Photo Essays

20th C Moderne at the Armory

by Hrag Vartanian on March 3, 2011

I thought we were in New York … oh right, I forgot. (via thearmoryshow.com)

More so than any art fair in Miami, New York fair week’s flagship fair, Armory Show, is a massive shopping mall of styles, art types and mediums. Imagine grouping Miami Basel with Nada fair and throw in some Pulse for good measure, that is how I would compare New York’s Armory to Miami’s more siloed fairs.

If the contemporary side of the Armory is flashier with its glamor and energy, this is the tried and true historical wing that presents a more reserved modernist face but not one without a lot of seduction.

Here are some of my picks for what to see if you visit.

Since the theme of this year’s Armory Show was Latin America, I decided to start with a stunning work by one of my favorite Latin American artists, Joaquín Torres-García. The Uruguayan artist’s “Estructura ocre constructiva con signos en blanco” (1939) is a tempura on cardboard work that shows the best of his style reduced to its bare and elegant essentials.

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This may have been the best Abstract Expressionist painting at the 2011 Armory. Jack Tworkov’s “Daybreak” (1953) is a fine example by a major second-generation first-generation Ab Exer who was obviously influenced by Wilhem de Kooning and Franz Kline. You can see the start of a style that two decades later develops into a painting like “Q4-72-#2” (1972), which was also exhibited at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery booth.

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Ben Shahn’s “May 5″ (1949) is a nice example by this American realist and features a poster of a blank minstrel (was it black face?) that reads “All White Performers 55 Years of Continuous Prosperity.”

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Man Ray’s gelatin silver print, “Marcel Duchamp with Nude” (1920), is a provocative looking little photo.

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If Man Ray was best known as a photographer, he also produced some good paintings like (left) “Flying Dutchman” (1920) and “Sec” (1917), both at the Francis M. Naumann Fine Art booth.

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This Richard Tuttle, “Untitled (1988), at Armand Bartos Fine Art may not exactly be mid-century modern, it fit nicely with the work all around in the Modern section and felt more related to cubist collage and earlier movements than art of the 1980s.

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Jacob Lawrence’s “The Butcher Shop” (1938) is a classic tempera on paper work by this Harlem Renaissance master and it is conveniently yours for only $575,000 at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.

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Galerie Crone of Berlin’s booth may not have been in the Modern wing, but their booth of wall to wall Georg Karl Pfahler was more related to Modernism than almost any of the other works at the Armory’s contemporary section. Here you can see (left) “S-NK-L IV 1″ (1967) and (center) “Nr. III” (1965-66).

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Until I saw thi sculpture I didn’t realize Ilya Bolotowsky did sculpture like this, “Untitled (Column)” (1963). This has striking similarities to the sculpture of Anne Truitt during the same era, though I’m not sure who influenced who.

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Another surprising sculpture, this time at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, by another American modernist, Burgoyne Diller “Third Theme Construction” (1940-44), that evokes the experiments of the Russian Constructivists.

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Alfonso Ossorio’s influence on the art of today is often overlooked, but “Searcher” (1963) is pretty contemporary looking. Check out a detail.

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One of my favorite photographers, Aaron Siskind — this is a series titled Chicago Facades (1957) — is having a bit of a renaissance. He is included in MoMA’s current Abstract Expressionist show for his graffiti photographs (considered part of the photography strain of Ab Ex) while these images were in the Bruce Silverstein Gallery booth.

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More Marcel Duchamp, but this time by Marisol Escobar, whose “Portrait of Marcel Duchamp” (1981) is made of carved wood and charcoal looks like part furniture and part altar.

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Pop and sex sells, and here you see Mel Ramos’s “Martini Miss” (2008) on the right, which though a very recent work is just a continuation of his 1960s style that never seems to change.

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As someone who grew up in Toronto, I’m a sucker for a nice work from the Painters Eleven, the group that garnered public attention towards a very fresh vision of modernism in English Canada. Here Harold Town’s “Snap #54″ (1972) at Christopher Cutts Gallery is an example of the artist’s style that was constantly changing.

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These works by John Walker at Knoedler & Company are all painted on Bingo cards. Not exactly mid-century modernity but I think they fit in.

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Diane Arbus’s “Xmas Tree in a Living Room, Levittown, L.I.” (1963) is so packed with period detail that it almost looks like a tribute to the era. My friend suggested that clock hanging on the wall would probably be worth a fortune nowadays.

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There simply isn’t enough Jim Nutt in the world. This small pencil drawing — “Nice Move” (1975) — is a good example of Nutt’s playful line and characters.

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The 2011 Armory Show (Piers 92 & 94, Twelfth Avenue at 55th Street, Manhattan) is open Thursday, March 3 – Saturday, March 5 noon to 8pm, and Sunday, March 6 Noon to 7pm.

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  • Miraschor

    HI Hrag, so delighted that you praise Jack Tworkov’s work here. But I would like to correct one part of your very complimentary text: Jack Tworkov was a FIRST generation Abstract Expressionist painter. He was part of the original group of artists emerging from the WPA, the pre-history of the Eighth Street Club, was a founding, charter member of the Club. I go into great detail about the historicization of that time period and Tworkov’s place in it in the introduction of The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov, which I edited.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Thanks for clarifying that, Mira. I pondered that but at 2am my thinking was obviously foggy. Will fix.

      • Miraschor

        thanks Hrag!

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