Guest contributor Jonathan Stevenson / The Modern section of the Armory Show was like an unruly museum-quality exhibition, showcasing one anointed (and usually dead) artist after another, but in no particular order. If that dispensation fell short of framing the artists’ work as respectfully or systematically as some might have liked, it did make for a gratifying kind of treasure hunt.
After (or before) beholding a wall of Picasso etchings and prints or a couple of big Jim Dines (who got a lot of love this year), turn a corner and find a solitary little Morandi gem (pictured above), a brace of serene Lee Krasner gouaches and watercolors, a titanic Georg Baselitz, a Diebenkorn and a Frankenthaler on angled facades, an array of Imi Knoebels, a tandem of cool Lewitt aquatints, several opaque Milton Avery landscapes, Doves and Hartleys. Pause in the middle aisle and pick a vector, then point and walk to a pair of signature Stella paintings or a magnetically odd 1959 Alfred Leslie canvas that insists on perusal. The Modern section is such a pleasure, it’s no wonder Frieze New York, which takes up residence on Randall’s Island in May, has announced the introduction of “Spotlight,”
a section dedicated to work made in the 20th century. At “Spotlight” Frieze promises a series of solo shows that offer a “fresh look” at works by under-appreciated artists.
Starting with the Modern stuff, though, set up the Contemporary section to disappoint – at least as far as painting was concerned. This year – except, it seemed, for Alex Katz’s work – there was not much interesting painting. Conceptually overloaded work trying too hard to capture the world’s celebrated complexity crowded it out. Perhaps fittingly, most of those paintings that were on view seemed besieged, lurching between dispirited and desperate. The dearth of prepossessing painting, of course, also made it relatively easy to zone in on the paintings that were truly outstanding – another Baselitz, and enterprising but neatly contained work by artists like Mark Francis, Anne Nieukamp, and Janaina Tschape.
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