As the 2017 Armory Week art fairs in NYC come to an end, I reflect on the hundreds and hundreds of pieces of work on view. It was a lot to digest, booth after booth, gallery after gallery, work that was polished, new, old, fresh, tired, bright, flashy, sculptural, political, humorous. You name it and it was at one of the many fairs. Overall the displays were impressive. Here’s my run down of some unforgettable work.
A wonderful fair that starts earlier in the week than the rest. In years past the fair focused primarily on video works, however this year, Moving Image Immersive Media (MiiM) was formed adding interactive and virtual reality installations to the show.
Ancient Future: A Visual Poem in Three Stanzas, a 9 minute video directed by Robert Hodge was on view at the fair courtesy of Freight + Volume Gallery (LES). Referring to their process of film making as “Visual Poetry,” Hodge tells the story of one woman moving through time. Three clips–or stanzas–represent her journey through the future, past, and present, but not in that order. Autumn Knight stars in the visual poem that distorts the viewers perception of time while asking questions about nature, technology, and how we often navigate this world alone. Beginning with the Future, then the Present, and ending in the Past, the non-linear narrative has a surprising effect on the forever-categorizing mind.
Artists Tamiko Thiel & Zara Houshmand, shown by the newly established MiiM, created an interactive video installation titled, Beyond Manzanar. Using a joystick the viewer stands before a large screen and is invited to virtually walk around the Manzanar Internment Camp in Eastern California. The work draws attention to the Japanese Americans brought to internment camps during World War II and the later call for Iranian Americans to be brought to these same camps in the late 70’s early 80’s as a result of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The viewer is given the opportunity to walk in and out of the buildings at the interment camp. Photographs of family members hang on the walls of the camp housing and Japanese gardens are dotted throughout. Ghost like images of prisoners of the camp appear out of the walls. Walking throughout the camp, a desert like environment surrounded by large mountains, the viewer can view the world outside of Manzanar, but walk to the edge and a barbed wire fence forces your stay. The peacefulness of the gardens and the surrounding mountain side is quickly lost once confronted by your imprisonment. Thiel and Houshmand, who have been working on this project since 1995, have tirelessly found relevance in this fear in our contemporarily political times.
Season Gallery founder Robert Yoder of Seattle, Washington presented a solo show of Anthony Palocci Jr.’s gouache on paper paintings. Zoomed in images of door knobs, old cans, and now antiquated electronics like tape decks and VHS’s are carefully painted in golds, oranges, rusts, grays, and pale pinks. The imagery reminds us of the not-so-distant days of analog. Palocci studies the objects in the paintings as architecture or landscapes. Quiet and meditative, Palocci’s works are painter’s paintings, with their masculine, direct approach and classic technique. In an overwhelmingly stimulating environment like an art fair, these paintings offer a respite, and room for contemplation.
Ezra Johnson’s installation Janitors Closet on view through Freight + Volume is the imagined space of a janitor’s work dwelling. Every item is carefully and playfully constructed out of clay. Toilet paper, cleaning supplies, gloves, and tissues rest on a shelf, a used mop and bucket sit in the corner, and the janitor’s shirt hangs carefully on a hook. Even the shelves on which the items rest are ceramic. There is a looseness and humor imbued in the work. The banality of something like a janitor’s closet is taken out of its context and placed in a venue where art is bought and sold for large sums of money every spring. The highlighting of an often overlooked occupation shines through a carefully constructed environment, reminding us of the inequality inherent in daily life.
Baxter St. at the Camera Club of New York had a series of photographs on view by Nona Faustine. Faustine photographed herself, posing nude or semi-nude in front of historically significant sites in NYC where African American history has been erased. In one of her many jarring images, a cardboard cut out of Faustine nude, handcuffed and missing parts of her head, stands in three different positions at a cemetery in Brooklyn where three slaves were buried alongside early settlers. This work titled, Of My Body I Will Make Monuments In Your Honor, confronts the viewer with a historically dark moment that has been seemingly written out of our learned history. Faustine bravely and powerfully exposes a part of American history that has been swept under the rug for too long.
Her second series in the show presents United States monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial centered in the image with a large, fuzzy black line cutting through the middle of the frame. This dramatic disruption of the monument speaks to forgotten or erased histories, censorship, and restriction.
Expressive abstractions, layered with words like shame, error and exodus were on view at the Derek Eller Gallery booth. The work of Despina Stokou is wild, bright, and layered. Words derived from pages of the Bible, current events, and internet commentary whirl around the canvas creating feelings of energy, anxiety, and stress. Layered over with bright swashes of color, drips, and references to recognizable imagery, Stokou’s paintings feel fresh and honest.
Chip Hughes incredibly detailed oil paintings were shown along side Alice Mackler’s sculptures via the Kerry Schuss Gallery. Hughes brightly colored abstractions are made up of tiny lines of color seemingly layered and scraped away to reveal what is below. The small marks coalesce, referencing recognizable images, like letters or flowers or bugs, as in Fly Lie. But the image is obfuscated enough to only allude.
Jack Hanley Gallery showed Nikki Maloof’s new work Moon Altar, and at first glance this work lightened the heaviness of much of the political work that has caught attention this fair cycle. A group of four paintings form an image of a summery screened in porch, evoking the feeling of being at a cabin or camp on a chilly summer night, as moths fly around the image try to soak up the warmth of the incandescent light bulbs. Bright acid green washes over the wooden structure of the porch, and the screen itself is made up of dizzying lines of yellow, green, blue, pink, purple, red. Faint outlines of the forest beyond the porch lines the night sky. While initially the bright colors and masterful use of paint allowed for a momentary lifting of the weight of much of the work on view, the more time spent with the work the darker it seemed to become. Moths become a metaphor for humans, and the light perhaps a metaphor for longing for notions of success, money, security, love… All of the moths in the image are in pursuit of that light, but once they reach it, is it ever satisfying enough?