Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Want a $100,000 Painting of Bernie Madoff? Neither Does Anyone Else

Tallies are in for last weekend’s Armory Show, the big international art fair in New York, and not surpringly, Gallerist David Zwirner had to pack up his big Bernie Madoff painting and haul it back home. The sepia-toned watercolor, by Yan Pei-Ming, was a big—if creepy—attraction. But for $100,000, nobody wanted it over the fireplace.

armory bernie3

The Madoff Masterpiece wasn't the only art channeling the zeitgeist at the show. Indeed, you only had to look at the art on the walls to get a sense of what the cash in the till would be at the end of the day.

A marble plaque, with a chewed-off corner, hanging at a gallery near the entrance said it all:

armory broke

While everyone’s been trying to put a brave face on the event ("We have been meeting a lot of new people!" said Valerie Carberry of Valerie Carberry Gallery, Chicago), sales were decidedly punier than during the Reign of the Hedge Fund Moguls. New York’s City File reports that most transactions were of the five-figure variety—a dramatic decrease from recent years when frantic collectors would race to the booths as soon as doors opened, and bid prices into the stratosphere.

As history has shown, artists are among the first to reflect the spirit of the times in their work, and the Recession of ’09 is no exception. Throughout the hall were paintings and works on paper that gave the sense of being ripped from the headlines. Here are a few of our favorites:

Gordon Cheung showed a large painting made of acrylics, gel, spray—and stock tables—at the Jack Shainman Gallery. It’s title: "Living Machine, 2009"

armory stock charts

One of the most poignant pieces by Beth Campbell, at the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, was called, "My Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances." It was a large sheet of paper, covered like a mind map, with penciled comments on the artist’s vision of her futile search for gainful employment. "I can’t even get a job > I settle for a low end job > I become a cocktail waitress in Atlantic City >I sweep the city sidewalks."

Armory mind map

Which reminds us of Stella Adler's quote on life and art: "Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one."