Armory Week: Salvage Operation

Maybe it’s the economy, but it seems that more artists than usual have been trolling for trash. This is not a new development—artists have forever been transforming detritus (and who better to do so?)—but far greater numbers have put aside conventional, and expensive, artmaking materials in favor of stuff found on the street for free. I saw it at the Armory Show and at Volta, in the Chelsea galleries and in SoHo. It’s painting. It’s sculpture. It’s lowly junk turned into humble art—well, pseudo-humble, because if it gets shown in a high-rent New York gallery or art fair, presumably with high prices, it’s really not so humble.

At the Armory Show: John Beech at Peter Blum Gallery, New York City

In this first installation, John Beech at Peter Blum Gallery, I kept thinking "car parts" but whatever they were, the transformation of Beech's objects was sublime. The installation had these elements almost dancing on the wall. (Coincidentally, the building's capped ductwork echoes the round shapes--and you'll see that this theme of art and not-art runs through the post.)

Detail below..


I liked much of what I saw. I appreciated the crude refinement, or the refined crudeness of the work—and not surprisingly for me, the geometry of much of it. Yet walking through the fairs, I kept thinking, “Haven’t I seen this before?” In a manner of speaking, I have. In Unmonumental, an occasional series in her Newsgrist blog, Joy Garnett posts her photographs of castoff objects, often curbside trash, shot around town. In doing so she elevates the stuff to something worthy of a second look. I’ve interspersed these pics with the art. (Hint: Garnett’s pics are the smaller ones.)
Sometimes, as with Garnett’s photographs, the castoffs are truly transcendent.
El Anatsui is the master of transcendence, but there are other transformations here as well. I liked the work of Sarah Braman, who seemed to be drawing from multiple sources--Home Depot materials, Richard Prince autobody parts, and Ellsworth Kelly (if Kelly had a color sense)--but the result was startling and unique.

Armory Show: Sarah Braman at Museum 52, New York City, above and below

Joy Garnett: Unmonumental 126

Armory Show: Gyan Panchal at Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris

The stuff here consisted of plastic peeled from plexiglass squares, and an assortment of industrial plastics
Below: plastic sheeing covers either mirror glass or plexi
I heard plenty of snickers as I hung around the Frank Elbaz booth snapping pictures. But I guess artist and dealer have the last laugh. An e-report from the Armory Fair notes that this gallery “sold the entire content of its booth, a solo exhibition of artist Gyan Panchal, on Friday to a prominent Washington D.C. collector.” Hope the price wasn’t too high.


Armory Show: Leon Vrankow at Stella Lohaus Gallery, Antwerp
Below: a where the sculpture meets the floor


Armory Show: This piece by Fabian Seiz was charmingly faux naive (sheetrock screws as a design element?)

Volta: Susan Colles at Seventeen, London
Like the work of Ivin Ballen, which was at Edward Winkleman's booth at Pulse (sorry Ed and Ivin, my photos were blurry but you can see Ivin's work here), this is a simulacrum intended to better the original. The "paint" on the 2x2's was mother of pearl; on the dropcloth, stitching. Even the screws in the wall had a silvery glisten that suggested they were fabricated by the artist.

Armory Show: Richard Rovas at Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg and Beirut

This piece, about 30 inches high, may well be my favorite in all the shows. I loved the nicely delineated rectangle cut into the crudely stacked blocks of wood, and the slight curve of the stack in contrast to the carving. The earthy red is iron oxide, I'm guessing. And then that notch in the second block from the top becomes an almost anthropomorphic wink. What's not to love?




Armory Show: Angela De La Cruz at Lisson Gallery, London

Painting as sculpture, detail below

Armory Show: Susan Hiller at Timothy Taylor Gallery, London
The sculptures here are called Painting Block, and they consist of what look to be repurposed paintings. Susan, meet Angela. Actually, I don't mean to be flip. I like them.

Not all the stuff I saw was at the fairs. There was plenty in the galleries. I picked three shows whose work transcended its origins. We start in SoHo with Gerry Keon at OK Harris, a modest-size show in which each small work was quietly poetic. Here I think the artist reconfigured his materials, crafting them rather nicely, and put his hand to the surfaces, finishing what time had begun.
In Chelsea at Freight & Volume, Jim Lee (who also had work in the gallery's booth at the Armory Show), seems more interested in Frankensteinian recreation, and I mean that in a good way. These objects are crude but powerful. The show is up through April 4. And in the vast space at Reeves Contemporary, Wade Kavanaugh has created a river of sheetrock bricks. Go see it! You have a week. It's up through the 21st.

Gerry Keon at OK Harris, SoHo
Installation view with one work, below

Jim Lee at Freight & Volume, Chelsea, above and below

Wade Kavanaugh at Reeves Contemporary, Chelsea

The installation suggests both a river and the wall that is unable to hold it back.
Detail of the sheetrock bricks below

I'm going to close this post with the sublime followed by the ridiculous. The sublime is El Anatsui, who continues to turn straw into gold, well pieces of aluminum into golden tapestries. The ridiculous, well, just scroll down to the bottom. Kudos to the gallery for coming up with "Nothing." It had to be the easiest transport and setup ever.

Armory Show: El Anatsui at Jack Shainman Gallery. These glimmering tapestries are constructed in the simplest way from the metal remains--neck and caps-- of liquor bottles. Read more about El Anatsui here. Detail below

Unmonumental 85

Armory Show: Perhaps fittingly, I didn't get the artist or the gallery

Thanks to Joy Garnett for permitting me to include her images in this post.


Stephanie Sachs said...

Once again. Thank you Thank you. Great post. Living far away from the NY art scene you have become a great find for me. Love the combo of the photos with the art work.

tony said...

Having been miserably mean about the previous images from the Armory show let me say how much I appreciated this, the latest posting & thankyou Joanne for offering this radically different counter-balance. I have the feeling that what we're looking at maybe the 'future' - work of a more modest scale; humble materials used with just enough of an aesthetic input to give them an edge and as Stephanie has said the photos key them off nicely. All in all a good way to start a Sunday.

joy said...

Joanne, this is the best post using the unmonumental images ever! really, I love the correlations.

thanks again,

Anonymous said...

That's so funny! I follow Joy's blog so seeing these images with the art is perfect.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post! I loved the side-by-side images you put of Joy Garnett's and the other artists' artwork. Despite those snickers you heard, I'm very glad you took pictures around the Frank Elbaz booth!
There's this new website that just launched called that may be of interest to you. It's a site where artists have virtual studio space to display their work. There's a lot of up-and-coming artists on there, and I thought you may be interested in taking a look.

Once again, thanks for a great post!

Hrag said...

Effin' brilliant post. Is Joy a genius or are the others just lame? hmmmmmm

Anonymous said...

The armory show, art fairs, museums, all of these institutions are as outmoded. It's like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Cultural decryption is chess, not checkers. Arte Povera v2.0 is a scam, as is the false myth that there is so-called progression when it comes to visual art. There is no progression, in fact, the art world has moved backwards in terms of possessing and capitulating content which upends the established institutions of the age. This nonsense is no different. The avante garde is on second life writing apps to manipulate linden dollar, not at columbia or yale in studio tomming up to Larry Gagosian or some other art dealer. End securitization of art. Give it all away for free to the children.