Thursday, March 24, 2011

Musings on 2011 Armory Week

I've been invite by the acclaimed Polish photo magazine, Fotografia, to contribute an article about some of the photography I saw during Armory week in NYC. An upgraded version which is much more specific and illustrated will appear in the forthcoming edition of the magazine. Check out their website for my article and other timely writing on photography both in Poland and internationally. In the meantime, here's a blog version of the article including some non-photographic work I found particularly noteworthy: 

The first week of March is art fair week in New York City. At the center is the Armory Show, held on two huge, adjacent piers on the Hudson River, which are the temporary home for over 270 international galleries.  The press for the last few editions of the Armory has not been the best, so there have been a few other fairs storming the castle making attempts at what they perceive to be a weakened throne. While there have always been other satellite fairs during Armory week, the newer ones are notable for their quality and spirit of innovation. But none of them match the Armory for sheer size. The Armory Show is the largest in New York City and, with Art Basel/Miami Beach in December, the largest in the US. Art Basel in the summer is the largest of all of them, but fairs like Art Hong Kong are making inroads both in quality and size. The other fairs in New York during Armory week are The Independent, ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America), Volta, Scope, Pulse, Pool, Verge Art Brooklyn, Red Dot, Fountain and this year’s newbie, the Dependent. I managed to visit all of them save Red Dot, Fountain, Dependent, and Pool. 

It used to be that one could get a good overview of the current art scene by visiting a big, prestigious art fair like the Armory. No more. Plenty of important galleries don’t go to fairs, some don’t come to New York, and the ones that do go don’t always show their most forward-thinking artists. Roberta Smith writes in the New York Times, “Art fairs occur because hundreds of art dealers have decided that these temporary confabs help them raise their profiles and make it easier to find one buyer each for a certain number of artworks. While the dealers seek those individual matches of art and buyer, the rest of us are free, in a sense, to watch: to absorb the art and learn from it, which is another kind of possession.” 

And that is exactly what I do. I look, ask questions, take notes, and try to see if there are patterns or trends worth noting in addition to scouting for artists that may be worth watching. There is much written online and in print giving general surveys of the various fairs, so I will confine myself (mostly) to works of photographic interest. Unfortunately, if we leave out the big names or at least the well-known names, there isn’t much to discuss. It goes without saying that one can see examples of Marina Abramovic, Olafur Eliasson, Anne Collier, and various exponents of the Düsseldorf School. Readers of this article will be familiar with them all. I would prefer to concentrate on the names that may not be quite so familiar, or at least not familiar yet. 

Let’s start at what I thought was the best of the fairs, The Independent ( Last year was the inaugural year for the Independent, but it has quickly established itself as the fair to watch and the one with the most personality. As one noted curator I know said as he left the Independent, “You know an art fair is good if, when you’re leaving, you don’t hate art.” I’m not exactly sure how independent the Independent is - it’s chock full of big-name, established galleries – but the quality can’t be denied. Again quoting from the New York Times, Karen Rosenberg said, “The inaugural Independent attracted a lot of attention, critical and commercial, for its don’t-fence-me-in installation and well-edited mix of contemporary art. The fair’s cachet was such that it managed to poach a couple of dealers from the Armory, the city’s biggest art fair, including Wallspace and Harris Lieberman (, for this year’s edition.” And Harris Lieberman had one of the most talked about photographic artists in his booth, Lisa Oppenheim. Her photograms of flowers, which explored Victorian symbolism and alternative languages, are not my favorite from this artist, but she is an undeniable talent. Absolutely check out some of her other projects.

My favorite photo “discovery” of the week, Erica Baum, was across the room from Harris Lieberman at Bureau Gallery ( On view were straight on but eye-bending shots of splayed open books, which successfully challenge our notion of what we see when we see a book. Though the work has a collage or photoshop feel when first seen that resolve quickly into the reality of what they are, the cropped words and images glimpsed in the open pages combine beautifully into a concrete-poetic tableau. Be sure to look up previous projects by this talented mid-career artist.

Last on the photo front at Independent was a super example of Anne Collier’s conceptual brilliance at Anton Kern Gallery ( While other works by Ms Collier were to be seen at other fairs, Mr. Kern had a particularly fine example here shown to beautiful effect.

A dozen blocks uptown was the Volta fair. Volta has a relationship with the Armory show, presenting itself as the smaller, hipper nephew of the big, wealthy uncle. As part of their push for innovation, they have an on-line catalog that is quite satisfying to navigate ( The philosophic conceit of Volta is that it requires galleries to present single artist booths. This strategy has its strengths and weaknesses. As a viewer, it makes the apprehension of a booth that much simpler; you know all the work in a booth is by one artist no matter how disparate.  On the other hand, if that artist’s work doesn’t speak to you, there’s nothing the gallery can do to hold you in their booth to explore other aspects of its program. I confess, Volta is always a mixed bag for me, and this year was no exception. While I did see a few stand-out booths, most of the fair was forgettable. 

On the photographic front, the best booth was not quite photographic. Madder139 ( had graphite drawings by Paul Chiappe which were dead-on re-creations of fuzzy snapshots and yearbook photos. From the technical mastery of the medium through to the sharpshooter focus of the emotional tone, these were great works. 

Also at Volta, Marx and Zavaterro Gallery from SanFrancisco ( had the multimedia work of Bradley Castellanos. Working in a combination of oil, acrylic, photo collage, and resin, Castellanos’ complex, layered pieces address man’s relationship to the environment and world ecosystems. I heard about the work form a curator I know and trust. She said Mr. Castellanos is quite hot and being acquired by some notable collections and institutions, but my first impression was quite negative. I found the work cluttered and unappealing. But based on her strong recommendation, I did some more research and looked at more examples online. I can’t say I’m a total convert, but I’m beginning to see the appeal of the work. The technical command is unassailable, and he instantly presents a distinctive visual style.
Pulse Fair was, as usual, filled with some exciting work though most of it was not photographic. Galeria Havana ( had some lightboxes and pin/thread photos by Cuban superstar Carlos Garaicoa, but the standouts in the booth were sculptures by Ivan Capote and Giselle Léon. Von Lintel Gallery ( had some dramatic examples by personal favorite Marco Breuer as well as some stunning typewriter pieces by Allyson Strafella (also shown at the Gallery Joe booth). Kudlek van der Grinten from Köln ( unfortunately didn’t bring any Thomas Böing photographs, but I love the drawings by Lucie Beppler that they did bring (again, also at Gallery Joe). 

And finally, the main fair: The Armory Show. What can I say? Even with hundreds of galleries present, there wasn’t that much photography to see much less to talk about. Seventeen Gallery from London ( once again presented the work of Abigail Reynolds. Ms Reynolds looks for multiple images of a single location from book plates and travel brochures which she then combines in origami-like photo constructions. The booth sold out last year so one can understand why they brought more this year. 

Moyra Davey is an artist who has stayed under the radar for most of her career. That may be changing. Her smart, pithy writing, and her cool, conceptual photographs are just now coming into wider view. Copperheads is her most well-known series which her gallery, Murray Guy ( showed last year. The complete series is about to go up at an exhibition at the Met. This year, my favorite work, 16 Photographs from Paris, was in a box under a table which you had to ask to see. I hope more people got to see it, it’s a super project. 

Ingleby Gallery ( was showing newer work by Susan Derges. As much as I admire the work, it was not breaking new ground. Last year I really admired the graphite and photogram pieces by Iran Do Espirito Santo at Sean Kelly (, but the ones this year looked to be exactly the ones they brought last year. I didn’t ask. Over on Pier 92, Bruce Silverstein ( had the deeply gestural work of Shinichi Maruyama. When I was introduced to this work a few years ago, I was worried that it would be gimmick-y and mono-dimensional. I’m pleased to say Mr. Maruyama has beaten my pessimistic expectations by continuing to grow and vary his output while remaining true to a central visual idea.

Perhaps the most original work I saw during Armory week was not to be found at a fair. Sam Falls’ show at the not-to-be-missed gallery, Higher Pictures (, was a model of forward-looking photography that was satisfying on every level. In his current show, Mr. Falls engages the past and future of photography-as-visual-representation by layering acrylic, watercolor, pastel and digital “painting” over a digital photo. Hand-painted photographs have existed since the very beginning of the art, of course, but Falls’ use of the technique asks us to look forward as well as back. His process uses camera as machine, computer as camera, computer as painter, and, finally, the hand of the artist using old-fashioned paint. The result touches on centuries of tradition while taking a firm step forward. Roberta Smith in the NYTimes says, "The thoroughly ambiguous, lushly radiant, slightly hallucinatory results have a reverberant push-pull energy that evokes Hans Hofmann, Richard Prince, Gerhard Richter and James Rosenquist while mining a social-retinal terrain all their own." Take a look at this promising young artist. I think we’ll be hearing more about him soon.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Katarzyna Majak

Readers of this blog will remember that I mentioned Katarzyna Majak in my recent posts about my trip to Poland. My first encounter with this artist was as a juror in an online photocompetition created by Jessica Porter at her Gallery, Raandesk. Ms Majak won first prize and now has her work on display at the gallery. Check it out. She is also giving a talk at B and H Photo about her work. Details of the event and a short bio are below. If you're in NYC this week and are curious about what's happening in the extremely vital Polish art scene, I suggest you register to go. Recommended.
Katarzyna Majak "An Artist On The Move"
Register for this event Tuesday, March 15, 2011  |  11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Event Type: Photography
Katarzyna Majak is a fine art photographer from Poland, an Ex-Soviet Bloc country, who has lived through a period of many changes; economic, societal, and cultural. She will present several projects, both completed and in progress to bring insight about her very personal path to becoming a photographic artist. Katarzyna's story is one of a woman who finds freedom creating art and whose work reflects the themes of change, self-awareness, rites of passage, archetypes, personal freedom, and shamanism. She believes this personal search for freedom through art echoes a greater universal impulse.
Katarzyna Majak
Has recently defended her PhD on how clothing constitutes identity in selected photographic projects at Multimedia Communication Department of University of Fine Arts in Poznan (Poland). Is an active visual artist, a writer, a photography lecturer;  member of editorial board and a regular contributor to Kwartalnik Fotografia (‘Fotografia Quarterly' - a high-end Polish photography magazine), cooperates  with 1000 Words Photography Magazine. Awarded a scholarship by Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado and the Ministry of Culture in Poland; an associate artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. Has written for exhibition catalogues, is an author of an introduction to 4 Photography Biennial in Poznan and ‘LAB EAST' - a book on 30 Eastern European photographers. Curated and coordinated shows both in Poland and abroad. Participates on photo juries and reviews portfolios at photo festivals all over Europe. Her work has just been included in The Collector's Guide to New Art Photography Vol. 2. Represented by Ego Gallery and Zderzak Gallery.Her work can be seen at:
Link to BandH website page for registration: