At 4 pm on Thursday, a mere hour before the doors of the 2005 Armory Show opened for the preview gala for which ticket-holders had paid as much as $1,000 a head, the floor was still buzzing with non-paying “professionals”—a pre-preview group that, in something of a gaffe on the part of the fair’s organizers, included not only the press and museum dignitaries but a number of “discretionary” guests (read: collectors) invited by dealers who, for the first time, were permitted a pass or two for favorite clients unprepared to pay to shop. By 4:15, fair administrators had taken to the floor with megaphones, determined to remove the equally determined shoppers who were still busily extracting preferred-customer favors from their dealers of choice. It wasn’t until close on 5 pm that the last Hort and hanger-on was shown the door. Needless to say, the exceptions did not go unnoticed, resulting in a number of cranky ticket-holders who had anted up for a good cause—and first dibs. The preview gala, benefiting MoMA’s exhibitions fund, was prorated with respect to exclusivity: $1,000 per person at 5:00, $500 at 5:30, and a modest $250 at 7:00. The $1,000 ticket seemed rather absurd, given the mere thirty minutes of extra-specialness it promised. I defy anyone, no matter how rich or thin, to so much as check a coat and nab a glass of white wine in that amount of time. Perhaps the narrow window was a safeguard against poor returns on the thousand-dollar-a-head ticketsbest let in the $500 masses, lest the high rollers find themselves lonely in the vast sprawl of the piers.
The big-ticket early birds included MoMA chair Ronald Lauder and his wife Jo Carole, Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis, Rosa de la Cruz, Isaac Mizrahi, Patti Cisneros, Donald Marron, and Kathy Fuld, who huddled conspiratorially over a café table with recently decamped MoMA drawings curator Gary Garrels (now at the Hammer). PETA activists would have had a field day with their spray paint; ladies were resplendent in fur, and Guggenheim Chief Curator Lisa Dennison looked especially chic in a violet mink chubby. The piers looked pretty good too, compared to the tatty appearance of previous years. Booth sizes were more generous, though this of course meant that fewer galleries could be accommodated. Nonetheless, there were plenty of new faces, with last year’s mass of German galleries replaced by ambitious upstarts from Los Angeles: Black Dragon Society, Anna Helwing, David Kordansky, and peres projects are all first-time exhibitors. The most surprising and welcome debut was that of East Village trailblazers Nature Morte, back after twenty years and a move to New Delhi.
But it must be said that the art seemed rather lackluster overall. This might be attributed to the ascendancy and proliferation of fairs in general. (Massimo De Carlo told me he does six a year. “That’s twenty percent of my time!”) With so many of them going strong, inventory must be getting low. On the upside, this Armory suggests that fairs today increasingly function as exhibition venues rather than just cash-register-crazy retail extravaganzas, and many artists now make context-specific works specifically with fairs in mind. Several galleries mounted single-artist presentations, among them Charles Long at Tanya Bonakdar, Lyle Ashton Harris at CRG, Rita Ackermann at Peter Kilchmann, and Alison Smith at Bellwether. The most remarkable of these solo booths was Hauser and Wirth’s, devoted to paintings from 1962–63 by the late Lee Lozano. A standout picture bore the text HE GAVE ME A GOOD SCREWING—paired with an image of a saw cutting into a log. Hot. Barbara Gladstone’s booth contained a curated exhibition of portraits by gallery artists and others. I admired Richard Prince’s double-sided Allen Ginsberg tribute, from his “Celebrity” series; Jane Kaplowitz’s triple portrait of Hammer Horror icon Peter Cushing in various ghoulish guises; a painting from Kathe Burkhardt’s star-worshipper-from-hell “Liz Taylor” series; and Stephan Balkenhol’s rather incongruous (in the portrait context) carved wood chicken. Most exciting to the gallery’s proprietors was a watercolor of LP covers by Dave Muller, which served “discreet” notice that the rising star had just been pirated from fellow New York dealer Murray Guy. Speaking of discreet notice, one could not help but notice the Chris Ofilis on display at David Zwirner. Ofili’s former New York dealer, Gavin Brown, was absent from the fair, because he is hosting his own mini salon des refusés at his Greenwich Street digs. Maccarone Inc. shared a booth with Berlin gallery Klosterfelde; each day is devoted to a different installation by a selection of their artists, with new-to-the-stable Carol Bove as Maccarone’s opening-night headliner. A Polish curator approached me there, asking if I was Christian Jankowski’s Berlin dealer. To Ms. Maccarone’s disappointment, I failed to make even a passing attempt at impersonation, and turned the curator over to the Jankowski’s New York representative—her.
I returned the next day for a closer look. Among the standouts were Sylvie Fleury’s “Egoïste” mural outside Eva Presenhuber’s booth; a cuckoo-brilliant John Bock sculpture in Anton Kern’s that riffs on Duchamp’s Large Glass, featuring bachelors Fassbinder and Bertolt Brecht, and married-with-child Bock himself; and Nate Lowman’s suite of large-scale photographs of oil rigs in flames at Maccarone/Klosterfelde. Massimo De Carlo’s booth was low-key but memorable, featuring a new painting by John Armleder that looked like a glittery Morris Louis executed in industrial paints, two disarming works by Paola Pivi, and Piotr Uklanski’s immense photograph of the sky, an homage to a Giovanni Anselmo. The Rivington Arms booth looked good too. I particularly liked Hanna Liden’s collaged photographs and Dash Snow’s video Hamster Nest, in which the artist and some friends frenetically shred paper, swill booze, and spill pills—in the nude. Elsewhere, an early-‘60s Alice Neel portrait in Victoria Miro’s booth seemed like an unwitting rejoinder to the brash but formulaic figurative work so much in vogue.
David Zwirner showed several sculptures by Isa Genzken, who just had her first show with the gallery. Genzken seems very much a sacred cow these days; few possess anything but admiration, even awe, for her recent diary-of-a-mad-housewife assemblages. Several of these, prominently displayed in Zwirner’s booth, were received with rapturous acclaim by the smart/cool aficionados. “Isa, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy….” I sort of get it, but ultimately I don’t. Why are Genzken’s works so ooh-la-la wow? A colleague, who is entranced by them, maintained that in fact opinion on Genzken is split, but the more reserved parties have been more, well, reserved. Another work that drew numerous enthusiastic comments was by Danny Martinez, at The Project. “It’s so creepy,” Lisa Phillips told me. A kinetic Duane Hanson-esque super-realist sculpture of a down-on-his-luck working stiff slitting his wrists, it was indeed passably strange, though the effect was a tad diminished when I overheard a bejeweled collector lady remark, “Oooh, I like it.” Her hedge-fund-type man-thing chirped inanely, “This is fun!” Non-art-world workers on the piers identified differently—“He looks like one of us,” I heard one say. Maybe they’re feeling suicidal themselves after several days of servicing the movers and factotums of the art world.