The Armory Show was the first art fair I ever attended when I moved to New York City in 2000. I have seen 16 years of transformations along the way, from really weak editions to distant memories of a time when there weren't many parallel fairs and no social media to follow what was trending at any given time. Back then, the experience was quite different from the sensory overload and speed commute from one extreme of Manhattan to the other, as we advisors have to do to be able to see everything. With the many years I've been collecting, advising and curating, I've learned to prioritize the events, fairs and openings I attend, but even so I still find the fair-hopping a bit overwhelming.
I found this Armory Week to be an overall stronger experience than years past, starting with the main fair on Pier 94 that is now under the helm of former Artnet editor-in-chief, Benjamin Genoccio. The African theme of the "Armory Focus" section was long overdue, as we rarely get to see what's happening with artists from that side of the world. There is one exception--the excellent selections that South Africa's Goodman Gallery brings to all the major fairs around the world every year, including this year's Armory Show--a replica of a storefront by Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai, which included a shopping cart that resembled a cage, surrounded by a combination of saturated African motifs and religious iconography all coming together as a critique of consumerism.
It was also a big refreshing moment to get to meet Angolan-Portuguese artist Francisco Vidal in what I thought was one of the best booths of the fair: Tiwani Contemporary's site-specific installation for Vidal's decidedly African, bright neon-colored, political and optimistic pieces created on recycled-paper tiles. Vidal DJ'd upbeat tunes while sketching portraits of people who came to the booth to hang out with him, including me.
Swiss-Guinean artist Namsa Leuba was also an interesting discovery. Her solo booth with Echo Art was filled with beautiful medium-size photographs exploring African subjects through western imagination, especially with an eye on fashion, as the vibrant use of color and composition resembled high-end glossy magazine editorials.
As for the rest of the fair, I loved coming across the rare-to-come-by large canvases by Rosson Crow at the booth of Natalie Obadia. Her exuberant combinations of interiors, theatrical references and even Las Vegas's strange, over-the-top lifestyle and architecture, were big winners. Likewise, Matthew Brandt's photographs-cum-rhinestone-encrusted pieces at the booth of Praz Delavallade were a huge hit in part because of their subtle, toned-down colors and in part because of their soft, romantic imagery.
The paintings of Greek expressionist Jannis Varelas were also a big draw for me. His work was exhibited at both the booths of Athens's The Breeder Gallery and James Fuentes's (who in parallel also presented a solo show of Varelas's paintings titled "Common People" in his beautiful Lower East Side space). The childlike, gestural giant canvases where oil stick, acrylic paint, markers and collage on canvas reveal the soul of a sensitive man who has the ability to explore the fragility and beauty of human condition in well composed, brightly colored pieces got a lot of inquiries from big collectors and institutions.
Also, The Breeder had a super eye-catching corner installation by Dutch artist Marc Bijl composed by mounted wall pieces that resembled graffiti against a gradient of warm vibrant colors. The words alluded to counterculture factions like punk and anarchism. The effective placement of plastic trash bags in neon colors under the wall pieces made it all the more compelling both visually and conceptually as it made a point of talking about politics and parallel movements that may all mean garbage when closely looked upon.
Another booth that called my attention was a solo exhibition of Douglas Coupland's work in the Toronto gallery of Daniel Faria. Coupland's very current and incisive point was represented by large portraits in black and white photography that hid the subject’s faces with geometric shapes reminiscent of Mondrian's paintings. The hidden faces were meant to signal Facebook's facial recognition algorithm and the implications regarding violations of privacy. The sculptural globes in the middle of the booth were created with toxic paint poured onto the spheres to draw attention to the Pacific Trash Gyre.
Tomorrow I’ll share my highlights about the parallel fairs.