You’re supposed to complain about the art fairs …  just like you’re supposed to complain about the Whitney Biennial. IN fact, it is a general art world rule that you should complain about anything you find worthy of revisiting year after year. And then you should always threaten never to go again.

But we kept hearing rumors that this time it was going to be better. And, as promised by organizers of this year’s Armory Show, the fair is indeed more fun and user-friendly than it has been in the past, with a paired down exhibitor list, swanky VIP lounges, carpeting, kinder lighting and lots of helpful signage. Crawling with smiling staff, the floors boast lots of seating and surface area, and with wi-fi log-ins for press and visitors, Transbeam should get you sufficiently wired up even if illy doesn’t.

Not for nothing did Armory organizers hire the folks at Bade Stageberg Cox to wrestle with the layout of the notoriously unaccommodating space. Not only did the renowned firm create near-comfy VIP spaces and dot the floors with public lounges, cafés, and seating, but they definitely improved the general layout, making it easier (and way more pleasant) to navigate. A theme of brightly-painted yellow chairs helps to flag areas where there may be seating and amenites.

I’d say Bade Stageberg Cox were the stars of the show, despite all the air given to Theaster Gates, the Armory’s commissioned artist who will be “holding court” in the Pier 94 Café over the next few days. Kavi Gupta gallery has several of his “stacks” on view, along with other Gates’ pieces; a couple of water hose coils and some larger sculptures are scattered throughout the show. Working with curated objects of historic significance, these are supposed to provide a flavor of I’m-not-quite-clear-what to the whole affair. I think it’s about essence somehow, although for those who want to talk the talk, it’s about the memory of materials as an allegory for history, particularly civil rights history. Armory Show curators love the culturally significant stuff no matter how dusty it is.

That said, the leaner and meaner exhibitor list made for a very lively viewing experience. The galleries seemed to be trying harder to engage shoppers and visitors with literature and freebies, interactive pieces and fun booths with cohesive themes and designs.

Some Highlights

Galerie Guido W. Baudach is rich with large canvases by Bjarme Melgaard (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Galerie Guido W. Baudach is rich with large canvases by Bjarne Melgaard filling the space with dramatic color and bold black contrast. Happily Melgaard is all over the show this year.

Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art filled their space with Andres Serrano’s amusing cibachrome prints of toys gone mad. The rude scenarios and livid colors contrast nicely with the elegance of Ai Weiwei’s Wooden Balls at Hyundai across the isle. Hyundai, returning to the Armory after a long hiatus, provided a zen vibe with a meditative clock installation by Nam June Paik.

Gallery Michael Janssen, Installation view Armory show 2012 Photo courtesy of GMJ

At Galerie Michael Janssen Christoph Steinmeyer’s acid trippy headless figures were smartly paired with Richard Dupont’s heads. Dupont especially fashioned these noodles for GMJ’s booth.

Christian Eiesnberger sick in bed.

Teapot gallery hosted Christian Eiesnberger, who, laid up in bed with a cold, was not about to skip attending his solo show in their Armory booth. So he had the gallery set up a bed in a corner where he could convalesce while conversing with shoppers! Surrounded by his signs made of finger painted horse poo, he made Teapot look like a Bowery rental. SHAME ON YOU EISENBERGER. 😉

Sean Kelly Gallery boasted a couple of lame Marina Abramović sculptures, two busts with crystals embedded in them (and weakly titled “The Communicators”) — nearby at Luciana Brito a Marina Abramović perfomer lies on a wooden pallet with her head under an outcrop of crystal mirroring the “communicators” theme.

And it’s true that the Armory Show can usually test the mettle of even the most stalwart art lover with its inadvertent knack for unmasking the clichés and tropes of our current aesthetic. This year was no exception. And so I bring you some light kvetching in the form of a list:

Left, Luciana Brito Galeria. Marina Abramović, “Bed for Human Use” (2012); right, Best of the Richterites: Jerry Saltz called Jackie Saccoccio’s lush picture at Eleven Rivington, a “gorgeous mayhemic erupting painting” and he gave it a smooch! This photo is a detail.

Most common formula this year

  1. Take a photo
  2. Blur it
  3. Paint on it
  4. Go all Gerhardt Richter on it

•Alternative: Just go all Richter on any old thing.

At Galerie Forsblom: HC Berg’s “Visual Vortex – Cellular structure green veil” wins for juiciest, layered acrylics work. Lovely.

Runner up

  1. Get sheets and sheets of fruit-colored plastics and computer cut out loads of DNA and bell-curve and jelly fish tentacle shapes
  2. Add lights
  3. Layer: voila

p.s. These are very pretty.

Second Runner Up for a couple of decades now

  1. Take a picture of a little girl: make it really vivid and put her in an unlikely place

Print it large.

The Armory Show will be at Piers 92 & 94 (Twelfth Avenue at 55th Street, West Side, Manhattan) Thursday, March 8 to Saturday, March 10, noon to 8pm and Sunday, March 11, noon to 7pm.

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Cat Weaver

Independent curator, Cat Weaver is the Brooklyn-based writer and editor of The Art Machine, a blog that covers the art market in all of its gossipy glory....