Armory Week 2016: A Pile of Great

All photographs by Paul D'Agostino.

I’ve no solid empirical evidence at all to substantiate a claim with which I’d like to open this sequence of images of, and a bit of commentary on, last week’s art fairs. While it did occur to me that prefacing a piece with an unsubstantiated observation—and perhaps a relatively useless one at that—could be slightly problematic, it also occurred to me that since it is unsubstantiated yet in favor of something non-negative, then maybe it wouldn’t really matter.

Also, I really do think it’s true.

Also, in light of how little attention even some potential ‘Leaders of the Free World’ are currently paying to anything along the lines of fact, tact or rationally formulated argumentation as they march along with great awkwardness in their quest for…

Never mind, making remarks about the primaries will tend toward the endlessly parodical if I keep it up—or the absolutely negative, which I very much intend to avoid here. We’re all inundated enough with that as it is.

And anyway, I have primarily (ha!) very good things to say.

And so, the unsubstantiated claim with like I’d like to open this piece is that the vast majority of arts enthusiasts participating in and milling about the fairs during Armory Week were refreshingly, even almost surprisingly keen on most all of what they’d seen, and upbeat in general about the fairs’ various, often far more argued—because generally always arguable—qualities and virtues. That’s a good thing! A nice thing! A commendable thing! A positive thing!

And a rather different thing!

Sure, I heard plenty of visitors say that certain fairs were “so much” better than others. And I heard from several dealers that sales this year were okay enough, though far short of spectacular. And yes, much like everyone else, I saw a bit of ‘art’ that basically kind of sucked—it slurped, that’ll work—or appeared pristinely destined to line the lonely corridors of so many hotels.

Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with that. The hotel thing. Because if it’s what the hoteliers want to buy, I guess someone should make it for them. And if they’re buying it, then there should be a gallery to sell it to them. Or something like that? Also, I truly love hotels even if I can’t afford to stay in them. I even worked in several hotels when I was less ancient. Great gigs, all.

But before indulging in descriptions of the variable joys of a certain someone’s ‘bellboy’ days of yore, I’ll get back to my unsubstantiated claim by way of making a few more.

Spring/Break Art Show almost invariably takes the Crowd Pleaser Award. I don’t reckon anyone would argue that any other fair was more fun overall—visually, spatially, socially and so forth. No, ‘most fun’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘full of the best art,’ but it does mean that the show’s dozens upon dozens of rooms at Skylight at Moynihan Station were very full of entertaining polyphonies of artworks culled together by a youngish, gregarious, boundlessly creative mix of artists and curators.

Given that, it’s almost axiomatic to note there were lots of Brooklyn-based folks there. There was also a lot of craziness, in general, or at least zaniness. And many curiously campy living-room-like installations—places where one could’ve just sat around all day, in other words, perhaps encouraged by the people there (the artists? the curators? are those beanbags?) who looked as though they’d been happily sitting around all day. In a way, it was one of Spring/Break’s probably unintended ‘themes’ this year (the intended theme was ‘Copy Paste’). Another kind of theme others might’ve noted: rooms that are basically driving your sensory inputs crazy, but that you just don’t feel like leaving yet, because you’re still trying to take a damn picture, or because ‘that person over there’ was in there when you entered and hasn’t yet gone into shock, or maybe that’s not a person?

Perhaps not a tidy theme, that one, but there were a number of rooms that felt much like that. And they were a blast. And a perfect counterpoint to all those lounges of implied lackadaisicalia.

Also of note: Primarily because of Spring/Break’s setting’s very real walls, hallways and occasionally disorienting internal doors, and also due to its broadly varied curatorial sequencing, the act of navigating the show actually felt a lot like perambulating a museum. Meanwhile, the act of viewing traditionally-so-called Museum Art at certain other fairs felt akin, as it usually does, to milling about in a well-decorated suite of office cubicles, or a particularly embellished airport. That’s nothing new, and it’s not inherently bad, and I also don’t quite care to address it much more, mainly because it’s one of ‘those conversations’ we all have about the fairs every year. Anyway, hell, I rather like airports.

I also rather liked, in fact quite a lot, a couple of the other fairs where I spent significant amounts of time this year, namely Volta and Art on Paper. The former was also well populated with Brooklyn-based galleries and artists; it seems to become a bit more so from one year to the next. For many visitors, Volta also seems to become more and more broadly loved, from one year to the next, than its more-or-less senior partner, The Armory Show. Sales are of course another matter entirely, and one upon which I’m not well enough informed to comment, but there seems to be a general notion that Volta is simply a more pleasant scene for the viewing of art, and for conversing with gallerists and artists. Fewer galleries, fewer booths, less hoo-ha. Makes sense. That said, both senior and junior partners received lots of accolades this year. Perhaps they’d get tandem awards of Champion Affair, weighted slightly in favor of the partner in the rear seat.

Well, that sounds strange.

Anyway, all champs.

To Art on Paper I’d confer the award of Most Surprisingly Great and Cleverly Prepositionally Understated. I say that not because I expected it to be ho-hum. I was familiar with the artists and programs of many of the exhibitors, so I knew I was going to find at least a certain share of strong work. What I didn’t expect, though, and which was a wonderful surprise, was that Art on Paper would so thoroughly beg renaming as Art of Paper, or Art Out of Paper, or Art With Paper (or whatever, there are many other prepositional possibilities to toy with)—in other words, as something more suggestively interdisciplinary, prepositionally speaking, than ‘on’ seems to allow. This meant that there were plenty of sculptural works to be found, and it furnished one with a very firm sense that proper ‘works on paper’ were but one aspect of the whole ordeal. In fact, visitors were hit with just that sensation immediately upon entry, thanks to what was certainly one of last week’s most social-media-candy-shop artworks at any of the fairs: Lu Hongbo’s gigantic, sprawling architectural rainbow in the foyer, a piece which I am taking the liberty of titling Utopian Worldview, because such worldviews are direly lacking these days for so many reasons, and in so many places.

Nonetheless, the art world, at least, looked pretty good last week.

In fact, it looked great.

(Below is a selection of photos I took at a few of the fairs. Many more images from each are on my Instagram @postuccio. You can also follow me @postuccio on Twitter.)

Spring/Break Art Show also wins the award for Longest and Most Potentially Unnecessary Line Nonetheless Worth Waiting In. I guess you always wait in line at the Post Office though, right? Another award for Spring/Break: Most Likely Art Fair for Running Into the Guys From Blonde Redhead. Ciao ragazzi! At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. A piece by Aaron Williams at Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. A piece by Tom Butter at Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. Left, a piece by Paul Gagner at Spring/Break Art Show. Right, a piece by Samuel T. Adams at Spring/Break Art Show. At Spring/Break Art Show. Hooper Turner with Frosch&Portmann at Volta. Robin Kang with Field Projects at Volta. Paul Brainard with Lodge Gallery at Volta. Kristen Schiele with Kayrock Screenprinting at Volta. Simon Linke with Carriage Trade at Volta. Koen Delaere with Gerard Hofland at Volta. Juliane Hundertmark with Knight Webb Gallery at Volta. Philip Taaffe with Planthouse at Volta. Jerry Walden with Robert Henry Contemporary at Volta. Majla Zeneli with Jarmuschek+Partner at Volta. Franklin Collective with "The Gallery" at Volta. Adam Brent with Slag Gallery at Volta. Tim Kent with Slag Gallery at Volta. Elana Herzog and Meg Hitchcock with Studio 10 at Volta. Li Hongbo's epic centerpiece at Art on Paper. The crowded opening at Art on Paper. Enrico Gomez busy with some VIP visitors in his booth with Proto Gallery at Art on Paper. Lower East Side Girls Club at Art on Paper. Gallery Jin seemed to have sold everything they brought in from Tokyo in half an hour. At any rate, theirs was a very, very busy booth at Art on Paper. Owen James Gallery at Art on Paper. C.G. Boerner Gallery at Art on Paper. C.G. Boerner Gallery at Art on Paper. Kathryn Markel Fine Arts at Art on Paper. A close-up of some art 'of' paper at Art on Paper.
Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.