The Tenth Annual Armory Show
The International Fair of New Art
The Tenth Annual Armory Show, the International Fair of New Art, ran from March 27-30, 2008 in New York City. It brought together exhibitors from 21 countries and featured some of the latest work created by living artists. Out of more than 600 applicants, 160 galleries and nonprofit organizations were selected, and collectively they displayed over 2,000 artists’ works.
Overall, the Armory Show representation was a good, albeit a safe display of contemporary art. The art was often subtle, sometimes whimsical and mostly crowd-pleasing. There were very few works with political sentiment—one exception was Jenny Holzer’s pieces at Cheim & Read. Galleries may have brought out their best and most accessible art in response to current economic concerns.
At its inception, The Armory Show was based out of the Gramercy Park Hotel and took its name from that site. The Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair morphed into The Armory Show in 1999. The new name was influenced by the 1913 Armory Show, which brought European Modernist art to an American audience. That year, the 69th Regiment Armory played host to the exhibition as it did for the 1913 show. This year, like the last, the show was held at Pier 94. The decision to hold the show on one pier instead of two was again well received.
The 160 galleries (up from 150 in 2007) ranged from emerging to established and were displayed in random order. Over half of the galleries represented were European, with only 42 percent encompassing US galleries (two thirds of which were from New York City.) Fifteen galleries were first time exhibitors this year.
The Armory Show’s tenth anniversary was commemorated by commissioned prints from John Waters and Mary Heilmann, book signings and other events. This year The Armory Show’s sister fair, VOLTA NY, was introduced to the United States and ran simultaneously with the Armory. VOLTA was an invitational, curated show that exclusively featured solo projects in an attempt to bring focus back to artists. VOLTA was one of nine smaller fairs that have been established to run concurrently with the Armory in the past few years.
Loves of a Ballerina, by Eleanor Antin. Photo Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
Like the galleries included in VOLTA, several of the Armory exhibitors chose to devote their booths exclusively to one artist. TheFeldman Gallery had one of the most interesting and well presented exhibitions with a single artist showing of Eleanor Antin’s Loves of a Ballerina (pictured above), a filmic installation that included video, constructed sets and a mock theatre. Cheim & Read dedicated their space to four large-scale LED pieces regarding the “perpetual war” by Jenny Holzer. Some other examples included Paul Kasmin showing Annette Lemieux, Galerie Fons Welters with Jan De Cock, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, EIGEN + ART, and Tilton Gallery.
The exhibitors offered a good mixture of mediums in video, prints, photography, drawings and painting but not many large scale or installation works. Some exceptions were Katharina Fritsch’s Herz mit Geld, Ahren und Schlangen (Heart with Money, Wheat and Snakes) that encompassed a good portion of the floor at Matthew Marks. Pace Wildenstein dedicated a small area to a room with three of Michal Rovner’s combination sculptural and video work. Time from 2008 and Mathematics 3 from 2006 projected tiny repetitive images on stone in a very beautiful and subtle use of digital media. Jonathan Seliger’s enormous enamel on aluminum Hermès shopping bag had pride of place at Jack Shainman. At Arndt & Partner, Thomas Hirschhorn’s Tool Table consisted of mannequin arms holding assorted tools, as well as books by Nietzsche, Sartre and others. Sylvie Fleury sawed an old car in half and covered the entire surface in pink to create Skin Crime No. 6. At Bellwether, Daphne Fitzpatrick created a wood ramp that slopped from one side to the other where her giant shoe rested against the opposite wall.
Additional pieces throughout the show were worth taking note of. At Postmasters, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy presented Big Box (biosphere), a constructed rotating half orb of chain retailer’s suburban storefronts complete with sculpted vegetation. A tiny camera transmitted an enlarged image to the flat screen TV on the wall in front of the sculpture. One ironic and humorous piece by Karl Haendel entitled Hitler/Karl # 2 at Anna Helwing Gallery, compared Hitler to the artist in side by side observations: “warmonger – pacifist”, “wore jodhpurs – hipster” and so on. Ryan McGinness’s large scale painting Master of Reality at Deitch Projects was a superb piece from an up and coming artist. Greenberg Van Doren presented a few of Jessica Craig-Martin’s large-scale photographs offering her social commentary on the rich and not-always-so-glamorous.
The 2008 Armory Show was a success in the same way the Whitney Biennial is turning out to be. It may not receive rave reviews but it probably won’t receive condemnations. All works with the exception of those from the six nonprofits were for sale and many galleries seemed to be hesitant to display extremely controversial work. At a time when big art fairs are proliferating at warp speed, it might be worthwhile to remember why these fairs were conceived in the first place. They were incarnated in order to bring contemporary artists, dealers and critics from around the world under one roof for a brief period of time to observe each others work, engage in dialogue, and evoke continued creativity. The bubble may not have yet burst in the art market, but levels of shocking creativity and edginess have been replaced by a cool calculatedness on the part of many galleries. Thankfully, several dealers continue to display exceptional work and artists continue to take chances.