Monday, February 26, 2007

Report from Armory Show & SCOPE in NYC

Today we trekked to the west side of Manhattan to take in the Armory Show and SCOPE New York, the two big annual international contemporary art fairs in New York that ended today. (I guess the BMAC and American Craft Council shows last week weren't enough for us!) We noticed more craft-influenced art showing up at both fairs, providing contrast to the preponderance of slick, glam art products that teemed through the more big-ticket Armory Show especially. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The Armory Show, held at Pier 94, was very well produced, more luxurious and up-market feeling than in previous years. Last time I'd been was a couple of years ago and I noticed a lot of differences. Galleries are showing more paintings this year, and a more savvy, perhaps commercial, awareness of fashion interests--there were skulls aplenty and a lot of the bright rich yellow that trend forecasters have been predicting for spring. Photography seems to be fully integrated as a viable contemporary art form now.

Work dealing with the environment stood out in many booths. Mierle Laderman Ukeles, a New York artist who deals with garbage, landfills, and garbage men, had a great installation in Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Titled "The Social Mirror" (above), it's a real garbage truck in all its hulking glory with the sides covered in mirrors. At the back of the truck ran a video about Ukeles' work, including the piece where she shook the hand of every sanitation worker in the city. Elsewhere, polar bears figured into at least two prominent works I saw in other booths, food was a popular subject overall, and anything botanical seemed to stand out as relevant to the growing environmental consciousness, too. (By the way, thumbs up for Al Gore's big win at the Oscar's last night!)

While there was plenty of good work to see, no single piece jumped out at me as really *something,* and overall I found the work tending toward the commercial and spiritless. I felt at one point like I was walking through some huge big box store filled with art products. Jae described it as tuning through stations on the radio looking for a great punk song and not finding any.

In the late afternoon we hopped in a cab and went to Lincoln Center for SCOPE. Started as the alternative fair to the Armory Show, SCOPE has grown into something interesting and worthwhile in its own right. "Half the attitude for half the price" I said to Jae as we passed through the entrance, which was tricked out to feel like some hot rock club.

My favorite piece at SCOPE was Jason Metcalf's House on Wheels, a little house in which sat hunched the artist busily making tiny clay sculptures. A sign on the roof said something like “insert $2, get a sculpture.” At the back was a slot to insert your $2, which I did immediately. The artist slowly pulled my dollars through and then playfully pushed them back out like vending machines always do. (I had to feed them one at a time.) I watched along with other curious fair-goers as he molded coils and little balls of clay together with his furious fingers. One woman bent down and asked if he had enough air in there. He seemed to be just fine. A moment later, my little sculpture appeared in the tray below a tube leading out from the house, encased in a little plastic pod. The house was on wheels so the artist could scoot around to other locations in the fair too. So cool!

Throughout both fairs we noticed art made using craft techniques. I liked Nina Braun’s knitted sneakers (above) at Galerie Heliumcowboy Artspace (Hamburg), and Jeong Jeong Ju’s handbuilt clay and video “Korean Pavilion” (below) at Brain Factory (Seoul). There were "paintings" made from stitched together fabric, other "paintings" using embroidery to describe forms, and a few sculptures using painted porcelain to distinctly reference fine craft. And at Mike Weiss Gallery's booth were Tom Fruin's rad wall quilts pieced from found dime bags, cigar wrappers, and other druggie detritus (shown at top). Good stuff.

What Jae and I noticed in attending the four fairs is that there's a lot more young blood at the art fairs, yet a greater sense of authenticity at the craft fairs. But what I also noticed is that craft is definitely having an effect on the art world. And as we experienced especially at the ACC fair, more young blood is interested in participating in the craft world. It will be interesting to see what happens...

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