Kenny Schachter is a London-based art dealer, curator, and writer. The opinions expressed here are his own. The first part of Shachter’s Armory Week report is here.
On my second day in New York the snow was so heavy that I feared I would be forced to spend a terrifying night at the museum with “Surround Audience,” the New Museum’s just-opened triennial. Forget Ben Stiller and dinosaurs, I would be trapped with a bunch of insouciant kids under the influence of way too much screen time.
I found myself at the New Museum because my collector pals hated the Armory Show so much that they were ready to trash their VIP passes. I offered to take these off their hands, remembering that the passes get you into New York’s museums for free.
In the midst of my visit I bumped into the director of another prominent fair who declared in no uncertain terms he thought “Surround Audience,” which struck me as so many aesthetic empty calories, was more political than digital. Aside from Josh Kline’s doctored Obama video (digital and political) that only served to detract from Kline’s cute and creepy Teletubby SWAT squad, I didn’t think the show was overtly either. It was just short on compelling visual material.
A few works caught my eye. Eduardo Navarro’s turtle suit, Timeless Alex (2015), relates to the extinction of turtles (or maybe it was tortoises) in the Galapagos. The giant shell, which hung on the wall during my visit—at times there is a performer resembling a Teenage Mutant Ninja donning the suit—was so inviting to the touch that I got snapped at by an overzealous guard, something I initially took to be part of a performance. Another catchy work was the all-encompassing sound and light installation, “promise of echo” (2015) by Ashland Mines. Positioned in the museum’s stairwell, it’s a bombardment of cascading sounds bathed in green light—equal parts fun and irritating, not necessarily a bad thing.
And would an emerging contemporary art survey be complete without a virtual reality mask? This show has Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom (2015), which is mostly appealing as an accessory for a NuMu selfie.
Next stop on my free museum tour was the Museum of Modern Art. On a more sobering, demoralizing note, MoMA is in a sorry state, and critically bashing it has lately become an international cause. Between Björk and the new painting survey there is a lot to look at but not much to see. The temple of modern art has been reduced to a baying donkey. Is it political? Is it digital? It’s just a blank screen. While MoMA busies itself with the breathless pursuit of stars and fashion, Gagosian Gallery has picked up the slack by having former MoMA curator John Elderfield do great historical shows like “In the Studio,” at the gallery’s branch on West 21st Street.
And so it was back to the art fairs. The Art Dealers Association of America’s annual fair, The Art Show, was sleepy and dull other than stalwart McKee, a highlight at any fair with their seemingly endless arrays of Gustons, in this case a late black and grey abstraction. I overheard a gallerista in Anton Kern’s stand say, “Anton is at the Independent, you can feel the tension dissipate.” The art world never wants for drama.
At the Independent, in the former Dia Foundation building on West 22nd Street, the main elements missing, besides good art, were walls and labels. At Peres Projects from Berlin there was another batch of Mark Floods and a Mike Bouchet painting of a cowboy on a cow (get it?) but the cramped space was so crammed with Rubell family members I thought he was selling them as an artwork.
Gavin Brown weighed in on two fronts at the Independent, as a gallerist and at White Columns in his artist guise with an untitled “edition of 20 unique works.” That is art-speak for a lot of the same, a practice exploited to virtuoso heights by Ai Weiwei. The work, dated 2014/15 was a glove affixed to a mirror and spray painted in black, orange, silver or red, your choice. That’s a long time to paint some gloves but I guess he’s busy running one of the world’s most successful contemporary galleries.
My collector friend Deep Pockets, who accompanied me to the Independent, bobbed and weaved like Mohammad Ali trying to avoid eye contact with fairgoers. He also had the notion to buy an edition of Gavin’s gloves, which was nearly sold out, and immediately roll it into auction on a lark. He called Christie’s and lo and behold the house has apparently passed a moratorium on selling art made in the past year. Are they honing their moral compass? If so, wow, I thought I’d seen it all.
At art fairs the staff either won’t talk to you or won’t stop talking. At the near uniformly hideous Volta, the desperate staff jumped every time you merely glanced at an artwork. I headed back to the Armory Show—it’s best to take it in chunks—and this time visited the modern section, located in a separate pier, and it turned out to be the best part of my whole week, by a long shot. Setarah, a gallery that opened in 2013 in Düsseldorf and operates galleries for Old Masters and textiles, had an interesting painting on paper from the early 1980s by Sigmar Polke for $550,000 and some additional paper works on the wall and in the storage room.
I admired a Polke in that storage room and was quoted $225,000 but within a heartbeat the price was reduced to $145,000, which didn’t sit well with me. You’ve gotta admire the science of art-market pricing structures. After I almost pulled the trigger, it came to light that the piece was one of a “unique edition” of 30. I have nothing against prints and editions and started in the art world dealing in them and still collect the category, but that’s a hell of a salient piece of information to neglect to mention.
Other delights in the modern section: Dealer Mark Selwyn had a Joe Bradley painting made from monochromatic canvas panels assembled to resemble a children’s toy boat. At $450,000 it wasn’t cheap but it sure was inviting—ships ahoy, I wanted it. New York and Santa Fe dealer Gerald Peters had a poster-sized Georgia O’Keeffe of a red flower that looked like a Christmas display for $12 million. And I learned that Wayne Thiebaud has signed his drawings with his name and an adorable little red heart. Sweet!
Some odds and ends from the week: Deep Pockets saw a condition report for a Morandi painting that was on its way to Hong Kong that indicated that the painting had a “signature enhanced by another hand.” Which is rather poetic. A condition report for a different piece, one by Yayoi Kusama, who is said to backdate her work (she’s certainly not the first—you know who you are), apparently revealed that it has more coats of paint then a classic racecar.
Finally, in the department of did-they or didn’t-they: one source told me that the Warhol-owning family of collector/dealers the Mugrabis are out of the market for the young junk, and another source told me of their recent purchase of 300 works by a youngish, mid-career artist, whose gallery was only too happy to comply.
You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Adieu, New York—until May.