If you have ever a) met someone in a hotel, someone of whom you would say “I met someone,” and found them alluring and self-possessed and maybe a little mysterious under the amber lights of that hotel lobby, and b) after an hour and vodka, gotten into the elevator with them and watched them shrink and wrinkle in the too-bright, too-mirrored trap, then you know exactly the difference between seeing art in a museum and seeing art at a fair. Last night the annual, centenarian Armory Show opened at Piers 92 and 94, and again it was so flagrantly commercial it felt almost… radical? Illusions, meet solvent: The only myth made here is money.
“The artist works a lot with books, and here she has worked in a cut-out mode, using book covers to form a pattern,” one UK dealer told me. “Yes,” I said, staring at cut-out book covers forming a pattern. “I can see that.” Later, I overheard a man explain a giant, holographic Damien Hirst rendering of a skull to his assistant: “It’s a meditation on death.” Steps away, two white women commented on the “complementary” colour scheme of my favourite Mickalene Thomas collage, “Deux Femmes Noir.”
In a booth full of Bjarne Melgaard installations, which felt like parodies or stoop sales of a New York artist’s life, there was one work containing a Chanel suit. My roommate was wearing a tweed jacket, so I told her to pose. It made for a good picture.
“It’s not Chanel,” said the real Bill Cunningham, materializing behind me to take a better one. “But it’s close enough. I thought I’d just wait here—somebody would eventually come along with a Chanel jacket, and it would be funny.”
It was funny, and it was not funny. It was the VIP opening, but everybody was a VIP, and on the cards, Liz Magic Laser had printed the guest’s number “… out of 12,365,” as if to confirm that nobody was a VIP. That was funny. On staff T-shirts, the average income of an Armory attendee was printed in white on Wal-Mart blue: $334,000. That again was funny and not funny. What’s the value in such radical transparency, or is it just disclosure? What I want to know about Armory attendees is What class are they? And what colour? And how do they make their money? And can they be honest for a sec about why they buy art, or what they think it will mean when they die?
A plump woman stood, perplexed, in front of this ingenious Michael Wolf photograph. “It must be Photoshop,” she said. Her husband shrugged.
It must be Photoshop. The art fair makes certain things I worship so difficult to believe; that’s why I go, and why I can’t stay long. After an hour I wanted to go back to that hotel feeling, and after two hours, we did.
The MoMA at 9 p.m. was dazzling and rose-lit and illusory, a relief. Everything was beautiful, nothing for sale. Upstairs, I followed a woman into a roomful of Louise Bourgeois because she was all face and no makeup and so amazing and maybe–no definitely–French; she turned out to be Jessica Biel. Downstairs, Klaus Biesenbach talked to Liz Magic Laser, while Rashaad Newsome looked confused about Stacy Engman’s hat. “Everybody here is an artist,” said a pretty tranny named Julie. “I’m a makeup artist.” I gave her two cigarettes.
Meanwhile, on the Confetti System-decked stage, DJ Harley Viera Newton played Mariah Carey and Robyn while Alexa Chung hung out with her babe-force. Jenna Sauers, the best babe, was wearing a dress she’d made herself. It’s not Chanel, but it’s close enough.
When the crowd hit its peak, Solange played. This was excellent for several reasons: a) Solange is excellent; b) a lot of people who can’t dance tried anyway; and c) I got to overhear six wildly different versions of the rumour that Beyonce was coming (she did come, but nobody saw her, sorry). The old people might have gone home, or maybe they were hiding behind a Rodin, but halfway through the show I looked around and thought, Whoa, this is really not boring, which is the highest praise afforded to any fundraiser of practically any kind.
It wasn’t late, and it didn’t feel late. A painter named Adrian went to get me a vodka soda. The seventeenth guy asked me what my back tattoo said, or meant. It’s a meditation on death.
Then I got into an elevator.