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It’s a very old joke and it goes like this:
It’s 1964 and a guy goes into an art gallery. He sees what appears to be a blank canvas selling for an inordinate amount of money and is intrigued. He asks the lady at the desk why that was:
"It’s not a blank canvas; it’s a picture of a cow eating grass."
"Where’s the grass and where’s the cow?"
"Well the cow ate all the grass and moved on, so there’s nothing left."
So when the NY Armory Show (from March 4th to the 7th, 2010) and its 11 other attendant fairs including Pulse and Volta, were happening over the previous weekend, I decided to take a look for the “cows eating grass,” also known as White on White, Black on Black etc. as is my wont. I actually counted about five pieces, and about a dozen that were pretty damn close.
The most expensive of the bunch was Robert Irwin’s aptly named Untitled, which was a largish panel of honeycomb aluminum painted over with black lacquer and polyurethane. This cost between $10 and $20,000. Yup, dollars.
Then there was Tom Chandler’s Untitled, Gary Fabian’s Blue on Blue: Spring, which wasn’t exactly monochrome, but had a dark blue rectangle with a light blue interior. Close enough.
Then there’s Wall Drawing image #5 (white) by Jeff Keller. Keller drew a trapezoid on a canvas. This one goes for many thousands of dollars. It almost qualifies as a “Cow Eating Grass” painting because some one with no talent can go home and make an exact copy of this from memory.
The same goes for Thomas Müller’s C4RD #40, which was hiding among a ton of his other, more accomplished work, all of which was beautifully framed by his gallery. I asked if it was a set that had to be purchased as a whole, but I was told that each was a complete work of art.
This work of art consisted of two triangles badly drawn in pencil, or at least it looked that way. This was even worse than the yellow swastika I passed by as fast as I could. But the worst of the worst of the worst was the work of Michael Scoggins, who blows up loose-leaf binder paper and writes notes like “I’m not going to put up with your SHIT anymore!!” on it. This is supposed to be cute and costs somewhere in the 20,000 range.
There was lots of genuinely good artwork scattered among the dreck, but those artists or pieces aren’t actually as fun to write about. The arrogance of people like Müller and Keller, who think they can get away with this stuff -- not to mention the galleries, who pass over thousands of superior artists who can’t sell anything, in order to peddle what can only be described as a massive fraud -- is astounding.
The influence of cartooning on the art world in the nearly half century since art history ended cannot be overstated. A glance over the independent comix scene will show inept artwork which is redeemed by good writing and design. However some of these people were at the Armory show with just horrible drawings and meaningless captions.
Dutch artist Melle de Boer is one of those people. She and her gallery came from 4000 miles to embarrass themselves here. What were these people thinking? Last year, there was a lot of stuff by David Shrigley, who’s among the worst major artists of all time.
All art is subjective, but at least someone should be SOME standards, Jeez!
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