With global warming and general chaos due to facts emerging and infrastructure literally falling apart, it is not surprising that artists exhibiting at the Armory Show in New York are acting and reacting by using strong, but not shiny, materials to create work that seems domestic in nature. Escaping the outside world creates an emphasis on the home and the arts and crafts that are created and situated there.
On my first day at Armory, I saw this emphasis on domestically influenced art and craft in work by male and female artists. This theme crossed borders of ethnicities and groups, including “Trouble Don’t Last Always.” Jeffrey Gibson’s 2019 acrylic on canvas with glass beads at Kavi Gupta, New York is supported by the North American Arts and Culture to reflect diverse voices. Ali Banisadr’s “Stardust,” oil on linen, 2011, at Blaine Southern (Berlin and London) left behind the glare and preciousness of glitter in favor of paint on linen. It resembles a tapestry. True tapestry was made by Liza Lou, in her “ixube Lunar,” 2015, of woven glass beads at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, continuing the crafts emphasis. The humorous, and tongue-in-cheek four painted aluminum lightboxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies, “Vacuuming the Gallery, 1949,” 2018, by Rodney Graham at 303 Gallery, New York, shows a man taking on domestic duties, dressed in a business suit, as if he doesn’t own appropriate clothing. Perhaps it is his gallery, and he must provide cleaning. There is an interesting question set up here, asking if a man taking on a domestic role is adequately “suited” for it, which is answered affirmatively by his “suit.”
Leo Villareal’s installation of thousands of white lights, resembling Yayoi Kusama’s Light Rooms, was shown at the entrance to the Armory Fair. Although it was mesmerizing for the crowd gathered, it seemed a work of yesteryear. Invited into his tunnel installation, where again, thousands of lights overhead created a constellation or meteor-shower-like sky, I recalled Villareal’s tunnel installation that spans the east and west wings of Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, deeming the Armory installation hardly anything new. Between all the showings of Yayoi Kusama’s Light Rooms, and Villareal’s cascades of light, points of light work have become jaded and maybe even boring.
Women were depicted using strong natural materials, including Lynn Chadwick’s 1973 bronze, “Two Seated Figures I,” at Blaine/Southern, London. This work, from 1973, mirrors our own time of political unrest, but also women fighting for rights as they did then. William Kentridge’s “Three Women,” 2017, of laser-cut stainless steel, painted with acrylic-based paint, at Lia Rumma, Milan, shows three modestly covered women, not dancing, as he has formerly shown in film, but seemingly to walk, clinging to each other. Strength and modesty can be and is beautiful here.
Todd Hido’s, “Woman’s Figure, Archival Pigment Print,” 2017, at Bruce Silverstein, New York, shows a strong, non-sensual figure, as does Xavier Veilhan’s 2018 “Natasa,” at Galleria Roesler, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro and New York. The sharp angles of the work refer to the sharp angles that the female figure can assume, conveyed through natural and beautifully turned birch plywood. Mark Manders’ “Two Immovable Heads,” 2015-16, a patinated bronze several feet high two heads, back to back, at Tanya Bonakdar, New York, could not have presented a stronger female image. Nor could Jaime Plensa’s “Invisible Anna,” 2016, of stainless steel at Galerie Lelong, New York and Paris. A year after the advent of the #MeToo movement, it seems women are depicted as strong and sharp. And that is a good thing.
At Nara Roesler Gallery, Laura Vinci’s “Loose Leaves #1,” 80 pieces of gold-plated brass, 2017, seemed to dance in the windless room due to light that played upon the metal leaves. Yet, the gold would fade, revealing the less valuable and less shiny brass. This emphasis on the immutable in nature, and metals with patina was seen again at Nara Roesler with Eduardo Navarro’s 100 nutshells of bronze encapsulated nutmeat, titled “Letters to Earth #4,” 2017. Clay, in earth all over the world once a certain depth is reached, and the nutshells are universally encountered. It is this emphasis on the beauty and universality of the natural world that artists at Nara Roesler do so well.
This environmentalism is also expressed in Alicia Klwade’s stainless steel and stone sculpture, 2017, at 303 Gallery, New York. I cannot exclude Olafur Eliasson’s “Hydrographic Drift,” 2018, stainless steel, color effect filterglass (yellow), mirror, paint, LED system, at i8 gallery, Reykjavik, Iceland, from any survey of environmental art. His paneled chandelier, hanging from the ceiling, reflecting light but also seeming to emanate it from inside the structure, refers to sun and earth and stars.
It was an interesting, and calm day at Armory. The domestic side, the craft side, the strong woman motif, and strong, but non-glitzy materials generally used gave the art an air of age, of the past, that might continue into the future, restoring that calm of past years.
(The Armory Show runs from March 7 through 10 at Piers 90, 92 and 94, New York City. For more information, visit thearmoryshow.com.)