, a video of an oil jack pumping away, across from a purple suitcase adorned with a nude woman (proactively titled, Islamic Suitcase), across from a ten foot tall aluminum pirate that’s next to a big lusciously green landscape painting. It only makes sense at a fair.
Images: Mark Tansey, study for Installing the Lens (2000), oil and graphite on canvas. Courtesy Alan Koppel Gallery; Tony Feher, detail of Naked City. Courtesy Pace Wildenstein; Rina Banerjee, Lotions and potions like rivers where in quick motion, as well as essential oils and culture's notions, where these cultures would once be locked in harbor or empires court now took ride on the global, opened themselves up to mysterious and foreign incantations (2010), mixed media. Courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia Paris/Brussels.