The biggest annual event in the New York art world, Armory Week, surpassed critical mass long ago. This year, with over a dozen major fairs and countless more satellite events (Artsy, an Armory partner, has put together a guide of more than 200 exhibitions open during the festivities), the line between fair-related activities and the more general New York art scene has all but disappeared. Compiling a single assessment of Armory Week in toto—or even just the fairs—would be an impossible task.
Still, no dive into Armory Week would be complete without a visit to its namesake. International artists from all corners had some of the most engaging work at the Armory Show, once again at Piers 92 and 94. Tightrope Trios, by Ethiopian artist Elias Sime, was one of the of the fair’s standout works. Assembling reclaimed electronic components into a massive triptych (almost 6’x12’), the resulting abstraction mixes the muddy greens, blues, and mustards of circuit boards with bright patterns woven from repurposed wire. At the work’s heart, densely packed resistors and capacitors suggest a city center.
Israeli artist Sigalit Landau plays with the readymade, submerging everyday objects in the Dead Sea until they've been encased in a thick layer of salt. Her salinated ropes and shoes remind viewers of the sometimes corrosive relations between Israel and Jordan, the two nations bordering the sea, while her photos documenting objects’ transformations offer quiet meditations on the passage of time. The canvases of Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff combine shaped patches of cloth—mostly beige and grey, with an occasional scrap of color—with graceful brass cutouts. Sprinkling geometric abstraction with a ’70s vibe, the works feel so light you expect them to float away. Swinging in the opposite direction, Turin-born Davide Balliano’s black and white paintings pare the medium down to its essentials. Fans of his sculpture are sure to enjoy these works as well.
On the next pier down from Armory, Volta remains one of the week’s most exciting fairs thanks to its focus on solo artist projects. Brooklyn’s Slag Gallery is showing the fantastic work of Tim Kent. I’ve written about him in the past, and his paintings continue to blend somewhat surreal architecture and landscapes with broody abstraction. His pieces simmer with an uneasiness bordering on dystopianism and are a must-see. Echoes of his work are present in Jessica Peters’ canvases at Galerie Simon Blais. Beginning with large-scale photographs of neglected buildings outside of Montreal, Peters then layers acrylic geometries across the image, riffing on elements from the structures. The resulting multilayer compositions experiment with light and perspective in mind-bending ways. Hugh Hayden’s work at Postmasters also smartly plays with layers, but his choice of media is plaster and cloth—American Apparel clothing to be exact. In his Fossil Fashion series, Hayden layers the plaster with garments ranging from toddler-sized to XXL, then cuts away at the resultant forms. The very human shapes are unsettlingly readable, calling to mind the rings of a tree or the coronal planes used in neurological studies.
Returning for its fifth installment this year with the theme of “xx CopyPaste xx,” Spring/Break Art Show is the best bang for your art-fair buck. Truly diverse, it combines work from over 800 (mostly young) artists with lots of site-specific installations and plenty of performances, all housed in the week’s most unique venue—the Skylight at Moynihan Station. Many of this year’s spaces were transportive: stepping into Genevive Gainard’s Apt #3104 felt like visiting a relative’s home when you were young, down to the wood-paneled walls and the Michael Jackson soundtrack (“Off the Wall,” on vinyl, of course). David B. Smith has filled a room with his organic, amoeba-ish pillows, made by printing digital images onto fabrics, then sewing and stuffing them to create these varied and plush sculptures. Their muted colors, funky patterns, and oh-so textural nature make them irresistible to squeeze.
At its second venue, Postmasters is presenting work of Greg Allen that tackles ideas of affordability, appropriation, and divisibility in contemporary art. Allen has created copies of Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire and Andreas Gursky’s photos that will be carved up and sold by the foot. Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos’s Fifteen Pairs of Mouths is especially striking—and apt considering the digital theme of this year’s fair. These plaster casts of hands using cell phones with that important device conspicuously absent call to mind traditional forms of manual communication like ASL while raising questions about the ways that technology has both facilitated and impeded communication.
Downtown, Independent is more bite-sized compared to the other fairs but if you’re interested in sculpture and happen to find yourself near Varick Street it’s worth a look. Paula Cooper is showing Liz Glynn’s Tehnological Toolbox Series. Each shallow wall-hung box, painted in a bright color, contains an evolutionary history of tools arranged around various themes. For example, in To Pound, a simple rock gains a handle, a more precise head, and finally a claw. The white tools are first sculpted in papier mâché and clay, then scanned and 3D printed, and come with the digital files used to create them, a contemporary archaeology that prepares primitivity for the future. Jean-Marie Appriou’s aluminum and glass sculptures presented by Clearing are filled with whimsy—especially his Apiarist, who carries a trio of sunflowers and wears a yellow glass hat with chicken wire mesh protecting his face. The ceramic busts by Jennie Jieun Lee at Martos Gallery were created using molds made from mannequin heads. Lee’s many faces are manipulated by pulling and tearing the material, and decked out in colorful glazes. The result is a collection of craniums whose variations delight.
With so much art on display across New York, the quality of work will inevitably be mixed. Still, if these four shows are any indication, visitors will find something to like no matter how many—or few—fairs they get to visit.