Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Art Fair Confidential
New York's annual art fair week has just completed with the simultaneous staging of the ADAA and the Armory fairs, along with a host of smaller fairs that, like remora fish eating off the algae covered skin of their shark hosts, combine to form what often feels like some deranged carnival of conspicuous consumption, if not mass hysteria. The ADAA use to be the perennial big dog on the scene until it was eclipsed some years back by the Armory as the pre-eminent destination for both ambitious collectors and art tourists alike. A realignment of schedules has brought the two fairs, one ascending one descending in to congruent run times.
It appears, that over the last few years the fair organizers have become increasingly aware of each other and the traditional lines that have divided the two events along contemporary vs. modern art classifications have become blurred. Beginning last year the Armory designated part of its exhibition space to galleries that focused almost exclusively on blue chip modernists, while walking through the more subdued isles of the ADAA fair one now sees an increased presence of a younger generation of gallery owners trafficking in contemporary works by artists who only a short while ago were seen as part of the cutting edge vanguard of the international bue monde.
Its odd to see artists like Richard Pettibone and Richard Artschwager relegated to the velvet wall status of old masters. I found myself looking at the plethora of Klines, deKoonings, Gorkys and Chamberlains, next to Pettibone these guys looked beyond old master, beyond the 20th century, they were down right ancient. Like artifacts that belonged better in the museum of natural history along side the petrified clumps of dinosaur droppings. Which isn’t to say that there's anything turd like about these artists, on the contrary they hold a very special place in my heart. Its just that I remember the thrill with which I looked at them while still a young school lad, there was a visceral excitement verging on giddiness, like looking over the edge of a waterfall and feeling the wind cover you with mist. Now, 15 years later, the experience is closer to visiting a vintage car show. The ache of beauty is still there but it's completely removed from day to day reality. Perhaps this is as it should be, unavoidable entropy, only art fairs have a way of accelerating this process. Commerce strips things bare, it erodes the embroidery of experience and replaces it with a mythology of wealth. It's hard to find sublimity in something seen inside a shopping mall display case, no matter how sweet the sales pitch.
The irony is that, in the case of galleries, the sales pitch is that what they are selling is nothing short of than a stake in the cultural history of a particular epoch. Yet, the very act of comodification irreparably undermines the integrity of this premise. It's an unresolved and ultimately irresolvable tension, one that’s palpably felt in the arena of the art fair. As has often been pointed out, after drugs, the art market is the worlds most unregulated marketplace, but unlike some, I don’t ascribe to the notion that this creates only a fetid output of shallow work made by and marketed to a society slavishly devoted to the worship of wealth. Instead I like to think of George Kublers quote:
"the history of art resembles a broken but much repaired chain made of string and wire to connect the occasional jeweled links"