People, champagne, sad fashion, loud designer logos—fairly cheap-looking for such an expensive affair at the VIP days. This weekend marks the NYC end-of-summer art fair extravaganza, with the Armory Show at Javits Center and Art on Paper at Pier 36, and it’s more meh than wow.
Art on Paper is thankfully more subdued in concept and ambition than the Armory. Human-sized, the fair invites a casual stroll compared with the Armory’s mammoth format and an intimidating scope that seeks to grapple with an elusive “now.” By casting such a wide net, who is even the audience of such “catch-all” fairs?
I can’t believe we still have gimmicky banana-derived art, and yet the fruit is semiotically alive at the Armory. Yawn. At least Monica Bonvinci’s appropriately-named Small Pendant (2021) puts a penis on display. In fairs that are so obviously designed to see and be seen, the sheer abuse of mirror-based art for the social media-crazed narcissists shouldn’t come as a complete surprise—it’s part of the overhype and vain communion during such consumerist feasts.
I confess, I took a few selfies by French gallery Templon’s Iván Navarro’s Polka (2022), a multidimensional neon light mirror, a chamber in which the gaze becomes the apt projection of an infinite scroll of doom. Other mirrors paired with neon slogans shout vacuous, dystopian messages such as Jeppe Hein’s Everything Can Change (2021, 303 Gallery) or Brigitte Kowanz’s “united in diversity” (2018, Galerie Krinzinger) when, in fact, we’re still in the same loop of disunity, despair, and growing inequalities.
Self-taught Philadelphia artist Timothy Curtis applies playful drawings to illustrate the woes of mental (ill)health in Feelings #5 (2022), developed from an earlier sense of haziness in his “inkblot” series (2021) of Rorschachesque dimensions. In such disorientation, we find comfort in the absurdly cynical large-scale map of Grayson Perry (The American Dream, 2020, at Paragon) and the decolonial atlases of Malagasy artist Malala Andrialavidrazana at Afronova that deconstruct fetishized “antipodes.” With the mystical mandalas of Karla Knight at Andrew Endlin gallery, we approach the mysteries of a world-language and an welcomed elevation, such as in Little Wheel I (2022). There’s a way in and out.
Moments of suspended grace permeate in close-up artworks of elements, such as sea sparkles (Melissa McGill, These Waters, 2022 at Mazzoleni), leaves (Alejandra Fenochio, “Esteros Del Iberá” series, 2000-2004, at Nora Fisch), and thunder (Kapwani Kiwanga, Ground, 2012, Galerie Poggi). Amid the noise, they urge us to stop, observe, feel.
Still at the Armory Show, Donald Ellis Gallery and Indigenous-owned, Buffalo-based K Art Gallery showcase Native American and First Nations pride in carefully curated collage, inkjet print, and LED artworks. For instance, Lakota artist Dana Claxton documents traditions and modernity in masculine portraits against a viridian green cinematic background that embody an aesthetic scenography of remembrance and celebration. Edgar Heap of Birds’s graphic names of indigenous nations inscribe a notion of inerasable survival and defiance in Native Nations Sovereign (2019); we stand in front of them with sorrow as much as a rage for justice and true reparations. Conversely, Henry Payer’s mixed media and collages depicting scenes of invasive capitalism communicate a sense of precariousness and insecurity in indigenous communities.
Overall, the Armory Show paradoxically delivered in what it lacked: intimate disruptions, sculptures, and textiles.
Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo’s small and large-format What It Is, What It Has Been (2020) engages with public monuments and their multilayered historicity. The artwork shows the amorphous face of politician and independent hero José Martí by sculptor Juan José Sicre – diluted in over-exaggerated 365 strokes of symbolic, shifting time.
The haunting ceramic figurines of Tijuana-born Hugo Crosthwaite’s Caravan (2022) at Pierogi re-center migratory routes and the flesh of asylum-seekers in physicality and empathy, while the disembodied trunk of the rope-like silhouette of Prune Nourry’s Atys 3 (2022) converse with the spirituality-infused floating resin limbs of Maïmouna Guerresi (The expulsion from heaven, 2022) and the painful health journey of Zohra Opoku inspired by Ancient Egyptian mythology (I have my mouth to speak, my legs to proceed, my arms to make my enemies fall. The two entrances in the earth are opened for me. Geb the prince of the gods, has opened his jaws for me (and) my eyes which were blocked; he stretches out my legs which were crooked. Anubis strengthens my thighs. I am raised up indeed (and) Sakhmet the goddess who exists in the sky stretches me out…, 2022) at the ever-promising Mariane Ibrahim gallery.
Personal histories are weaved into rich textiles in Palestinian-American Jordan Nassar’s hand embroidered cotton on cotton En route vers le desert (2022) in which he embraces the interconnection of place and time in relation with identity and heritage. Meanwhile at Guatemala-based gallery Proyectos Ultravioleta, Chilean artist Johanna Unzueta’s mesmerizing abstract and geometric weaving motifs presented in precious encased displays recall Hilma af Klimt’s best esoterical artworks.
In a similar vein, Art on Paper inspires when galleries show artists transcending their medium to redefine the porous and seductively ambiguous borders of paper. Like Gabriel de la Mora’s sumptuous and hybrid painting-sculpture 8,684 (2022) at the Armory, the multidimensionality of Yong Rae Kwon’s stainless steel on canvas Ficus Benjamina – Light (2020) diffuses the intensity of prismatic flames. The optical illusions of Soeontae Hwang’s sensitively etched sunny rooms, its domestic atmosphere of glowing sunshine, and Kenta Takahashi’s metallic “Save the City” series (2022) at Seizan Gallery demonstrate the potential of paper—as a texture and idea—to radically alter our reality.
Amid these pointillist high notes, very few booths stood out in and of themselves, but here are a few highlights (subjective, as goes without saying).
At the Armory, don’t miss +2 gallery and the combined works of Andisheh Avini and Iman Raad who explore and subvert traditional elements of Iranian culture such as poetry, natural heritage sites, and other national symbols.
At the Armory still, Berlin-based PSM gallery presents personal memories as a cultural awakening in the juxtaposed works of Nadira Husain and Markues. They both inhabit political spaces, with Nadira Husain reclaiming a visual and textured practice anchored in repetition, symmetry, and natural pigments, while the elfish Markeus engages with fluidity and the versatile notion of home and uprootedness in soft textures that denounce the lies of the “blood and soil” ideology.
At Art on Paper, Julia Seabrook Gallery understood the assignment, crushed it, and tore it apart. The conceptual booth is a maze dedicated to Black girl joy. Entering through a door that reads “enter here if you think art should look nice,” we step into a reconstituted home and shrine. We follow directions to a confessional, a room where one can read India Summers’ #BARS poetry collection quietly on a film director’s chair, before diving into the chaotic stream of superimposed text messages in Amelia Ford’s Local Man Discovers Love (2022). A boy thinks it’s a good idea to confuse love for what it’s not–what could go wrong?
In otherwise stiff codes of art fairs, Julia Seabrook gallery brings a truly refreshing interpretation of what it means to create and be art. It’s all not lost, even in its most constrained incarnations. Phew.