Left to right, William Klein, “Candystory, New York, 1955” (1955) at Greenberg, installation shot of Kathy Butterly at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and Gunther Uecker, “Kleine Wolke (Small Cloud)” (1963) at Sperone Westwater. (all images by the author) (click to enlarge)

The Art Show has been hosted by the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) for the last 23 years, reigning supreme as the longest running national art fair. The ADAA consists of 175 galleries but only seventy exhibitors enrolled this year, excluding stunners like Andrea Rosen, Betty Cunningham, PPOW and Gavin Brown. A large majority of the participants are located uptown between 50th Street and 90th Street. The generalized content (“cutting-edge, 21st century works” and “museum quality pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries”) and my fears of dated academia prepped me for the deflated viewing that was The Art Show.

The Park Avenue Armory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (via flickr.com/jrubinic)

Linda Blumberg, the ADAA’s Executive Director, spoke to the “calm and intimate atmosphere” of The Art Show. Although the Park Avenue Armory’s soaring “balloon shed” construction is partially responsible, the cavalcade of elderly patrons weren’t exactly rambunctious. The air-kisses exchanged between crotchety senior citizens summoned a swinger’s club way past its prime. The cro

wd was telling of the subsequent work on display. The fair incorporates solo or two-person and thematic showings in almost equal distribution (40/30% each). It’s a curious premise, but loose parameters do have the ability to instigate definitive direction. The generous kiosks insinuate room for thoughtful compositions and quality over quantity. For all my gusto, the show ultimately shudders at the prospect and is unable to escape the clutches of its audience.

An immediate issue with The Art Show is the overwhelming amount of “Modern and Contemporary Masters” and “significant and important 20th century …INSERT NAME HERE… ” Walking through the plethora of overextended, second-generation Abstract Expressionists is monotonous. Whimpering muted color palates feel dated and painfully dark for the upswing of the art market in 2011. Chronological reductions are anticlimactic and redundant. It became a mockery of the Masters in some cases, contributing minimally to their understanding and validating stereotypes. The 1950’s through 1970’s are displayed boastfully, facilitating a surfeit of entries by Joseph Cornell, Jean Debuffet and Joan Miro. The Central Europeans are also well-represented with a handful of galleries specializing in German Expressionism or Austrian aesthetes.

The thematic shows assumed my highest expectations. A responsible curator should challenge the nature of the work in a group show. Uniting disparate practices, thematics, or time-frames is part of the fun. Certain galleries, like James Cohan Gallery with its Cosmology theme, could have gone further. Cohan shows several planetary images including several Fred Tomaselli constellations, like “Portrait of Sean” (1995) and Richard Long’s “Untitled” (2007). The showing pulls quite literally from the idea of cosmology but misses the full expansion into humanity.

Left to right, Robert Smithson, “Christ Carrying the Cross” (1960) from the Christ Series at CRG Gallery, Richard Long’s “Untitled” (2007) at James Cohan Gallery, Lucio Fontana’s “Crocifissione” (1955-58) at CRG Gallery. (all image by the author) (click to enlarge)

Wishing and Praying at CRG Gallery goes in the opposite direction despite its cheesy theme. The work investigates the spiritual sphere of each act, the mythology behind them, and speaks significantly to the bodily desperation of both acts. CRG provokes an altered opinion of the artists involved, including Lucio Fontana and Robert Smithson. Fontana’s “Crocifissione” (1955-58), a glazed ceramic crucifix that resembles an opalescent gobbet of coral, and Smithson’s “Christ Carrying the Cross” (1960), a carnal trudge of expressive clamor from his Christ Series, were daring entries that soar. Aesthetic congruity is a bathetic thread in several of the thematic exhibitions. Sperone Westwater exhibits ZERO, the German collective founded in the late 1950’s by Otto Peine and Heinz Mack. Gunther Uecker joined later and is included in the booth. ZERO elaborates upon the fusion of silence and stillness in the wake of World War II. Kinetic tactility was simultaneously dominant and reassuring in its union with organic shapes.

A small drawing by Gustav Klimt at Galerie St. Etienne (image by the author) (click to enlarge)

Cheim and Read’s Hotel Rooms was misguided in comparison. Although it included lions like Edward Hopper, William Eggleston and Louise Bourgeois, the booth is way too literal. The repetitive show left no room for imagination and, despite the genius presented, was a snooze.

The solo shows, at their zenith, work toward demystifying the artist. David Reed’s captivating color studies and working drawings were shown with Peter Blum. As they reveal the menacing groundwork behind his effortless paintings the audience is seduced into his ramblings and experiments. Howard Greenberg Gallery presents an assortment of William Klein photographs, battling cynics who claim he’s one-dimensional. His striking city shots are interspersed with fashion experiments and international street photography, depicting a universal understanding of composition, layering, and finesse.

Of the solo shows, Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s showing of Kathy Butterly was one of the more baffling. The booth was shockingly problematic in its sterility. Nearly twenty small sculptures rested on a white platform with glaring white light shining from above. They were poorly displayed, preventing any connection despite my efforts.

The Park Avenue Armory has certainly seen better shows. For the success of two handfuls of spaces, there were more disappointments than victories. The Art Show speaks to an older generation, appealing to established collectors harking on the past. Diane Arbus’ solo show at Robert Miller Gallery is further indication of dwelling on belated trends (soo Armory 2008). The Art Show is most desirable and beneficial for those galleries that maintain such grizzled nostalgia. After all, Peter Freeman did sell every $80,000 Franz Erhard Walther sculpture by the second day. Despite not being the most exciting show, every gallery has its place.

The ADAA’s The Art Show (Park Avenue Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, Manhattan) is open Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5 from noon to 8pm, and Sunday, March 6 from noon to 6pm.

Lynn Maliszewski is a freelance art critic.