The Armory Show 2014

The Armory Show opened in New York on Wednesday, bringing together 205 exhibitors from 29 countries on a pair of piers on the Hudson River. David Everitt Howe and Brienne Walsh give us some woozy first impressions of the show, which they saw while suffering horrible hangovers from the previous night’s drinks with their ArtReview colleagues from London

ArtReview's smiling US correspondents David Everitt Howe and Brienne Walsh at the Armory, New York, 2014

DEH: I don’t know if it was because I was still drunk – was the floor sloping a little? – but I actually liked some of the stuff at the Armory, which is a miracle because I’m predisposed to hating everything at an art fair. It’s easy to complain about fairs; it’s true that there’s just too much work cramped into ugly spaces, but there were some exceptions:

1. Almine Rech’s booth was impressive, even if the directors were clichés of surly unhelpfulness. Is it because they are German? Are they made of sadness? They would be unmoved if Mother Theresa asked them for a checklist. Because they couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t care to give me one means I don’t have any details to offer about Mark Hagan’s work, except to say that his abstract, quilt-like patterned paintings are really exquisite.

2. Despite the plethora of works in Presenhuber’s booth, there were some great pieces, including an installation of what looked like pinecones arranged tidily to form a triangle, and a small Ugo Rondinone candle sitting surreptitiously on the floor. I like these kind of slight, unassuming gestures, though even the bigger statements worked well. There was a beautiful installation of Douglas Gordon’s mirrored c-prints, which break down a man’s body into its constituent parts.

3. What was going on at White Space Shanghai? Was there a gay rave from the 1990s that I didn’t know about? That’s what it looked like—with the booth’s huge painting of skinny, mostly Asian twinks dressed in Calvin Kleins, hugging each other..I took a picture with it, of course.

BW: My level of apathy for art fairs ranks somewhere around my level of apathy for the beginning of Lent. It’s easy to find bitchy things to say about the Armory, but I managed to come up with a few nice things, since you’re making me.

1. When we first walked into the ‘Amory Focus’ section of the fair, which features contemporary art being made in China, DEH asked, “Why are there so many Asians here?” Part of the confusion stems from the section being poorly marked. But part also comes from the fact that most contemporary Chinese art looks like, well, contemporary art. That it’s being made and sold in China appears trivial, enough so that the Focus section blends in with the rest of the booths at the Armory rather seamlessly.

2. The booths in the ‘Armory Presents’ section of the fair, which features galleries open for 10 years or less, were noticeably smaller. These are no doubt the poorer relations to the more established galleries. Most offerings were characteristically uninspired, the work looking like it belonged to a grad school critique than to a professional sales floor. But I did like what Athr Gallery, based in Jeddah, had to offer. It featured works by Ahmed Mater, a Saudi Arabian artist who captures in videos and photographs the rapidly changing landscape of Mecca, which is being transformed into religious Disneyland for devout Arabs. Urban redevelopment is always fraught, and let’s face it, Arab dudes are sexy.

3. There was an air of resignation on the piers. Yes, everyone seems to hate art fairs. Yes, it’s a terrible way to see art. But perhaps it has become boring to drone on about these things. Galleries seem less self conscious about doing their thing. Purchased works were quickly taken off of walls and replaced with available ones. There wasn’t a lot of messing about with digital mediums, educational programming, or creative curatorial themes. The booths, as one would expect, were filled with paintings, photographs, and sculptures that could be taken off the partitions thrown into the back of a chauffeured SUV. I confess: I liked that. There’s a dignity to making your intentions transparent, even if those intentions are – quelle horreur! – cash driven.

6 March 2014