Don’t be surprised to be unsurprised at this year’s Armory Show, but you’ll certainly find some unexpected pleasures and revelations, especially on Pier 92.
It’s exciting to discover a series of slender 1955 assemblages of Roy Lichtenstein in the booth for Galeria Marc Domènech—you’d have a hard time identifying them as Lichtensteins if not for the labels. As if plucked out of an Abstract Expressionist painting from the artist’s pre-Pop period, the gestural pieces are striking even though not in his signature style. Perhaps this shows the problem of having a signature style: less-recognizable work goes unacknowledged. But these sculptures definitely show the versatility of an artist who had more dimensions than is commonly known.
London’s Osborne Samuel gallery presents a warm, soft Tom Wesselman oil on canvas, Smoker Study (for Smoker #14) , from 1973, showing a cigarette-holding woman’s hand with a strangely bent finger that immediately attracts curiosity. Also of note: a lovely gray shadow and red lips through which smoke flows. The painting’s simple-seeming image is curiously hard to read and enticing—such is the charm of a study.
A stunning Conrad Marca-Relli in red merges various Abstract Expressionist gestures and cubistic Cézannesque tumbling forms that pull and push us into and out of the canvas. Pink architectural forms in the upper left quietly tug at the shapes below, like puppets. A few black squiggles here and there pique our interest, and a collage hovers in the white square at top right. It’s a beautiful and modest departure from Relli’s usual packed cubism.
At Barbara Mathes Gallery’s booth, there’s a delightful small but noble crushed truck from John Chamberlain’s Tonka toys series. In the booth for Hackett/Mill, the late compulsive California collagist known as Jess (a.k.a. Jess Collins) shows up with a dense, dynamic, and lushly impastoed still life from 1964—a purple vase filled with bristling pink, yellow, and white flowers accompanied by a skinny black cat at play. Here, Jess, best viewed in small quantities, looks brilliant and brand new. He’s a real standout.
Spanish artist Manuel Franquelo features in Michael Hoppen Gallery’s booth with Things in a Room (Untitled #1), from 2013–14, a big photographic image of a radiator that looks like a painting. Just try to walk away from it without feeling compelled to turn around and grab the small valve at the bottom or pull the tiny Post-it note off the big white wall. Smudges suggest the setting might be an artist’s studio, and a couple of abstract drawings on paper would support that, but why is the picture horizontally bisected by a fine line? Morandi wouldn’t have told the story quite this way, but his inspiration seems to linger.
One of the most striking paintings in the Armory Show, in the booth for Allan Stone Projects, is Franz Kline’s not-black-and-white but brightly colored almost-narrative untitled work from 1955, with a kind of passageway at right leading into the back of the painting. It hangs alongside two more conventionally Klinean black and white pieces. Kline does not typically lack for drama and even awesomeness in any context, but, as with Jess, here we can find rich and hidden sides of the artist in a less congested presentation.