The Armory Show was in full swing on Thursday when we made our annual pilgrimage to the international art scene that pops up each year for a four-day run on Pier 92 and 94 on Manhattan’s West Side. Gathered on this expanse of recycled real estate on the Hudson River were art galleries from many of the world’s major cities, exhibiting hundreds of artists, both living and dead. For us, by far the most interesting were the living who gathered at the Volta NY show under Pier 90, a short distance downriver from the two piers of the bigger and more affluent Armory Show. In the Park Avenue Armory space, under the august banner of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), another show continues, comprising our most prestigious galleries, members of the association. Two other shows added to the confusion: Pulse New York, at 125 West 18th Street, and Art on Paper, with 54 galleries, on the Lower East Side at Pier 36 on the East River.
Pure accident determined that we begin our tour at the Armory Show, which is divided into Contemporary, Modern and African Perspectives. The difference is anyone’s guess. We saw plenty of Frank Stella’s works, whose presence may be related to his recent show at the Whitney. Many big names of the sixties and seventies could be found amongst the offerings of the many dealers who show whatever they can get their hands on. Among these artists were Ellsworth Kelly and Josef Albers, who had been eclipsed but whose influence on minimal art was profound; Albers is now re-emerging as a collectable name.
On entering at Pier 94, we were greeted by Paul Kasmin Gallery and a colorful Motherwell, a bold Ellsworth Kelly and an architectural Polidori. Nearby an Alex Katz with a bright orange background was becoming a landmark. We then met Jack Shainman, whose Kinderhook gallery is called The School because it is located in a recycled school building. Jack’s main gallery is in Chelsea. He is showing works by El Anatsui, who makes art from discarded bottle tops, and Richard Mosse, a photographer. Both are getting attention from museums and collectors internationally.
Cecily Brown, a Brit living in New York, showed monotypes called “The Paradise” at Two Palms of the Lower East Side—a region that is attracting a mass of new galleries, including Pierogi, which has all but abandoned Williamsburg to join the throng East of the Bowery. The figures in Cecily’s paintings blend into a colorful confusion but up close take on meaning as nature takes shape—a paradise lost.
At Ota Fine Arts, we were taken by Japanese painter Tomoko Kashiki, whose technique lay outside the brash language of the international art scene. Galleria Lorcan O’Neill, from Rome, showed Matvey Levenstein, a Russian who works in New York City.
Victoria Miro of London carried Cara Walker of Brooklyn and Chris Ofili of Trinidad. They are in the vanguard of discovered black artists who command high prices. The works on view showed sophistication, care and an elegance that went beyond their earlier work, which was more attention grabbing and statement making. They seem to have passed that stage, directing their considerable talents to the making of art.
We were pleased to encounter a booth occupied by Aperture, whose store on Route 22 in Millerton has long been a haven for fine books on photography. Aperture had a collection of superb books on display, all qualified to become collector’s items.
We found James Barron, whose gallery is in Kent. He showed a collection of valuable works by recognized artists. He had a delicious Cy Twombly.
At Volta, Pier 90, we happily encountered artists who were eager to engage visitors, often with charm, explaining their works—many in accents reflecting their origins in countries far away. We found a Romanian showing Romanian art, and another Romanian showing New York artists. Emerald Rose Whipple, an American, showed—at a Belgian gallery—pictures of her friends partying that were not photographs, but paintings. Both Emerald and her friends looked like they were having a good time. They projected joy at being alive.
Down the pier Yigal Ozeri, an Israeli artist sponsored by a Munich gallery, showed pictures of a beautiful Russian actress projecting changing emotions. We thought these were black and white photographs, but they were paintings. The artist can express in painting an intensity, an abstraction, an otherworldliness that cannot be contained in a photograph. Ozeri works in New York.
Meg Hitchcock showed her delicate drawings with what look like lines but are actually words in small print that become lines artfully and painstakingly applied. Her gallery is Studio 10 in Brooklyn.
A young Russian émigré from St. Petersburg showed us a Mozambican artist who “gathers shards of national memory” into sculptures reflecting his country’s civil wars. The artist is Gonçalo Mabunda, and the gallery is Ethan Cohen of New York.
Galerie Kornfeld of Berlin showed big, bold paintings by William Bradley, whose work we had seen in an earlier Volta show. Bradley is British and works in both London and Los Angeles. His LA paintings are in bright colors, while his London paintings are more subdued.
As we walked through these corridors of art, we saw minimalist, futurist, and traditional abstract works, mixed-media works—works from every school, from every continent—fiery, subdued, textured, smooth, big and small.
We were aware that these shows proved that black art had come into its own. There was a section of the Armory Show devoted to African art, but that was not the point. The point was that many galleries carried black art without calling it that. Black artists are now accepted on their own merits. It is all art, and it is international.
We were also pleased that the galleries are doing their editing, selecting and presenting to highly professional standards. Much of this art is to relish.
It was a feast and we were overstuffed. Overcome, we needed to get out into the chilly air.