The Armory Show is a leading international contemporary and modern art fair held annually at Piers 92 & 94 in New York City. You can read a short history of the Armory Show here. I am often skeptical, and sometimes even downright dismissive of contemporary and modern art, but I find there's always something interesting to be discovered at the larger shows. And as I learned in Berlin, even if none of the exhibitions end up being worthwhile, the people watching is excellent. This year, I was particularly interested in the Armory Focus on MENAM-- "apparatuses that shape the discourse, economy, and culture surrounding contemporary art in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean." Note: if you're interested in these themes, also see the New Museum's recent exhibition "Here and Elsewhere," which features artists who make work in and about the Arab world. Omar Kholeif, the curator at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and of the Armory Focus, described the show as follows:
"The context of this Focus initiative seeks to propose a new departure point. Rather than consider entrenched boundaries of what constitutes the Middle Eastern arts ecology, I took the decision to anchor the program around the Mediterranean, suggesting a new artistic cartography that links the art of Southern Europe to Western Asia and North Africa. In this proposed cultural sphere, parallels that at first seem abstract quickly become transparent: shares histories of migration and colonization, as well as social and political reform, begin to materialize. In turn, trade routes, common languages, and religious and communal traditions appear. Indeed, the Mediterranean is bound as much by a sense of kinship as it is to one of deep-rooted conflict and disparity."
The following are some of the pieces that caught my eye:
Cowboy Code (Hadith) by Ahmed Mater -- this installation compares two codes of ethics, the former from the American West and the latter from the Islamic code, "referring to statements or actions of the Prophet Muhammad, known as the Hadith. The piece is composed entirely of the red plastic toy gun caps, canonical with the image of Western Cowboys and tropes of Mater's childhood and US popular culture."
The New(er) Middle East by Oraib Toukan -- this piece is an interactive puzzle which engages with the public," asking them to re-assemble a territorial map of the Middle East made from suspended plastic magnets, each fragment consisting of one of the region's actual states." I like maps and I liked the general aesthetic, though if you think about it for a second it seems to be a demonstration of that which gave birth to the modern troubles of the Middle East (redrawing boundaries and so on).
Lust Deceit Love Death Revenge by Janice Kerbel -- I don't know anything about this piece but I like typography. Try to decode this bit of information I found on the artist in relation to this piece: "The work of London-based Canadian artist Janice Kerbel often makes use of existing systems of organizing and presenting information, borrowing from and modifying the conventions of various disciplines to explore imaginary situations." Does anyone else find "art speak" dense and cryptic? Or to put it another way, does anyone else think art speak is, at times, complete nonsense?
Gas Shell by David LaChapelle -- I had to take a picture of this because "romantic gas station lights" is a baffling theme I've picked up on in contemporary art. Here's something I found about the artist: "Living in an environmentally responsible paradise since 2006 in Maui (Hawaii), he built an organic farm and totally changed his life. Who never entered a gas station for refueling? We all did, at least once. Infrastructure of oil production and distribution, and their impact, are in the center of modern society. LaChapelle’s started with his Gas Stations settled in the heart of the tropical forest. His Refineries sit in state in the middle of the Californian desert. Both series are made up of hand-crafted models combined to repurposed products, issued by these same factories. The effect is both fascinating and unsettling [sic]." I'll just let you think about that so my snark doesn't influence your opinion.
I Copy Therefore I am by Superflex -- the Danish collective created this photo print on vinyl with Barbara Kruger's iconic 1986 print work "I shop, therefore I am" altered to read "I copy, therefore I am." I hope viewers recognize that Kruger, as "iconic" as she might be in some circles, was rephrasing Descartes, whose philosophical statement cogito ergo sum (je pense, donc je suis) was penned in his 1637 Discourse on Method.
Excellences and Perfections by Amalia Ulman -- there was bound to be a selfie on display. "Amalia used her time in residence at The Moving Museum to develop her on-going research into social stratification, cultural capital, class imitation and seduction. More specifically, she sought to explore the status of women in Turkey and the placement of prostitution, feminism, plastic surgery, medicine and art in Turkish society. During her time in Istanbul she culminated her Instagram performance Excellences & Perfections with 'some holiday sugar-baby style selfies.'"
A Shout Within A Storm by Glenn Kaino -- a mobile installation composed of more than 100 copper arrows pointed at an invisible target. There were so many good photo opportunities here. . . wish I would have been more creative.
The first photo featured in this post is of the Albert Baronian Gallery exhibition with a handwoven carpet by Mekhitar Garabedian, a Syrian-born artist with Armenian roots who grew up in Ghent. I quite liked the carpet entitled Fig. A, a comme alphabet, which features the Armenian alphabet, but I also found the artist's story interesting:
"The work of Mekhitar Garabedian (b. Aleppo, Syria, 1977) can be seen as a continuous journey of excavation into his personal and complex identity as an immigrant, an investigation that immediately also shines light on the concept of ‘descent’ in general. Garabedian was born in Syria, but has Armenian roots. His family fled the Armenian genocide in 1915 and in 1981, during the Lebanese civil war, they moved on to Belgium. He has lived in Belgium since he was a child, but as a second and third generation immigrant, he indisputably carries his past with him. Again and again, Garabedian attempts to translate (often quite literally) the individual remembrance of his heritage, laden with stately images from a long-ago past, into a present that is continually in motion. With the help of the languages of media, including text, photography, sound, neon, publications, video and installations, this individual starting point in turn nestles itself in a new collective narrative. Garabedian’s own family history can consequently be seen from a more universal perspective, one in which we are all multicultural people, comprised of an unlimited number of identities. Garabedian relates the perspective of the other (in ourselves) not by forcing us to be open to it, but by inviting us to take pause, as a simple matter of course. He engages us in his journey of reconnaissance, into an expression of the idea of identity, language, physical and mental migration through places, so that ultimately, it is the interaction of a work of art with its observer that becomes central."
Finally, you can read a review of the Armory Show here from the New York Times.