What to See at the 2023 Armory Show

This is the best Armory Show our correspondent has been to since the pandemic.

I’ll say it. This is the best Armory Show I’ve been to since the pandemic, with fewer misses and more hits—especially the solid curation of sculptures and installations in the Platform section, including Shahzia Sikander’s NOW (2023), Chinese artist XU ZHEN ® with his colliding, gravity-defying Eternity – Standing Bodhisattva, Statue of Nike of Paionios (2017-2022), Hank William Thomas’ Strike (2021) and Barthélémy Toguo’s Urban Requiem (2015), created for the 2015 Venice Biennale curated by the late Okwui Enwezor. Frieze announced in July that they acquired both the Armory and Expo Chicago, and I hope the future of the fair stays on par with this year’s edition.

People at an art fair
Walking the floor of the Armory Show 2023. Vincent Tuello, Courtesy of The Armory

James Cohan is showing stunning wood panels from Fred Tomaselli and one of their Naudline Pierre paintings sold for $75,000 by the end of the VIP preview. ACA Galleries has women’s works in fiber on view by artists including Faith Ringgold and Aminah Robinson. Non-profit Wave Pool, based in Cincinnati, demonstrates the power of community-led artmaking that fosters cultural dialogue and tolerance. Indigenous artists are being given greater representation, and initial sales reports indicate that this aligns with demand, but is it a genuine attempt at correcting historical imbalances? We’ll have to wait and see.

Anne-Claudie Coric, Executive Director of Templon, told fair organizers that it felt like a pre-Covid art fair, “with a lot of interest from mostly American collectors in our international artists from Philippe Cognée to Chiharu Shiota.”

2023 Armory Show VIP Preview
Installation view of Cristea Roberts Gallery’s booth. Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

There’s a lot to explore from more than 220 galleries, but below are some of the booths you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

Booth 406: Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

For its first participation since the pandemic, Galerie Cécile Fakhoury presents several African artists from the continent and the diaspora interrogating form, representation and historical legacies with a price point ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. James Koko Bi’s Les soldats de la forêt (2021) shows fantastical creatures, half-human and half-bird, which evoke our entanglement with spiritual and natural worlds. Carl-Edouard Keita plays with geometric compositions to redefine modern portraiture and semi-abstraction, while Roméo Mivekannin deconstructs Black representation in Western art history through scenes devoted to reclaiming space against erasure.

SEE ALSO: Sales in Switzerland Indicate a Resilient Art Market

Booth P4: Micky Meng

Micky Meng’s transfixing booth is dedicated to the immersive world of California-based artist Cathy Lu. Entitled Peripheral Visions, the installation presents an allegorical garden irrigated by wall-mounted, tube-directed tears. Lu repurposes the Chinese tradition of spatial harmony, in which gardens often feature water elements for completeness. She transforms this aesthetical approach to balance into an altar honoring Asian American female identity and experience. Eye sculptures are molded after the artist herself, as well as famous Asian Americans such as Cathy Park Hong or Michelle Kwan. “Yellow tears” (tinted with onion dye) form at the corner of these totemic eyes, which trickle into buckets—other symbols of immigrant paraphernalia. Water pumps ensure that this fountain of tears constantly repeats this same cycle. Beyond fatalism, we see Lu’s willingness to process trauma and anti-Asian hate and aspire to healing through sorority and friendship.

Booth F17: Sapar Contemporary

Brus Rubio, ‘Danza de las tres Gracias (The Dance of the Three Graces)’, 2023, Oil on canvas. Courtesy Sapar Contemporary

Sapar Contemporary partners with the Shipibo Conibo Center to highlight the work of indigenous Peruvian artist Brus Rubio Churay. Rubio, from the Murui and Bora Peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, maintains his studio on the banks of the Ampiyacu river basin. His vivid paintings depict a world of kinship, interdependency and non-human life. That cosmovision is present in symbolism. Every plant or animal has a spiritual dimension. For instance, a hawk represents the ascent of knowledge. This world is in movement—in dance and music. We see this in Danza del escarabajo por el clan pellejo (Beetle Dance by the Sloth Clan), 2023, and El Venado Y La Guitarra (The Deer and the Guitar), 2023, which show animal figures partaking in rituals.

Rubio explains how his people relate to celebrations and ceremonies that are explored in his works. “The Bora people celebrate the festival of the chicha del pijuayo (palm tree), imitating the animals that feed on the plant as well as in honor of the first man who brought the stretcher from under the world of water bringing it to the surface,” he said. Rubio also plays with Western iconography, such as in Danza de las tres Gracias (The Dance of the Three Graces), 2023. Pigments take on new dimensions under his brush. “Indigenous artists are contemporary,” Matteo Norzi, executive director of the Shipibo Conibo Center, told Observer. The booth also has works by Mongolian artist Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu.

Booth S8: Charlie James Gallery

Installation of Charlie James Gallery’s booth. Courtesy Charlie James Gallery

Narsiso Martinez’s first New York City solo show honors the invisible laborers who feed the United States. Painted on used cardboard produce boxes, the smiling faces of these farmworkers welcome you. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Martinez came to the United States at age twenty. He worked on these farms to pay for college, and many of the figures we see are his former workmates. The two large-scale paintings, Essential Since 2013 and Essential Since 2004, show a man and a woman farmworker holding a box of produce. They exude warmth but also represent 21st-century labor and exploitation. A golden QR code illuminates the contours of their heads like a sacred halo—a nod to the QR code scans used to track their picking.

“Representing my community is important,” Martinez told Observer. Many of these workers are undocumented and unrecognized and Martinez knows them—he’s an insider and elevates their humanity in a way that recalls the Mexican Muralism movement and Socialist Realism art to raise historical and political consciousness. He links his use of figurative painting to his community strongly responding to the power of visual art. At the end of the VIP opening day, the booth sold out, with museum acquisitions and residency offers.

Subscribe to Observer’s Arts Newsletter

Booth 345: Southern Guild

Installation view of Southern Guild’s booth. Courtesy Southern Guild

Cape Town-based Southern Guild packed a punch for their debut participation at the Armory with a group show including Zizipho Poswa, Kamyar Bineshtarigh, Manyaku Mashilo and Oluseye. Bineshtarigh moved from Iran to South Africa at age fifteen. The artist is concerned with texture, the malleability of script and site. His works encompass several panels lifted off from his Cape Town studio walls and floors. He layers paint, glass, glue and other materials to this skin-like sheet and adds words and scribbles that act as visual mementos. Bineshtarigh engages with mark-making and archival presence, choosing to engage with how we signify inhabiting locations. This finds a resonance, as his studio, located in an aging industrialized area, is slated for demolition amid gentrification. Oluseye’s Eminado Series is also concerned with collecting and documenting. He presents so-called diasporic debris—items such as hair accessories—which he finds during transatlantic travels to negotiate incarnations of loss, exile, transmission and disjointness.

Booth 100: Victoria Miro

María Berrío, ‘Act I, Scene 5: Confessions of a Mask’, 2023, Collage with Japanese paper and watercolor paint on linen, 125.1 x 94.6 cm, 49 1/4 x 37 1/4 in. Courtesy Victoria Miro

Victoria Miro presents a solo show of Colombian-raised, Brooklyn-based artist María Berrío. Centered on portraiture and fictionalized selves, “A Feast for Ammit” explores the elusiveness of Eris, a character from a three-act play created by Berrío. Who is Eris, the masked woman? This question leads Echo, the protagonist, on a quest that is visually re-played in the paintings. Act I, Scene 5: Confessions of a Mask (2023) shows the seductive appeal of Eris while a resigned Echo leans against her lap gazing into the distance. Their body language gives power and strength to Eris. Berrío’s ingenious use of color and collages gives density, life and vibrancy to her ebullient storytelling—a thoughtful feature in such a fair. Nine of Berrío’s paintings had already sold by the end of the VIP preview day, bringing in sums ranging from $65,000 to $200,000.

The Armory Show at the Javits Center and some off-site locations is on through September 10.

What to See at the 2023 Armory Show