Seven Young European Galleries Forging the New Armory Show Avant-Garde
In 1913, the inaugural International Exhibition of Modern Art—the exhibition from which The Armory Show takes its name—presented an opportunity for Americans to glimpse the European avant-garde, and to try to make sense of several artistic movements: from Dadaism to fauvism to post-impressionism. It was the first time that many Americans were exposed to these impressive, meaningful, and at times difficult new ways of thinking and making work. Over a century later, seven young European galleries (in five booths) have similarly brought artists who are pushing the limits of their media and whose processes are indicative of current trends on the continent.
In a shared booth presented by Berlin-based Soy Capitán and BolteLang from Zurich, German painter Henning Strassburger shows four large canvases that are indicative of a loose group of several painters who have come out of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf—including market darlings David Ostrowski and Chris Succo—and are developing a new formalism. The works feature layered, strong and decisive gestures and compositions, with a heavy and deliberate application of paint to the canvas. They are abstract, colorful, exposed, and immediately beautiful. The paintings offer a duality between what appears as a tumultuous exercise in material application and the evident evenness in their construction, which creates a meditative calmness to balance the mayhem.
At the collaborative presentation between Paris’s Mor Charpentier and Rome’s Monitor, three artists show wall works that are as much about their process of creation as they are about the final object. Paris-based Mohamed Namou creates complex assemblages as clever as they are expertly crafted. He sews stitched pockets onto canvas, into which he then inserts pieces of manipulated stone. The folds of the handmade cuts and compartments along with the gentle placement of the stone provide elegant and introspective depth.
German-born Ian Tweedy is also considerate about composition. His works on paper are cascades of oils, collage, and texture that are full of motion and, while obviously flat, give a sense of dimensionality that pushes them into the realm of sculpture. The two younger artists are juxtaposed with Duane Zaloudek, an octogenarian from the United States whose shapely works do not fit conformably in any era. As with the others, Zaloudek is an artist whose materials do not fully shed light on his work: the flatness that is inherent to his acrylic paint is circumvented by the consideration evident in the layering of each opaque shape.
Athens is in the center of the European news cycle at the moment as the new Greek government takes a firm position on the country’s fiscal future. Athens-based gallery The Breeder shows three Greek artists at the Armory. The booth is subtly political and displays the excitement and caution felt by Greeks in this time of transition. Stelios Faitakis, Alexandros Vasmoulakis, and Andreas Lolis are not activists, but each of their works draw on the cultural climate of the Greek capital. Drawing inspiration from Athen’s graffiti, trash, Orthodoxy, and its inseparability from the history of early civilizations, their practices look with confidence to the possibility of a new future for Greece.
A group of artists based in central Europe—including Oliver Laric, Katja Novitskova, and Simon Denny—are working to reconcile 21st-century understandings of institutions, government, and global capitalism through sculptural and video works that are highly researched and initially opaque. The works are often aesthetically intriguing but also require explanation. Frankfurt’s Bischoff Projects presents one of the few artists based in New York who is making this distinctly European type of work, Ben Thorp Brown. His “Toymakers” series observes the production line at a deal toy factory in Quebec, Canada. He respectfully observes the craft and skill of manufacturers taking a pride in their work while making disposable objects for large corporations. Alongside the video there are two sets of sculptures made from the re-molded material scraps which are normally discarded and represent an inefficiency in the system. Brown provides a distinctly American perspective on the conversation through his distinct humor, an element that is often absent from the European dialogue.
Berlin gallery KOW is known for its highly socially engaged and generationally diverse program. Their Armory presentation—a two-person booth with German Franz Erhard Walther and American Michael E. Smith—encapsulates the current transatlantic dialogue. Walther’s primary body of work addresses the generally 20th-century, Beuysian concern of the artwork’s social impact and bridges a gap between the performative and the object. His colourful burlap constructions often invite interaction but are, in and of themselves, beautiful objects. Smith has a single subtle and haunting sculpture on view among the monochromatic Walther works. The American’s work is equally social but takes a more macro view on how humans as a whole interact and on the inevitability of conflict, something which is developing into a major point of discussion for artists under 40.