’Tis the season: with Thursday’s public opening of the Armory Show, spring art fair season is now officially in bloom. A sunny, 50-something degree forecast offered hope to visitors longing for warmer weather (myself included). Even amid rampant fears of large crowds due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak (about which the fair issued an official statement), a busy preview day at New York’s premier spring fair signaled that all was mostly business as usual.
That being said, conversations about where to find hand sanitizer were common, and more cautious fair-goers opted to minimize skin-to-skin contact, awkwardly rubbing elbows and exchanging air kisses from a further distance than usual.
Strolling through rows of densely packed booths revealed a range of artistic approaches, from delicately woven textile works to figurative paintings in fluorescent palettes, to large-scale sculptures — some with more merits than others. Solo presentations focused on women artists, such as Garth Greenan’s presentation of Alexis Smith, were especially strong this year (likely due to competition for the new AWARE prize, for which Smith was shortlisted but was ultimately awarded to June Edmonds).
At the Fridman booth in the Presents section, the painterly lines of Wura-Natasha Ogunji’s sewn and inky multi-panel work “Unfinished” (2020), beckoned me closer to its enchanting tangles of indigo thread. Similar in palette and even larger in scale, Abdul Abdullah’s multi-panel tableau “Custodians” (2020) took up the entirety of the Yavuz Gallery booth. The Australian artist’s succession of writhing, dramatic figures recalls a classical processional frieze and enacts an astute critique of environmental recklessness at a time when Australia continues to be devastated by wildfires.
In the main section, Ronald Feldman’s pairing of Hannah Wilke and Cassils’s works offered a cheeky rebuttal to the recent wave of legislation aimed at writing trans people out of existence by defining one’s gender as synonymous with the biological sex assigned at birth.
Meanwhile, in the Focus section at Pier 90 — which, for the first time, was entirely dedicated to curated projects — curator Jamillah James presents a selection of works loosely united by investigations of truth, reality, and history. Highlights include Lavar Munroe’s phantasmic, multilayered canvases, from the artist’s Redbones series, on view in Jack Bell’s booth (and also in the Jenkins Johnson booth at Pier 94). Composed of layers of cut canvas, Munroe’s surreal, brightly hued paintings draw on his interests in anthropology and critiques of mythology and hero narratives.
But this new section is not the only change Armory has welcomed this season. Just yesterday, the fair announced a major transformation: its 2021 edition will take place in the fall season, with a new home at the Javits Center.
Also captivating are the collage-based works of Andrea Chung, on view in Klowden Mann’s booth, which layer archival images of Caribbean people with ink, beads, and brightly colored foliage made from cloth. A number of Chung’s cutout works, which position ominous voids amid archival images of laborers, are also on view, deepening the impact of her research-based practice which typically considers labor, material, post-coloniality, and the body in relation to the Caribbean.
Moving through the space for hours on end offered a welcome — if at times overwhelming — distraction from the day’s apocalyptic coronavirus headlines. Nevertheless, when I finally sat down to enjoy a snack, I reached for some hand sanitizer.
The Armory Show continues through March 8 at Piers 90 and 94 (711 12th Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan).
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