The Armory Show opened this week, creating a theme park for art collectors and lovers from across the globe. Over 200 galleries and site specific installations are on view at Pier 92 and 94 on the Hudson River. This year features a welcome overhaul of the fair’s floor plan, spearheaded by the new director, Benjamin Genocchio. The delineation of a “Modern” section, usually on view at Pier 92, has been phased out, relocating 17 dealers from the “Galleries” section and the “Focus” artists upstairs. In past iterations of the fair it seemed highlights were positioned in high traffic areas near the entrance and by the time the fair fatigue hit you found yourself stuck at a dead end inside labyrinth of the dullest booths. The new design features wider aisles and better traffic management, making for a vastly more pleasant experience. This year’s a hit folks—at least in terms of visitor experience.
In particular, the Armory’s special “Focus” section, curated by Jarret Gregory, stood out. The section culled 10 artists from around the world together to examine a question taken from 19th Century Russian Socialist Writer Nikolai “Chernyshevsky, “What Is To Be Done?” (a breath of fresh air when at times the theme of the fair seems to be “How Many Yayoi Kusama and Marina Abramovic Works Can We Fit Into This Pier.”).
My highlights and commentary below.
“Tack Room” is one of the first works visitors are confronted with and the wood shed screams raw sexual and feminine energy, riding crops and all. The room encapsulates the special horse fanaticism that can infect preteen girls just breaching their sexual awakening. Cronin placed hypersexual horse ads throughout the cabin, one highlight a nude model riding a unicorn cleverly placed next to a pile of carrots. The obsessive nature of collecting this immense amount of horse memorabilia hints at the story of a girl who is financially incapable of actually owning a horse, a challenging inclusion for a fair that is curated with the 1% in mind.
Although this work was not a part of the “Focus” collection it felt perfectly in line with the “What Is To Be Done?” theme. In the past Bower’s sign might have come off as saccharine but the world has taken such a terrifying turn the illuminated cardboard work was a powerful message. It was one of the few times I didn’t feel annoyed with people stopping to take photos with, I even snapped a photo for two women who happened to be wearing shirts with the word “RESIST” scrawled across.
Jeffrey Deitch has recreated the studio of Florence Stettheimer’s studio, a seminal feminist painter whom passed in 1944. The salon-style booth includes works from John Currin, Chloe Wise, Elizabeth Peyton, and many more. I struggled with how I felt about the amount of works crammed on the walls till I reached the Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt in the corner. Lanigan-Schmidt’s ability to transform trash into dazzling work to the point it almost feels ecclesiastical encapsulated the feel for the room.
OTA Fine Arts displays a thundering and playful installation by Nobuaki Takekawa. The booth features three drag astronaut mannequins, including one with a mermaid themed spacesuit, preparing to lift off in a rocket. Nobuaki Takekawa likes to play with Western-centric histories and create alternative realities. His installation of drag astronauts amongst posters of amorphous alien’s wearing shirts proclaiming “Anti Facist” and singing songs like “No Hate Under the Rainbow” both warned of the alarming state of our world affairs and gave a hopeful glimpse into a better and more glamorous future.
I grew up going to Pow-Wows with my grandmother and was immediately drawn to the heavy influence of Native American regalia in Gibson’s works. A highlight of the booth were two punching bags beaded with the phrases “Freedom Is Worth More Than Pain.” Native American voices are often left unheard and cast aside. It was nice to see such a strong presence at the Armory show, especially with such a strong political message when Native American’s are facing a lot of political injustice at the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Glenn Kaino’s installation for Kavi Gupta featured an alien like figure being burned at the stake. The creature was bound atop a pile of charcoal sticks engraved with phrases like “Death to Fascism”. The work had an ominous tone but the faux orange light and fog emanating from beneath the charcoal pile also felt slightly campy, like a prop you would find at the corner of a halloween store.
In the Focus area Galerie Peter Kilchmann displays Karla, a heartbreaking installation by Teresa Margolles grappling with the murder of her beloved friend, a trans woman and sex worker from Juarez City, Mexico. The installation memorializes Karla while delving into the brutal murder. A large black and white print of Karla is propped in the corner, a concrete block from the crime scene laid in front, death certificate, and a recording of the vocal testimony of her murder by a friend and fellow trans sex worker. International Sex Worker’s Rights Day was this week and this installation couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Violence and murder against sex workers, especially trans sex workers, are largely ignored. The immense size of Karla’s portrait is a beautiful memorial and important reminder that these murders are happening every day.