Last year the Armory Show weathered a crisis when Pier 92 over the Hudson River was condemned shortly before the art fair opened, precipitating a last-minute reshuffling of booths and the shutting down of a satellite display. This year, the fair has settled on Pier 90 and Pier 94 (dress for the outdoor walk between them) and the catastrophe is the coronavirus, which had already forced the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong last month. Though the Armory Show has opened smoothly, hand sanitizer stations are everywhere and elbow-bumping has replaced handshaking and air-kissing as the greeting du jour.
But what about the fair itself?
It’s a solid one — if on the safe side — with lots of painting rather than complicated installations or technology. Fairs are not merely commercial ventures. Sections here that have been organized by curators affiliated with prestigious museums (like Anne Ellegood and Jamillah James, both of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) demonstrate the increasingly porous divide between profit and nonprofit.
Given the election season and the state of the world, the Armory Show has a sizable amount of activist art. Will these artistic gestures have an effect on policy? Who knows. Like many counterintuitive aspects of our moment, maybe the next revolution will kick off inside an art fair. Here are some themes and strains (pun cautiously intended) that caught my attention.
Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson — at ACA (Booth 305, Pier 90) — uses her folksy collage-style aesthetic to detail a visit to New York. (The mural takes over one of the booth’s walls.) Summer Wheat (Platform 7, presented by Shulamit Nazarian on Pier 90) is showing “Sand Castles” (2020), a 16-foot-long painting filled with women inspired by different artistic traditions, including from ancient Egypt and Rome. Jana Vander Lee’s beautifully spare weavings at Inman Gallery from Houston (Booth 306, Pier 90) are from the 1970s and ’80s, and reflect the influence of geometric minimalism. Hanne Darboven’s frieze-like work on paper at Galerie Crone (Booth 516, Pier 94) from 1973 is also minimalist in appearance, but is based on information theory and early artificial intelligence.
Amir H. Fallah at Denny Dimin (Booth F1, Pier 90) presents dense, richly-hued paintings that refer to personal and racial histories. Georgina Gratrix at the South African gallery SMAC (Booth F32, Pier 90) works in a grotesque-expressionist vein reminiscent of Dana Schutz, while Eric Firestone (Booth 909, Pier 94) has a wonderful roundup of older contemporary paintings like Joe Overstreet’s “HooDoo Mandala” (1970), a canvas stretched like a tarp on the wall. Finally, the Viennese artist Philip Mueller at Carbon 12 (Booth P24, Pier 94) is showing 60 paintings of characters at a fictional Mediterranean island resort — wildly tattooed and occasionally defaced. A perfectly off-kilter and dystopian roundup of beautiful rogues and misfortunates, it successfully characterizes our own unsettled time, inside the bubble of an art fair.