What are you looking for when you go to an art fair? If you are not a serious collector but love art and buy a little, your goal is probably to get suprised by a stunning art piece, or to discover an interesting emerging artist (considering by default that you’ve already seen a lot of art pieces by the well established modern monsters such as Roy Lichtenstein, Jean Dubuffet, Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, and other big names). If by any chance, in the past you’ve never browsed the Modern Art exhibitions, start your Armory adventure at Pier 92 where you can find museum quality artworks by renowned masters of the modern and contemporary art eras.
If you are a ‘type 1’ person – looking for the newest in the art world, then go straight to Pier 94, a gallery for the Contemporary Art. It’s still very easy to get lost or dizzy at any art fair, because any art fair presents many – many! – artworks. If you don’t have a plan how to navigate The Armory Show, start with the Armory Focus section: each year, the Focus project is devoted to a particular theme. The African Perspective is the topic for 2016.
When you think ‘African art’, you are probably imagining a lot of color, craftsmanship, striking patterns. Correct. It’s all there, plus the historical context and the bitterness of some socially important discussions, such as still questionable equality and a true appreciation of diversity.
“The art world hates black people. It hates them as cultural producers, as subjects of art, and seems to only willingly engage with them as objects of consumption,” – writes Lwandile Fikene, an essayist, art critic, and award winning art journalist.
At the current Armory Focus, Ed Young (Cape Town) shows his provocative text based artwork: “All So Fucking African” (the artwork is hung right at the Pier 94 entrance, so you won’t miss it). Young’s other pieces are “Not Me It’s You”, “Black Pussy” (not shown at the fair), “Black in Five Minutes”. On the first day of the fair, the artist was handing out the black balloons with the words “Your Mom” on them.
Great booth by Echo Art featuring artist Namsa Leuba. Half Guinean, half Swiss, Namsa examines the representation of African identity through the Western imagination. Leuba’s photographic series was produced in South Africa during the artist residency in 2014. Working with the communities of the Khoisan, Zulu and Lesotho ethnic groups, Namsa Leuba creates staged photographs which blend the characters, landscapes, and traditions of the local environment.
Cyrus Kabiru (Kenia, currently on the artist residency in Barcelona) observes and explores diverse urban spaces. Kabiru’s art pieces resembling masks are both the artefacts and brands. They carry a symbolic value: the famous brand packagings are shorthand signifiers of the class aspirations of the yesteryear’s petit bourgeoisie, they are turned to the face ornaments or protective talismans.
The Modern Pavilion (Pier 92) became more contemporary this year, with an installation piece by Jonathan Schipper. “Slow Motion Car Crash” is a real Volkswagen car attached to a hydraulic mechanism and being slowly by steadily mashed into a wall. The whole process will last for all five days of the fair. So the pictures seen on the first day will be completely different from what we’ll see on Sunday. With this installation, the artist intends to catch and realize the emotional moment of the crash: “It happens so damn fast, and you have so much adrenaline, that it’s hard to apprehend. So why not slow it down?”
Among many stunning art pieces, there was one show stopper – a kinetic installation by Shih Chieh Huang, “Disphotic Zone”. The multi-color lighted hanging octopus was sold on the very first day of the art fair to the buyer whose name was not revealed.
The Armory Show is open to the public on Piers 92 and 94 in New York City from March 3 to March 6, 2016.