This weekend was the 2010 Armory Show – a large exposition of contemporary art, most of which was painted/photographed/constructed in 2009 and 2010. Sadly, it paled in comparison to last year's. Compared to the dynamic neon pop-art paintings and visceral,organic sculptures of 2009, 2010 seemed safer and less willing to cross that line into “what the hell is that?” That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. As I had the foresight to bring a notepad and camera this year, I now have a small Flickr album devoted to my favorite pieces. Here's a few selections from those selections:
Gormley's best known work is probably England's towering “Angel of the North”. At roughly six feet, “Sublimate XXX” is a tenth of the Angel's scale. The figure is composed of brushed steel and arranged so that the individual blocks seem to hover in midair. It is both imposing in the natural, industrial strength of composition while decaying in a manner suited to the digital world. There's a certain resemblance to a JPEG suffering from over-compression and littered with artifacts. Nothing is recognizable but the very essence of the figure, adding a certain inhuman dread to a distinctly human form.
This painting, with its grand scale caught by eye by way of the visual allusion to the space station design in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The little individuals on the bottom – lab coated scientists/engineers – are all either gawking at or cheering their invention. The scaffolding lines, abstracted into two dimensions, lend a vague occultist feeling to the enormous phallic object. In fact, the perspective of the entire painting struggles to retain itself in the medium. The hubris of the title is not just the object represented, but our endless attempts toward a perfect representation.
This work is by far my favorite of the entire exhibition, although I'm not really sure why. The quote on the bottom reads “Because there is no escape from what does not exist” - a conflictingly hopeful and damning sentiment reflected in the rest of the painting. Everything shown is in visual conflict with itself and with the other elements of the painting. One of the two figures is facing the wrong way, although the girl's withdrawn resolution makes it as though the escalator is descending. It is descending as she faces upward, gaze fixed and illuminated, her face both ready and resigned. She is early adolescent, boyish and yet there is an unmistakable curve of developing breasts. Her posture is grossly unnatural, entranced and yet relaxed with weight tilted onto her left side. Every aspect of the painting speaks of conflict, but the conflict is in the details and the overall feel of the work is a calmness. There is no escape from the clash of parts because they render an untroubled whole.