Stepping into the Armory Show, one is greeted by the fixtures of the vacuous contemporary art void. Far past its prime, myriad referents and quotations litter the uniform exhibition space. The perks of practice mean that the objects have grown sharper and more delicate in their grasp of refined meaninglessness. Interestingly, the ancient giants of mid-century innovation are sparse- only three modest Chamberlains, an easily missed Andre, a surprisingly unsuccessful Agnes Martin and, of course, the supreme visibility of Warhol whose wallpaper experiments are yet again worshipped. The theme of current historical idolatry has found new roots in yet another reenvisioning of Monsieur Marcel Duchamp, suggesting that later decades have been thoroughly looted for ideas. Of course, this does not mean there were not knockoffs both sly and blunt.
Here are a few of the most obvious.
This Piece by Vibha Galhotra:
I know that you may be slightly skeptical on this one. I mean, what makes it unacceptable to hang a thing from the ceiling?
This piece by Felix Gonzáles-Torres:
It’s a knockoff! It’s a knockoff!
This Piece by José Davila:
And this classic work by Donald Judd:
Nothing underhanded here! It’s a classic “inspired by” situation. Perhaps the artist means to suggest that the clean modernist minimalism embodied by Judd’s classic work has been taken as a commercial product and therefore should be represented as it would be by Warhol with labels abounding and then finally it must fully conform to the expectations of found object art by being made of cardboard? What profundity you suggest fine artist…
This Piece by Mathieu Mercier:
And all of Mondrian:
Thief! Primaries are off limits!
And now, for something completely different…
So, despite the anticipated cheap shots and clever creative dead-ends, there were some pieces which struck my fancy. Jane Hammond at Senda had this beautiful map of Madagascar:
Somewhat ironically, a Damian Hirst piece used real butterflies to make a formal composition, while this opted for a tasteful reconstruction. It’s beautiful, colorful, mysterious and it makes me wish all maps were colored in butterflies (or whatever the local flora/fauna might be) and painted with such glittery delicacy.
The incredible Rhona Hoffman continues to prove that an eye for quality has little to do with age, as she highlights some fascinating work by Susan Hefuna (which I was too busy oogling at to photograph) and this piece I couldn’t not include by Jacob Hashimoto since it’s masterfully constructed, fully of visual dynamics, complex pattern work and I’m pretty sure it’s saying “hi” intentionally:
While there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it, I still respond to well developed material explorations like this one by Leslie Wayne:
Obviously anything with a crinkly, plastic looking texture and beige pastel coloration is going to make me think of Eva Hesse just a little bit and that this person gets to present a thing like this in the first place owes an awful lot to Richard Tuttle who really established that you can put evidently random shit on walls and have it be great art. Love that guy (sometimes).
And despite it’s Stella-derivative status, I kind of liked these flat ones by Mary Ramsden:
Or did I mean to say they look like Mary Heilmann? Regardless there’s some major pastiche business going on here, but okay. Not getting mad. It has a nice little geometric and angular to flowy and natural rhythm going on with the one on the far right really holding down those lines and the pink lady on port-side giving off a nifty puddle vibe.
And while we’re enjoying flat color painting that acts like graphic design was invented yesterday, let’s not forget the equally enjoyable Albers-knockoff:
Like what if you opened up Josef Albers in photoshop and then scaled those shapes!!! Wow, yeah. Totes putting this goody in the art fair!
And now, for the real positive.
One of my favorite works has to be this magical blending of realities and scale by Ryan Foster at the Richard Heller gallery from Santa Monica:
Lacking conceptual content and functioning simply as a pretty painting, the inclusion of pieces like this gives me hope that there is a place for nice-looking colorful things that exist first as visual exubance and inventiveness, and secondly as vehicles of abstract suggestion. I think they call this magical realism and I love it. Can we just get a nice painting where some pretty tablecloth covers the sky aurora-style and meanwhile the world is going from convex to concave like things are getting seriously warped. Wow! Diamonds and flowers? Did you know that I really like those things? Thanks artist. You rule.
But the real heart-stopper was pretty much everything at Kaikai Kiki:
This piece was made by Oguchi who is younger than me at 21 years old:
And this one by OB who is 20 years old!
And this one by Haruka Makita who is 15 years old!
I am amazed and I feel old. And while yes, figurative art of anime characters is widely practiced, these examples are featured at the Armory Show for a reason. Technically adept, personally stylized and emotive, they speak from a new generation of Asian artists who can make work like this appeal to a wider audience by dexterously fusing Murakami and Miyazaki while also referencing a wide array of manga graphic styles and giving these popular images a fine arts edge. The originality comes from the way in which these images are constructed, and takes its subjects for granted. It’s for someone who already likes the visual vocabulary, and then it’s just plain gorgeous.
So while the art fair certainly proves that the whole contemporary art bubble is pretty much exactly what it’s been for the last decade or so, there are signs of moving past the sad mining of the last century’s great and still moving artworks. I somehow doubt that American art will be making any waves in the near future though. Jump on that Kaikai Kiki goodness!
photos: Tola Brennan
First published in Resolve40