Art

The 2015 Armory Show in 23 Superlatives

The Pommery Champagne Bar at the 2015 Armory Show (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
The Pommery Champagne Bar at the 2015 Armory Show (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The 2015 Armory Show delivers pretty much what you’d expect of the 2015 Armory Show: some quite good art, some pretty bad art, and a lot of completely harmless stuff in between. The long-running fair feels, for better or for worse, quite set in its ways, and its ways are those of the traditional art fair; no secret bars or booths-turned-totally-wacky-installations here.

There can be a certain charm in that — or, if not quite “charm,” a certain amusement, predicated on accepting the fair for what it is and letting it entertain and wash over you. In that spirit, I decided it might be nice to hand out accolades this year, to salute the galleries and artworks that — for better or for worse, among the hundreds of others (in the Contemporary section; I did not visit Modern) — moved me to stop and take their pictures. Here they are.

Most Bookish Booth: mfc-michèle didier

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Installation view of mfc-michèle didier booth, with Allen Ruppersberg’s “The Novel That Writes Itself” in foreground and On Kawara’s “Trilogy” in back
Muntadas, "On Translation: The Bookstore" (2001) (click to enlarge)
Muntadas, “On Translation: The Bookstore” (2001) (click to enlarge)

Given that mfc-michèle didier is a publisher, it’s not entirely surprising that the booth focuses on printed objects like books. Still, it was a good booth. In addition to Allen Ruppersberg’s binder book The Novel That Writes Itself (which collectors could buy their way into for the right price), the booth has a wall of imposing tomes by On Kawara, comprising a documentation trilogy of the artist’s daily conceptual exercises: I GOT UP, I WENT, I MET. In sharp relief to these precious objects is a funny photo series by the artist Muntadas, which documents the interchangeable nature of some of our beloved bookstores.

Best Booth to Linger In: Gallery Espace

Work from Manjunath Kamath’s ‘Miniature’ series (2014), gouache and acrylic on paper, 5 x 7 in each, at Gallery Espace (click to enlarge)
Work from Manjunath Kamath’s ‘Miniature’ series (2014), gouache and acrylic on paper, 5 x 7 in each, at Gallery Espace
Chitra Ganesh, 'Cat Women' series (2013), mixed-media collage on handmade paper, 12 x 12 in each (click to enlarge)
Chitra Ganesh, ‘Cat Women’ series (2013), mixed-media collage on handmade paper, 12 x 12 in each (click to enlarge)

Gallery Espace has, I think, put together one of the best booths at the Armory Show. It could be easily missed, because there’s nothing very flashy in it, but if you visit, you’ll be rewarded. Quirky, imaginative collages from Chitra Ganesh’s Cat Women series (2013) hold court in one corner, resonating with nearby Ritual Drawings by Manjunath Kamath — who also has a series of Miniature paintings (2014) on view around the corner. The artists share a playful surreality grounded in traditional figuration, and their work in small series connects them to Zarina Hasmi’s eye-catching black-and-gold collages that dominate the back wall.

Best Art-Fair Art: Zipora Fried at On Stellar Rays

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Work by Zipora Fried in the booth of On Stellar Rays

On Stellar Rays is exhibiting in the Armory Presents section of the fair, which features solo or duo displays by galleries less than 10 years old. Artist Zipora Fried gets the whole booth, but this work is really all you can see. Nothing says “art fair” like a gold-tinted mirror propped up by a shitload of baseball bats.

Best Art Object Likely to Be Mistaken for Trash: Gavin Turk at Ben Brown Fine Arts

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Gavin Turk, “American Bag” (2015), painted bronze, 70 x 83 x 83 cm

… Because, you know, it’s a lifelike trash bag! This one had all the eyebrows raising and the smartphones shooting today. Good thing it’s probably too heavy for security to accidentally throw out.

Best Ass and Air-Conditioning Combination: Andrew Kreps Gallery

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View of Andrew Kreps Gallery’s booth

The painting is Robert Overby’s “Summer Fram” (1977–86). The air-conditioning unit I couldn’t find wall text for. Is it art? Your guess is as good as mine.

Best Recycling Project: Bade Stageberg Cox, Street Seats

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Bade Stageberg Cox, Street Seats (2012–2015)

This is the fourth year that the Armory Show has asked Brooklyn architects Bade Stageberg Cox to design the fair. One of their standout projects — not new this year, but still great — is Street Seats, for which the firm salvaged pieces of furniture from the the sidewalks of New York City, repaired them, and painted them taxicab yellow. The chairs and tables would be cute regardless of their origin, but their recycled nature and connection to the city make them excellent design.

Best Oversize Christmas Ornament: Berta Fischer at James Fuentes

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Berta Fischer, “toylim” (2014), Plexiglass, 210 x 240 x 260 cm

I couldn’t quite figure this thing out. I’m going with Christmas ornament because it’s colorful and hanging, although you’d certainly need a big tree. Barring that, maybe it’s hospital art? It does resemble a tangle of in-patient wristbands blown up and gone haywire.

Best Art That Looks Textured but Isn’t (Got Ya!): Amir Nikravan at Various Small Fires

Work by Amir Nikravan at Various Small Fires
Work by Amir Nikravan at Various Small Fires

These paintings by Amir Nikravan seem to be one of two things: either tantalizingly textured paintings or extremely well-Photoshopped prints. They are neither! In fact, Nikravan has a very elaborate process that involves using objects to create a pattern on a wood panel, then stretching fabric over it, then vacuum sealing the whole thing, then spray-painting the fabric, then removing it and mounting it on aluminum. Photoshop is so 2004.

Most Underwhelming: Michael E. Smith & Franz Erhard Walther at KOW

Work by Franz Erhard Walther and Michael E. Smith at KOW
Work by Franz Erhard Walther and Michael E. Smith at KOW

There is a place for both of these men in art, but that place is not here, together, comprising a booth so dull it makes your heart hurt.

Best Amalgamation of Things You’d Find in Your Home: Rachael Champion at Hales Gallery

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Rachael Champion, “Mountain Flattening Initiative” (2014), mixed media, glass mosaic tiles, plaster, grasses

Champion injects new life into a category of art I thought had been laid to rest in 2009.

Best Art Befitting Its Gallery’s Name: Nick van Woert at OHWOW

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Work by Nick van Woert at OHWOW

How do all those rocks stay balanced? How does this thing not topple over? Wait, wait, it’s made of copper? Oh wow!

Best Art That Is Also a Functioning Slot Machine: Andrew Ohanesian at Pierogi Gallery

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Andrew Ohanesian, “Slots” (2015), mixed media, approx. 54 x 21 x 70 in

Those who can’t buy, gamble.

Most Photogenic Art with No Discernible Meaning: Glenn Kaino at Honor Fraser

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Glenn Kaino, “A Shout Within a Storm” at Honor Fraser

According to the explanatory materials on offer at Honor Fraser, “the form [of Glenn Kaino’s ‘A Shout Within a Storm’] appears to change relative to our experience of the position of the viewer, suggesting a set of contingencies that reflects our experience of the world.” I really couldn’t tell you what that means, but this thing sure is fun to photograph. See?

Glenn Kaino, "A Shout Within a Storm"
Glenn Kaino, “A Shout Within a Storm”

Best Lumpy Ceramics: Benedetto Pietromarchi at Josh Lilley Gallery

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Benedetto Pietromarchi, “Pandora’s Flower V” (2014), ceramic, 64 x 34 x 32 cm

Surprisingly, I didn’t see any other lumpy ceramics on view at the fair, so this may be an unfair contest. But I do enjoy these pieces by Benedetto Pietromarchi; they strike just the right balance between beautiful and weird.

Best Immersive, Color-Coordinated Booth: Michael Müller at Aanant & Zoo/Galerie Thomas Schulte

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Aanant & Zoo and Galerie Thomas Schulte’s shared Michael Müller booth

I didn’t honestly have enough time to spend in this booth, reading all the text and taking everything in. But a short walk through suggests that it’s worth spending time with. The booth feels like a rarity at an art fair: a complete presentation that foregrounds the artist’s vision.

Best Thing Sewn Together from Other Things: Aiko Hachisuka at Eleven Rivington

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Work by Aiko Hachisuka at Eleven Rivington

The only thing wrong with this is that you’re not allowed to sit on it.

Best Selfie Bait: Jeppe Hein at Johann König

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Jeppe Hein, “You Are Special” (2014), powder coated aluminum, neon tubes, two-way mirror, powder coated steel, transformers, 100 x 100 x 100 cm

I’m not sure what reason this could possibly have for existing besides selfies. Editions for every night-club bathroom in Chelsea!

Best Donald Judd Remake for the 21st Century: Ryan Gander at Johnen Galerie

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Ryan Gander, “I am Broken” (2011), Bearbeitete Ikea Regale, Efeu – modified Ikea shelves, ivy, c. 300 x 26 x 26 cm

Because Ikea shelves are the building material of the 21st century, and if their assembly is DIY anyway, why not stack them? The plant is an especially nice touch — a domestic rejoinder to the austere machismo of Minimalism.

Highest Art: Jessica Stockholder at Kavi Gupta Gallery

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Jessica Stockholder’s “Celestial Season” peeking out over the top of Kavi Gupta Gallery’s booth

There are most certainly fewer women than men represented at the Armory Show, but at least the women who are there will not allow themselves to be limited by silly things like booth walls. From afar, this nifty sculpture by Jessica Stockholder seems to climb over Kavi Gupta‘s wall; close up, it dangles madly. I appreciated that it was literally the highest art I could find.

Jessica Stockholder, "Celestial Season" (2015), plastic baskets, wire ties, chain, lights, driveway mirrors, paint, 96 x 70 x 70 in
Jessica Stockholder, “Celestial Season” (2015), plastic baskets, wire ties, chain, lights, driveway mirrors, paint, 96 x 70 x 70 in

Most Striking Photographic Portraits: Valérie Belin at Galerie Nathalie Obadia

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Valérie Belin, Untitled (Métisses) (2006), pigment print, 130 x 105 cm

There are a lot of photographic portraits at this year’s Armory, many of them excellent: a booth devoted to George Dureau, gorgeous pictures by Zanele Muholi. But these two by Valérie Belin at Galerie Nathalie Obadia — which so unsettlingly toe the line between artifice and reality — stayed with me.

Best Thing Masquerading as Art: Gilles Barbier at Galerie Vallois

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Gilles Barbier, “A very old Thing” (2015), mixed media, 70 7/8 x 70 7/8 x 45 1/4 in

It’s certainly some kind of sculptural super-someThing.

Best Kehinde Wiley: Kehinde Wiley at Galerie Daniel Templon

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Kehinde Wiley, “Frantz Fanon, After Memling’s Portrait of a Man with a Letter” (2013), oil on wood panel, frame designed by the artist

With an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and his work on offer in at least three booths at the Armory Show, Kehinde Wiley is the man of the moment. I often feel like, once you’ve seen several Kehinde Wileys, you’ve seen them all, but this piece feels a lot richer and more thoughtful than his mega-portraits.

Biggest Abstract Painting: Secundino Hernández at Galerie Forsblom

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Secundino Hernández, “Untitled” (2015), acrylic, alcyd, and oil on canvas, 122 x 189 in

When you can’t paint better, paint bigger.

The 2015 Armory Show continues at Piers 92 and 94 (West 54th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan) through March 8.

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