05/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cows Eating Grass at the Armory Show

It's a very old joke and it goes like this:

It's 1964 and a guy goes into an art gallery. He sees what appears to be a blank canvas selling for an inordinate amount of money and is intrigued. He asks the lady at the desk why that was:

"It's not a blank canvas; it's a picture of a cow eating grass."
"Where's the grass and where's the cow?"
"Well the cow ate all the grass and moved on, so there's nothing left."

The NY Armory Show and its attendant fairs, Pulse and Volta, were last weekend, and as is my wont, I decided to take a look for "cows eating grass," also known as "white on white" black on black" etc. and so forth. I actually counted about five, and about a dozen that were pretty damn close.

The most expensive of the bunch was Robert Irwin's aptly named Untitled which was a largish panel of honeycomb aluminum painted over with black lacquer and polyurethane. This cost between ten and twenty grand. Then there was Tom Chandler's Untitled, Gary Fabian's Blue on Blue: Spring, which wasn't exactly blank monocrome, but had a dark blue rectangle with a light blue interior. Close enough.

Then there's Wall Drawing image #5 (white) by Jeff Keller. Keller drew a trapezoid on canvas. This goes for many thousands of dollars. This is almost qualifies as a "Cow Eating Grass" because anyone with no talent can go home and make an exact copy from memory. The same goes with Thomas Müller's C4RD #40, which was hiding among a ton of his other, more accomplished work, all of which were beautifully framed by the gallery. I asked if the whole thing was a set that had to be purchased as a whole, and I was told that each was a complete work of art.

This work of art was two triangles badly drawn in pencil, or at least it looked that way. This was even worse than the yellow swastika I passed by as fast as I could. But the worst of the worst of the worst was the work of Michael Scoggins, who blows up loose-leaf binder paper and writes notes like "I'm not going to put up with your SHIT anymore!!" on it. This is supposed to be cute and costs somewhere in the twenty grand range.

There is lots of genuinely good artwork scattered among the dreck, but those aren't actually fun to write about. The arrogance of people like Müller and Keller, who think they could get away with this stuff, not to mention the galleries who actually pass by thousands of superior artists who can't sell anything in order to peddle what can only be described as a massive fraud, is astounding.

The influence of cartooning on the art world in the nearly half century since art history ended cannot be overstated. A glance over the independent comix scene will show inept artwork which is redeemed by good writing and design. However some of these people were at the Armory show with just horrible drawings and meaningless captions. Melle de Boer, who's Dutch, is one of those people. She and her gallery came four thousand miles to embarrass themselves here. What were these people thinking? Last year, there was a lot of stuff by David Shrigley, who's among the worst major artists of all time.

All art is subjective, but at least someone should be some standards, jeez!