For Art's Sake - Art attack

Armory Show inspires sensory overload

The glamour quotient was high at New York City's 2005 Armory Show, one of the big money contemporary art fairs that has proliferated in recent years.

My companion at the fair was former Atlanta artist Hope Hilton, currently braving graduate school at Manhattan's Hunter College. Hope neatly characterized the evident East Coast/West Coast split in the artwork thusly: New York artists are obsessed with nature. L.A. artists with sex. There was plenty of work on view to back her up.

Based on the admittedly slim evidence of my first artapalooza, I would have to agree with Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz's recent assessment of art fairs as "adrenaline-addled spectacles for a kind of buying and selling where intimacy, conviction, patience, and focused looking, not to mention looking again, are essentially nonexistent."

Anyone who loves art knows the out-of-body, transportive sensation of standing alone with great work - the kind of profound engagement with objects that can suddenly feel like a profound engagement with life.

There was little opportunity for such reflection at the Armory Show, which encouraged the visual equivalent of Halloween night gluttony, gorging on more, more, more until the sugar rush morphed into nausea. There was a head-swimming array of work, well-heeled crowds galore, and the depressing sensation that ideas and politics were mere vapors in the greater predominance of the double bling. If there is such a thing as visual drunkenness, then the art fair only asks, "What's your poison?" After appraising scores of artworks, the only thing capable of rebooting a crashed cerebral cortex was the sight of a celebrity walking the crowd.

There was Yoko Ono in a fedora and with legs the diameter of knitting needles; movie star husband Chad Lowe; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry, dressed like a waifish 14-year-old boy. Stars and regular folk circulated in the crowd at the two Midtown piers jam-packed with gallery reps from Berlin to Brooklyn.

One exception to a great deal of flash and superficiality was a mesmerizing video work, "The Nuclear Football," from German artists Korpys and Loffler. Using press credentials, the artists gained access to George Bush's 2002 visit to Germany and filmed the president's entourage of Secret Service agents, limos and private planes. Rather than seeing all this beefed-up security as benign spectacle, this incredibly subversive, virulent work points out the violence and aggression implied in all that steel and sinew and the nuclear missile launch codes that travel everywhere with the president.

Another real surprise was stumbling upon mug shots of convicts housed at the Fulton County Prison Farm from the 1940s through the '70s, which were being sold for 300 Euros by the German gallery, Kicken Berlin.

Though the Armory Fair only happens once a year, the new Museum of Modern Art is open year-round, and lives up to all the breathless hype that has been inked since its debut last November. Especially enthralling is the museum's spectacular 110-foot tall atrium. The scale of the architecture is epic and astounding, but still embraces a human dimension.

We can only hope that captivating sense of both spectacle and poetry in Yoshio Taniguchi's design will also be a feature of the High's own soon-to-be-unveiled makeover. The abundance of glass, the central piazza and the narrow old Italy alleyways Renzo Piano has incorporated into the High renovation offer hope that his architecture could also bring humanity and accessibility to our own art temple.

Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta, which began classes March 21 with an enrollment of 75 students, has inadvertently profited from the burst bubble of the dot-com age. In a stroke of good fortune, SCAD-Atlanta's hip new campus, featuring hot orange metal lattice walls, a super cool 4-D theater and mod office furniture, is comprised of remnants left behind when the Internet consulting company iXL vacated its 300,000-square-foot Midtown Peachtree Street offices. The Atlanta school will be the only SCAD division featuring undergraduate and graduate degrees in advertising design.

Continuing the wildfire trend in Atlanta for business people helming galleries, a former technology manager at TBS, Sam Romo, has become the newest addition to the Castleberry Hill art district. On April 14, the Romo Gallery, (romogallery.com) at 309 Peters St. — the tallest building in Castleberry — will open with a solo show by New York-based photographer Yoshio Itagaki.Romo will represent emerging artists (including Atlantans Leslie Kniesel and Jon Rajkovich) from across the country. He says his gallery will also reflect his personal interests, including growing up in Texas, an interest in technology and his own Hispanic heritage.


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