The Armory Show - 2016 - NYC

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

The Armory Show - 2016 - NYC

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Sat Mar 05, 2016 9:10 pm

This year I intended to go to the Armory Show with muted expectations of the works themselves, and with more of an interest in attempting to get a feel for the current art market, and see and hear about this year’s focus - African Perspectives. I was still delighted and excited by much of the fantastic art, stopping in at every few booths, even as I cruised the aisles and blew through most of the work.

Walking in from the otherwise dismal West Side Highway Piers entrance, however, is still a delirious delight, like a gigantic sugar rush throughout the first preview day. The buzz lingers everywhere along with the hyper-affluent crowds, which seemed to include a greater number of Brazilians than I’ve noticed in the past. Because there are no true windows, the effect is like a casino - time can disintegrate and exhaustion can set in. For me, I forget to eat, and am constantly compelled onto the next corner or booth, stimulated by the endless sensory experiences of art, rushes of people, random catch-ups with old friends, celeb sightings, and the underlying electricity that fuels it all.

As far as an overview - it is impossible to make any grand statements about the art world through the lens of the vast Armory Show. There are loads of the hot new artists, of course - and I saw some, but not a lot of politically charged works, with very little overtly about sexual identity or gender (as opposed to some prominent displays last year), and even less about financial power and economic disparity that forms, along and intertwined with climate change, one of the the greatest threats to human rights. The fairly low-key tone could have been set by Executive Director Benjamin Genocchio, and the Show featured few truly controversial works.

Some race-based works were on display, both reflecting the events of the past few years in the U.S. and potentially the African Perspectives concentration of this year’s Show. These pieces included a video installation at Kow Gallery by Mario Pfeifer called “#blacktivist” that featured music by the rap group Flatbush ZOMBIES, about police brutality and self-defense ( ... how%202016).
Victoria Miro showed a series of works on paper by Kara Walker, called “Negress Notes.” A particularly piercing piece was a watercolor of a woman on all fours, with an extended tongue reaching out, over her body, and licking her ass that also inspired Jerry Saltz to comment about it on his Instagram “[y]ou want work that can set your hair on fire” ( ... altz&hl=en).

El Anatsui was featured as central figure in African Perspectives. On the first public day of the Show, he participated with artist Sam Nhlegethwa in a panel moderated by Bisi Silva, Founder and Artistic Director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos, on their individual work and their influence in inspiring young African artists to break through internationally. A shimmering work of El Anatsui also hung on one border of the African Perspectives region. The piece, called Blood of Sweat, was a giant rippling mask in copper, yellow, with stains of red. In the 129” x 110” piece he used his more typical materials of aluminum bottle caps and copper wire. The piece itself ( appeared regal yet somber, more reflective than his other hangings of an actual material object and a direct commentary. The piece worked too in setting off the African Perspectives on that side from the rest of the Show and creating a different tone than the bubbly festivities elsewhere.

Other works that engaged me in the African Perspectives section included a solo exhibition of video installations by Kenyan artist Ato Malinda ( Presented by the Circle Art Agency from Nairobi, Kenya, the works included a video piece titled On Fait Ensemble that traces a mythological history of the West African water spirit Mami Wata and European influence into the mythology. The underlying story told is that during the 1880s, a German hunter brought back an African wife to Germany, who then performed in essentially a human zoo. Her image was portrayed in a lithograph, that made its way back to West Africa, and was then seen locally and then throughout West Africa as the image of Mami Wata. The video portrays a market scene with a whiteface man, who also is the embodiment of an associate of Mami Wata named Papai Wata, thereby metaphorically mixing the European and African aspects of the story. (

Another booth close-by, presented by the Smac Gallery from Cape Town, South Africa, with works created by Cyrus Kibaru included some of my favorite pieces at the Show. Here Kibaru hung a series of futuristic-retro, partial face masks that were fashioned like glasses, and crafted from old items like cassette tapes, coffee cans, spatula, plugs, and woven in with intricately crafted jewelry with shells - a smart amalgamation of day-to-day disposable aspects of life, with the symbolic pieces of long-term deeper culture and traditional significance. The works were accompanied by exceptionally sharp, high-production quality, large photographic prints of what appeared to be the artist wearing the works. The photographs contrasted the rough hewn physical pieces, thereby adding an additional layer of technical and artistic exactitude to the otherwise low-fi DIY works. ( ... rus-kabiru).

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga showed paintings at the October Gallery booth, and each piece portrayed a semi-abstracted figure in brightly-colored traditional African garb with circuit boards and wires running through the figures, giving them an electrified quality ( ... nga-ilunga).

Around the Show elsewhere, were, of course, loads of splashy exciting visual pieces, like Ivan Navarro’s giant side-positioned drum containing a one-way mirror containing the spiraling, endless neon words “Come To Daddy” (also titled) at Galerie Daniel Templon. ( ... e-to-daddy). Jack Shainman Gallery was, like last year, prominently displaying a Nick Cave Soundsuit, and an El Anatsui at one far end. Another close-by booth from Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac held a group show called The Space Age, that featured a centerpiece of a candy-dildo, glittery, purple-pink, glossed-up retro-futuristic rocket ship by Sylvie Fleury called “First Spaceship on Venus.” ( ... by=tmarc13).

Another large closed-off space featured a kinetic installation by Shih Chieh Huang, whose work I saw at Bushwick Open Studios in Brooklyn last spring. His works were formed from thin plastic that inflated and deflated mechanically, connected to computer fans, with exposed wirings and small colored lights - the effect being that of ocean creatures, like jellyfish and anemone, breathing and heaving with the tides. The installation included a series of schematic drawings that articulated the mechanical process. ( ... hieh-huang).

James Cohan was showing, amongst other works, a massive electronic component crafted abstract more or less 2D landscape by Elias Sime called “Tightrope, Trios” ( ... rope-trios), and a Yinka Shinobare sculpture of a headless girl on a bicycle with a rotor above with the self-explanatory title of “Girl on Flying Machine” ( ... -machine-1).

One of my favorite sets of paintings were smeared, make-up faces of a girl by Claire Tabouret at Bugada & Cargnel made of acrylic on wood. These were sensual portraits in pastel-like colors, that slowed me down amongst the flashes of mania elsewhere. ( ... d-lipstick).

One thing the Armory Show does do well is host a series of wide-ranging talks, discussions, and presentations, ranging from the state of the art market, to the aforementioned discussion with El Anatsui and Sam Nhlegethwa. Two I specifically went back to the Show to attend were the rousing and wonderful discussion with Jerry Saltz, and a series of fascinating four-minute presentations by varied members of the art world and beyond about the future state of the art world. ( ... ng-pdf.pdf).

One thing the Armory Show does awful is food, with a similar situation to last year. I ran into my old friend and gallerist Peter Mackebish, who was so disenchanted with the selections, he left to find juice and decent nutrients. Contrast these limited offerings of Breads Bakery, and Mile End (a Montreal inspired smoked meat joint that offered no smoked meat at Armory), to the multitude of offerings at Frieze (at Randall’s Island in May), including Fat Radish’s outstanding salad bar. While pumping the champagne, and shutting out sunlight, the least you can do, Armory, is present some decent food. That being said, a cafe on the exterior of the Show provided some seats in the light and excellent canned and bottled ice coffee from Stumptown. But is that the best you can do?

While other more exciting fairs take-over the city these days, the Armory still is the centerpiece, and a wonderful place to stroll, people-watch, get hyper-stimulated, maybe make some deals, and have fun in the last days of winter.
Last edited by NYC_Correspondent-tm on Sun Mar 06, 2016 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Armory Show - 2016 - NYC

Postby CAP » Sun Mar 06, 2016 1:02 am

The African theme reminded me of Saatchi's Pangaea shows. The push in African and Latin American markets maybe a hedge against the overhyped mainstream, like Zombie Formalism.

I agree Genocchio is basically a conservative influence, but this may be the times and the market. Any sense or rumours of sales volumes? :ugeek:
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Re: The Armory Show - 2016 - NYC

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Sun Mar 06, 2016 1:20 am

CAP - I think at least in part you are right about desire to delve into those new markets to support or hedge. In addition to a few African galleries, there were many non-African galleries (Berlin, Paris, London) present featuring works by African artists.

The discussions I had, and the chatter around about the market (as opposed to having attended the formal discussion about the state of the market), was that people are feeling uncertain, a slow-down in the market is impending. But at the shows, there seemed to be little actual slowing down in sales. I don't know how prices for those sales were affected - either upward or downward. But especially on the first day at Armory, and elsewhere - works were selling out and the pace seemed hot.
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