A largely ho-hum assortment of work was on display at this year's Armory Show. Still, that didn't seem to deter buyers; it was clear that a brisk business was being done; I noticed a number of works had been changed out between my first visit on Wednesday and my follow-up on Sunday.
I was hopeful when I arrived at Pier 94, seeing right off the bat a bunch of dazzlers: Dirk Braeckman's sumptuous large format photographs printed on aluminum: A.P.-P.O. 09, a female nude, and an equally sexy curtain, C.A.-V.L 09 from Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp. Also here were Yun Fei Ji's appealing paintings that combine traditional Chinese techniques with contemporary references; Johannes Kahrs Untitled (sofa) a sensuous confection of lavender paint, and two Jenny Scobel portraits, Clack and Lake Erie: cool, anodyne versions of Alice Neel, yet still arresting.
Around the corner at Victoria Milo Gallery, London, was Grayson Perry's enormous Walthamstow Tapestry. Reminiscent of medieval tapestries, the work measures nearly 50 feet in length. A tour de force of conception and design, it depicts the seven ages of man. Brand names are woven throughout the piece — startlingly out of place in this "Olde English" pastoral scene with its handmade look — making a cheeky commentary on the ubiquitous role commercialism plays in contemporary life.
Milliken Gallery from Stockholm had a small booth full of treats, Lars Nilsson's gorgeous and mysterious nocturnal photograph of a swamp that took up an entire wall, Bigert & Bergstrom's eye candy, UV print on glass, Sketch for Scenario Clear Skies with Sun and a handsome painting by Kristina Jansson, Lucky Rabbit. I liked its surface, which almost seemed excavated, its muted palette and oblique references (just the barest hint) to familiar cartoon characters. It also had an allover quality with equal weight spread across the entire canvas. When I Googled Jansson, I was disappointed. Her other paintings lacked the subtlety of the one at the Armory. I had a similar reaction to Jakub Julian Ziolkowski (Hauser & Wirth, Zurich), whose work I was drawn to despite his rather heavy-handed use of bizarre elements. There was something refreshing about his energized line and palette, which seemed somehow 1940s. Again, when I checked out his work online, I was underwhelmed.
Angles Gallery, Los Angeles, featured the work of two stars, Annie Lapin and Iva Guerorguieva whose gestural painting style shares a similar sense of brio, and a flickering, light-charged quality. Ori Gersht's ethereal lambda print Swamp # 02 appealed to me. At Rokeby Gallery, London, Michael Samuels's Mondrian-like light sculptures made of wood, Formica and clamps were a nice balance between rough materials and sleek line.
Other work I admired: Simon Ling's magnified landscape vignettes recalled the nature-centric Pre-Raphaelites, at Greengrassi, London. At Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam, David Haines's white homeboys with their gangsta wear, KFC buckets and burgers are Norman Rockwell on meth, and Jacob Hashimoto's (Studio La Città, Verona) incredibly complex, delicate three-dimensional paper and thread wall hangings take the Japanese craft of kite-making and elevate it into something sublime. Vibha Galhotra's deliciously tactile metal Veil at Jack Shainman Gallery and Santeri Tuori's Linnea, a video that combines a serious still image of an angelic little girl with a happy moving picture to produce an unsettling effect, at Galerie Anhava, Helsinki.
I'd always thought I liked James Nares's work, but seeing so many paintings all together at Paul Kasmin, which devoted its entire booth to him, watered down their effect and they ended up looking, dare I say it, a little cheesy.
No surprise (because there is no accounting for taste), the artist who seemed to be getting the most action was Damien Hirst, whose insipid dots on a glitter field, skull and kaleidoscopic butterfly prints proudly displayed multiple hot pink sold dots despite the $6,000 price tag and large edition runs.
At Volta, the Armory's little sister, I liked Amy Simon's diminutive and extremely satisfying colored pencil drawings at Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York. Other pieces that stood out: At Schuebbe Projects, Franz Burkhardt's drawings on various antiqued surfaces made to look like seamy '50s girlie and tabloid crime photos picked up in a flea market bin; at Mettmann gallery, Michele Lombardelli's small black-on-black oils, which though abstract had a distinct landscape feel; and Oscar de las Flores's jaw-droppingly beautifully executed, densely-packed drawings in which were R. Crumb meets Paul Cadmus on Red Bull at Katharine Mulherin gallery, Toronto.
At Scope, Evol (I'm sorry to say, "love" backwards)(Wilde Gallery, Berlin) paints precise architectural elements — windows, drain pipes, etc. — onto cardboard box sides to create buildings. The gallerist informed me that the cardboard is the exact color of the housing projects in Berlin and being re-used, its scars and dents nicely evoke urban decay. I also liked Fabio Viale's interlocking marble Pirelli motorbike tires, and appreciate his use of such a diametrically opposed material to immortalize his subject.
At Pulse, Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, had a uniformly good selection of drawings: Astrid Bowlby, Lynne Woods Turner and Christine Hiebert. There were two Martin Linnenbrink epoxy resins on wood at Fiedler Taubert Contemporary, Berlin, that were so luscious, I wanted to run my tongue along them.
At Verge the only two artists that mildly caught my fancy were Eric Dever and Ross Racine, but other than that the show was merely an opportunity to check out the cool rooms at the Dylan Hotel.
The overwhelming take away impression of these shows is of mediocrity, lots of self-important, art student stuff served up with a large side of prurience. We've seen it all before and it no longer shocks.■