(Tim Kent | Of Numberless Pleasures, 2013, oil on canvas, 100 x 60 in, presented by Slag Gallery, NY at VOLTA, courtesy of private collection)
Armory Week is a beast. After experiencing a non-stop visual bombardment of incredible artworks from around the world for three solid days, my eyes needed a rest. But once the art hangover subsided, I was surprised by the clarity I felt surrounding some of my favorite pieces. A few were immediate hits, while others were slow burns I found myself mulling over long after the fairs ended. That being said, I wanted to share with you some of the artists who captured my attention, brought something new to the table, and prompted my weary eyes to un-glaze during this year’s Armory Week.
Karim Hamid | Aureus Contemporary | SCOPE
(Karim Hamid | Mustang Boss(detail), presented at SCOPE courtesy of Aureus Contemporary, RI)
Hamid‘s work examines the classical depictions of the female form throughout art history and filters them through the lens of a hyper-sexualized “spring break culture”. The male gaze is returned by emboldened female figures and Hamid counters vapid objectification by highlighting the psychic condition of the person observed. The fragmented and exaggerated forms seem to quiver and shift, leaving in their wake an aura akin to television screen burn-in. There is a transformation taking place among the women, whose distorted bodies in turn distort conventional expectations of beauty. It is almost as if the artist is challenging the perception of the idealized form and rewriting the rules as he goes along.
Gerard Ellis | Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery | VOLTA
(Gerard Ellis | Untitled (Encounterii), acrylic on canvas, 60″x70″, 2014, presented at VOLTA courtesy of Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery, Santo Domingo)
Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery‘s booth is a perfect example of where VOLTA‘s solo configuration really shines. Their featured artist, Gerard Ellis was able to share the full breadth of his abilities with a mutable style that dances between photo realistic renderings and muddied abstractions. Potentially dramatic and theatrical tableaux are punctuated by an artificial stillness and tension that halts the action, as if you are looking in on a static diorama. The expansive works invite viewers to get closer, wherein you discover Ellis’ meticulous handiwork and detailed evidence of his experience as a draftsman. Oftentimes hairline brushstrokes and wire-framed accents are utilized to support and embellish the hulkier components of the work.
Ekaterina Panikanova | Converge Gallery | SCOPE
(Ekaterina Panikanova | Happy Happy Happy, Ink, watercolor, and graphite on aged books. Mounted on birch 47″ x 53″, courtesy of Converge Gallery, Williamsport, PA)
Panikanova merges painting with installation in her series of book paintings that reflect upon knowledge, ritual and tradition. Many of her works explore the psychology of memories, with Rorschach ink blots and leaking forms situated among figurative imagery. The fluidity of her medium, grounded on the aged pages of found materials, only reaffirms this connection between the past, the present, and an uncertain future. But there is something about the vulnerable state of all the open books that makes you wonder whether a slight breeze is all it would take to leave the past behind and start a new chapter.
Enrico David | Michael Werner Gallery | Independent
(Enrico David | Mother Tunnel, Acrylic on canvas, 109 1/2 x 112 1/2 inches, 2013 presented at Independent courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, NY )
When a gallery is given the opportunity to feature an enormous canvas at fairs, the response is often to show eye-searing fluorescent paints, a flurry of pop iconography, and other brazen efforts to drown out every semblance of white. But what I liked most about Enrico David‘s Mother Tunnel, is that artist took a very soft and serene approach to the over nine foot tall composition. The curvature of the tuliped visage alludes to a woman’s body with a O’Keeffe-like sensibility that avoids traditional art fair crassness. The painting’s remarkable scale balanced by a neutral palette was a surprisingly calming presence at Independent despite the figure’s imp-like grin.
Michael Caines | Katharine Mulherin Gallery | VOLTA
(Installation view of Michael Caines’ Black Dog series at VOLTA courtesy of Katharine Mulherin Gallery, NY. image courtesy of Andrew Katz.)
I’m sure it’s hard to tell why someone might initially be attracted to the work of Michael Caines. But looking past the doe eyes, the monochromatic series of dog paintings shown on custom toile wallpaper was a welcome reprieve from the stark white walls of other stalls. There is a sense of enjoyment in the way he paints and the “aww” moment is clearly not far from his mind, but it takes a certain type of artistic skill to properly depict animal emotions, or any emotions for that matter. The chasm between the blank stares of pet portraiture and the ability to capture an intangible “glimmer in the eye” moment is undeniable. The artist’s considered treatment of light adds an additional layer of humor to the work, reintroducing a style found in 17th century Dutch portraiture and imbuing the subjects with a comical sense of nobility. Now that Caines has established his technical abilities to unfamiliar viewers at VOLTA, these accessible paintings serve as a clever gateway, an informal invitation to view his other works.
Jürgen Wolf | Jarmuschek + Partner | VOLTA
(Jürgen Wolf | Untitled works, acrylic on wood, 15.5 x 23.5cm, 2012 presented at VOLTA, courtesy of Jarmuschek + Partner, Berlin)
When I look at the paintings of Jürgen Wolf, I am reminded of a theory about parallel universes that describes two ants walking along separate sides of a piece of paper. Both creatures exist at the same time, but they are unable to see each other due to their lives on different planes. Through his paintings, Wolf manages to collapse the world in on itself and reflect it back with kaleidoscopic brilliance. When viewed in succession, as was possible in Jarmuschek + Partner‘s booth at VOLTA, the tiny vignettes read almost like a keyhole slideshow where we get momentary glimpses into different dimensions. There is a sense of beauty, grandeur, and elegance about the artist’s works that is enlivened by a delightful dose of impropriety, mystery, and play.
Judith Simonian | E32 | Fountain
Initially I was drawn to the striking sunset of Judith Simonian‘s French Flight at Fountain. It looks as though it was simply wiped across the canvas in one fluid stroke, obscuring the scene below. I later returned to E32 to study the crowd running along the reflective surface of the painting, which I learned was inspired by the waiting area of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. After speaking with Simonian, I learned that she, too, revisited the composition repeatedly throughout the years. The painting began in 2008 and as the artist reflected upon her life’s experiences, she allowed her attention to take sharp and dramatic turns. As the work progressed, she pursued fragmented memories and spontaneous thoughts that eventually brought her to another time and place entirely. And with the painting finally reaching completion in 2014, the initial inspiration is now well preserved beneath additional layers of memories and pigment.
Jaybo Monk | Kallenbach gallery | SCOPE
(Jaybo Monk | My Dream’s Broken Jaw, oil and spraypaint on wood, 60 x 60 cm, 2013, presented at SCOPE courtesy of Kallenbach Gallery, Amsterdam)
Monk‘s abstracted figures exist on planes that appear to float in space. Each painting is dreamlike yet grounded in reality with an appreciation for mathematics and sacred geometries evident in the pigment. Aside from technical prowess, I was also intrigued by the artist’s experimental process and the unconventional techniques he employs while painting. For one, he takes distorted cell phone snapshots (by tilting the screen) and then uses these images as source material for the abstracted figures that later appear in his work. Additionally, he plays with scuffing, scraping, and dirtying the canvases early on, and these actions inform the future direction of the piece through the marks that remain. Once I was aware of the materiality and intentional grit, it caused me to revisit and explore each surface; admiring them even more for their man-made imperfections.
Maria Teicher | Arch Enemy Arts | Fountain
(Maria Teicher | Articulate, oil on wood panel, 18×24″, presented at Fountain, courtesy of Arch Enemy Arts, Philadelphia)
When looking at the plastic veiled portraits of Maria Teicher, you can’t help but find yourself a bit short of breath. The overwhelming sense of suffocation is even more stifling when viewed as a series; it feels inescapable. Her solemn figures set against a blood red backdrop seem to have accepted their fate. Did someone do this to them? Or was the shroud self imposed? We all have our struggles and it’s hard not to view the works through a personal lens, imposing our own narratives upon the obscured figures. Perhaps the series is about the struggle to balance work and personal freedoms, coping with insurmountable debts, or the inability to be everything to everyone. The artist provides us with no real answers or hope of finding a solution and we are simply left to make peace with the discomfort and find strength in the unease.
Stephen Mackey | Arcadia Contemporary | SCOPE
(Stephen Mackey | The Bride of the Lake, oil on panel, 36″x48″ presented by Arcadia Contemporary, at SCOPE)
There was a point in my fair gazing when I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of gaudiness, bravado, and flashing lights. On the brink of supersaturation, I suddenly stumbled upon Mackey‘s enchanting allegories. When I look at his paintings, it is almost as if a quiet music box whirls to life in my head. The creamy narratives feel like a children’s storybook, but with the sophistication of a Fragonard painting. And much like the Rococo master, these compositions also possess a feeling of intimacy and secrecy, as if the viewer has stumbled upon a private moment in the woods, hidden in plain sight.
Tim Kent | Slag Gallery | VOLTA
(Tim Kent | Terminus, 2013, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in, presented by Slag Gallery, NY at VOLTA, courtesy of private collection)
Tim Kent‘s paintings seem to capture the first few moments after waking, the transient state when vivid dreams fade, faces blur, and the details of your slumber become hazy. Formerly an architectural interior painter, you get a sense that the artist has finally broken free from traditional conventions and has embraced his own voice. And although slightly more terrifying, I am certainly reminded of Francis Bacon‘s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Kent presents deconstructed and reconstructed realities, a dance between dimensions, and a shifting of perspectives that leaves us as viewers utterly lost in his endless landscapes.
(Ekaterina Panikanova | Box Num. 53, Ink, watercolor, and graphite on aged books. Mounted on birch
20″ x 25″, presented at SCOPE, courtesy of Converge Gallery, Williamsport, PA)
There were countless other works I enjoyed at the fairs, but I leave you with this group of 11 in an effort to avoid the proverbial cane from appearing offstage.
And while my boots need mending and I still find myself attempting to catch up on sleep, I had a wonderful time art gazing during Armory Week and look forward to exploring once again next spring.