The show that just grows and grows

Sue Hubbard finds little to impress at New York's contemporary art fair
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The Independent Online

Like Topsy, New York's Armory Show - an international fair of contemporary art - has just grown and grown, from its inception in 1994 as a 30-gallery event in Grammercy Park Hotel to last week's huge affair with 170 international galleries located on piers 88 and 90, sticking out into the cold grey Hudson.

Like Topsy, New York's Armory Show - an international fair of contemporary art - has just grown and grown, from its inception in 1994 as a 30-gallery event in Grammercy Park Hotel to last week's huge affair with 170 international galleries located on piers 88 and 90, sticking out into the cold grey Hudson.

Organised by the Art Dealers Association of America, this aimed to be the biggest yet. There are dealers from all over the US as well as countries including Japan, Greece, Israel and Mexico. London is well represented. Many dealers such as Stephen Friedman and Maureen Paley's Interim Art already have strong American connections, but galleries such as the Lisson, Rhodes and Mann, Anthony d'Offay, White Cube and the new super-cool Nylon demonstrate the importance and impact of the British art scene. In fact, on the show's second day, one of the biggest events was the opening at Matthew Marks of work by the British painter Gary Hume. An English accent, it seems, adds dollars to the price of art works.

If ever one doubted that art has become the new fashion industry, this is proof. The words the critics here keep using are "fun", "funky" and "hip". Yet if what you happen to be looking for is art that is transcendent, questioning or even quietly beautiful, you'll need to look hard. If you're into painting, you'll have to look even harder still. This show would have it that, as a medium, it's as dead as the dodo. There are exceptions, including the black artist Glenn Ligon's lyrical workat D'Amelio Terras, the sublime-meets-comic-strip works by the British Paul Morrison at asprey jacques, or the impressive 1947 de Kooning at Allan Stone.

But mostly the show belongs to photography. There is a repetitive abundance of easy sexualised imagery. There is also the problem that technical dexterity can all too easily disguise intellectual vacuity, as in the brilliantly executed images of stuffed animals by Roni Horn at Matthew Marks. More rewarding is the work of 75-year-old Arnold Odermatt of car crashes taken while working for the Swiss police department, or the dreamy diptych portraits of old masters taken in the Metropolitan Museum by Bill Jacobson, which blur notions of authenticity and artifice.

One of the finds of the fair was Shirin Neshat at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery. An Iranian, she makes both films and black and white photographs of haunting beauty that deal with identity and gender politics under Islam. Her spare lyricism only emphasises much of the shallowness of that which surrounds it. Compare these thoughtful images to the life-sized tableau by Tony Matelili of three vomiting youths, and one can see that the rubric of contemporary art contains the visionary and the sublime as well as the easy and facile aspects of yob culture.

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