MARCH 19, 2020

The Armory Show

If you think art events in general are a bit overwhelming.....the Armory is a whole ‘nother thing. 

It commands such a history and authority by just its name. Founded in 1913 (!!), Armory's name originates from its original location at the 69th regiment armory (a military facility, put simply). It was held there because there were no large-scale art venues in New York City at the time. As such, Armory Show was the first big event to bring European style modern art, the Picassos and Duchamps that you see now in MoMA, to the states in the first place.

First of all the price we paid at the entrance left everyone feeling a little jittery.

Then there’s the sheer size of the whole thing, spanning over pier 90 and 94 with hundreds of galleries participating.

It is truly a department store of contemporary art - the parallel complete with food and drink lounges to rest your poor feet at. Instead of the dads and boyfriends dragged to a shopping experience, it’s people taking an Instagram break that populate these rest oases. 


When there are so many booths shouting for your attention, you realize the following:

The name of the gallery is much more important than you think. Like, come on. Don’t straight-up name it after the last names of two founders. Learn from Pierogi. Or Two Palms.


Along the same line, grabbing passerby’s attention becomes very important. Make it big, colorful, patterned. Anything involving mirrors seems to attract selfie-takers (which we ourselves are guilty of). If you have the budget, personalize the bland white walls with neon colors. 


An upside of Armory Show’s overwhelming scale is global representation

Even though it’s not categorized by country, you come to see general tendencies - the crisp Italian Minimalism and the esoteric Germans. Especially valuable is the representation of cities in Latin America and the Middle East that the average American would otherwise never have the chance to personally visit. 


Speaking of representation - like Independent, Armory strives to put a curatorial touch by installing three sub-sections: Focus, Presents, and Perspectives. To be honest, three of the most generic descriptors you will find on any art venue. Like..it could mean anything.


But actually looking at what’s included in these sections, Presents, does feature galleries no more than ten years old. It’s here that we ran into artist Jon Key who we’ve been following through social media for a while. Fitting for the spirit of the Presents section, Jon works at the intersection of southern, black, and queer identity, conjured on cavnas sthrough patterns. 


Coming right after Independent, Armory definitely carried more pop and political art. If independent's selection was a meditation on issues within art history and aesthetics (like the human body or design/fine art boundary that we introduced in the previous post), some of Armory's younger artists are more audacious in referencing what's happening in the larger world.

So what’s the lesson? 
  • If you have the stamina, the sheer quantity of works you see at art fairs will lend a pretty good view of what’s going on in the art world right now - commercial and academic. 
  • But who are we kidding? Art fairs are as much an event as a place to exhibit. With a larger crowd than in galleries, you will clearly see the cliques and circles of artists, curators, critics, and collectors. 
  • An exhibition for us, a store for people who can afford. While we were busy watching both artworks and people, it was hard to imagine that there were people actually buying them. Because there are no price tags on anything, nor are there rarely price lists. Even in this very public event, it seemed that talking of buying and selling was taboo for some reason.


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