Armory Show 2013's Focus section (All photos by author)

Armory Show 2013’s Focus section (All photos by author for Hyperallergic)

Every year, the Armory Show art fair chooses an area of the globe to zoom in on for its Focus section, a curated selection of mostly emerging galleries that often includes some of the fair’s chief highlights and surprises. For 2013, the Armory’s Focus section takes on its own home base, the United States. We all know the art world can be a little narcissistic, but at first this sounded ridiculous.

The Armory Fair is located in New York City, the chief hub of contemporary visual art in the country, if not the world. Visitors to the Armory are spoiled for choice when it comes to catching a glimpse of the American visual arts community, and locals are already overrun with opportunities to see American exhibitions in New York. An American section might be a great opportunity, then, to expose some other areas of the country to the Armory’s international crew of collectors and give attention to the United States art world’s fringe cities, but the section fails to accomplish that.

Out of a list of 17 galleries in the Armory Focus: USA section, fully seven are from New York City alone, with the rest sprinkled through Washington, DC, San Francisco, Boston, and other cities. Starting out with such a selection bias, it would be hard to get any generalized (or even surprising, to New York audiences) view of the nation’s visual arts culture. Many of the highlighted galleries came out with guns blazing in great booths, but in the context of its curatorial aims, it fell flat.

Gagosian's booth in the Focus section

Gagosian’s Warhol booth in the Focus section

Perhaps Shiner’s devotion to Warhol explains why Gagosian is given an enormous space at the outset of the Focus section. The mega-gallery is showing a booth covered in Andy Warhol screenprint wallpaper, hung with a sprawling camouflage painting that, according to Artsy, is not for sale, though other works, like a camouflage Warhol self-portrait, are. It’s an ostentatious display that is visually striking and fun, but it cheapens the section’s commitment to young talent, of which there is plenty.

If the Armory Show 2013’s Focus section represents America, then it’s a Gagosian America, where the one percent occupies a great deal more real estate than its name implies. The mega-gallery is a prominent presence in art fairs around the world, as is only to be expected, but one wonders if it’s altogether wise to devote so much space to the single biggest commercial gallery around in an area of the fair usually given to less commercial, more critical explorations of contemporary art.

Suzanne Geiss's Armory Show Focus booth with Assume Vivid Astro Focus

Suzanne Geiss’s Armory Show Focus booth with Assume Vivid Astro Focus

Suzanne Geiss’s brash full-booth installation by Assume Vivid Astro Focus was a feast for the eyes, with brightly hued wallpaper reminiscent of that pipe screensaver on old Windows computers providing the background for slick red, black, and white geometric-figurative paintings and light-up word sculpture that played on the collective’s name as well as the aesthetics of graffiti handstyle.

Artie Vierkant at Higher Pictures's Armory booth

Artie Vierkant at Higher Pictures’s Armory booth

Next door, the pioneering photography gallery Higher Pictures showed three of Artie Vierkant’s luminous, unstable image-objects, diaphanous abstractions that provide a hypnotizing visual component to the artist’s more conceptual, meta-critical web-based efforts. Director Kim Bourus seemed to be getting intense interest in the pieces even during the preview.

Duke Riley at Magnan Metz gallery's Armory booth

Duke Riley at Magnan Metz gallery’s Armory booth

Magnan Metz gallery picked up on the full-booth trend with a display of rough-hewn, folksy work by Duke Riley. A faux-naif depiction of a tree stump made entirely of cigarettes with different, dun-colored wrappers was immediately charming, as was Invisible Export’s display of paintings by Cary Leibowitz, scrawled with shaky, confessional handwriting. His “SAd” pie chart wouldn’t be out of place in a bedroom on the popular television series Girls.


Cary Leibowitz at Invisible Exports

Liz Magic Laser's promotional materials for Armory 2013 at Various Small Fires

Liz Magic Laser’s promotional materials for Armory 2013 at Various Small Fires

Los Angeles was represented by the recently opened gallery Various Small Fires, which filled its booth with work by Liz Magic Laser. Laser is the 2013 Armory Show’s commissioned artist; she created the brand identity and promotional materials for the fair. The result is a series of hilarious, straight-faced, blandly corporate objects that openly expose some of the fair’s inner workings, quoting price statistics for booths and disclosing the sheer volume of VIP passes on offer (almost 13,000, if you were wondering). On the exterior face of the gallery’s booth was a one-way mirror — you could see out, but not in. Ultimately, that subversive self-criticality, along with diversity, is what the Focus section could have used more of.

The Armory Show 2013 runs from March 7 to 10 at Piers 92 & 94 (12th Ave and 54th Street, West Side, Manhattan). 

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

7 replies on “The United States of Armory”

  1. CUBICLES ARE THE WORST WAY TO HOUSE ANYTHING. Are we this blinded by the pragmatism of art world commerce that we ignore obvious? Compartmentalized art is dead art.

    1. And good art in your closet is what? It would be awesome if everything was shown to best advantage in a top flight space, but sometimes you got to work with what you got.

      1. The perspective that any opportunity to sell work is a gift not to be inspected no matter how ass backwards is of the dis-empowered. If something is blatantly wrong in how works are displayed we should criticize it. The problem is not just the parameters of each cubicle but what is implied in the armory show. Many people go to see a cross section of contemporary art and it is presented as such, yet works have no real potential there. There is a quick pace to the viewing experience and a charged social atmosphere that is fed by the intermingling of classes and the presence of great wealth. This makes the immediate surface qualities of works stand out as they take a on a role similar to set pieces in an already fraught performance.

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