"Profoundly good" is how one dealer described the Armory Show 2006, an art fair held a month ago in New York where sales topped $62 million in five days. The event was a record breaker, but then, all the fairs and auctions seem to be breaking records lately. On the day last week the Armory Show released its numbers, New York magazine ran a I'm-warning-you story about the blimpish prices collectors are paying at auctions, fairs, and ever-expanding galleries in Chelsea and beyond, even for student art, art barely out of the studio, or art they've only seen in JPEG form. While there's a movement afoot to establish art as a respectable, reliable investment class, the fact is that the pricing of contemporary art is speculative. A feverish market is propped up by squishy, icky factors like trends, perceptions, and a rapid-digestion star system that can mean jarring social transformation for an artist.
"Profoundly evil" is how artist William Powhida might (hypothetically) describe the situation, when what he would really (hypothetically) mean is "profoundly crazy." Simple-minded dualisms tickle him. He invented an evil twin, who declares, "I am going to destroy your emerald city with my fucking brilliant art show Paper Beings" in the press release for his first solo show at Platform Gallery this month. The show includes: his vituperative, silly Seattle Enemies List (Bill Gates, Dale Chihuly, the Northern spotted owl, Suicide Girls, etc.); his artist's top-10 page for Artforum, which is homemade, since the magazine hasn't given him any actual space or attention; and his Hex drawings, which attempt to bring about his desired ends through brainwashing thought bubbles aimed at the heads of powerful art dealers and President Bush.
These aren't just the tedious pranks of a macho narcissist. They're animalistic hissings about the indignity, hunger, and submission of being an emerging artist in Brooklyn, where 30-year-old Powhida is also a high-school art teacher and a sometime critic for the Rail. When one of his drawings drew the ire of NY wunderkind dealer Zach Feuer, "It was like hooking a shark," Powhida said. Admittedly, it was a limited pleasure for the rest of us. But Paper Beings reveals other sides of the artist, too, in a tender, cacophonous, river-like drawing of Everyone I've Ever Met from Memory (That I Can Remember), and the omnivorous bulletin board F_iendship, which pairs crude bits of taped-up ephemera in various moods with tricked-out trompe l'oeil versions of letters, lists, and sketches on sheets of notebook paper.
It's a good thing Powhida has concerns besides jabbing the establishment, since he's sort of starting to fit in. "We sold pretty much everything we had of his" at the Aqua Miami art fair in December, said Blake Haygood of Platform, and collectors have placed early holds on pieces in this show. Success could drive Powhida to kill off his vainglorious evil twin, he admits. But for now, "I'm nobody still," he said. "In real life, you won't even be able to find me at the opening."