If Armory Fairs Were Dog Show Contestants

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A Canine Analysis of NY Armory Week 2018 by Cara Ober

I was trying to explain Armory Arts Week to a friend attending for the first time. Which fairs should she go to? Which ones could she skip? How are they different? If you just visit websites, or look at the artists and galleries involved, art fairs appear homogeneous. However, each has its own essence, a certain je ne sais quoi. In attempting to define each fair, I started comparing each to a kind of dog. Some fairs are warm and shaggy while others are nervous and snippy. Some fairs will fetch a ball all day long and others just want to take a nap… you get the idea.

After visiting five NY art fairs in two and half days, my dog analogy has crystalized. In addition to exploring the spirit animal dog that represents each fair—Armory, NADA, The Independent, Volta, and Spring Break—I’m throwing in my favorite highlights from each in photos.

The Fancy Bish: The Armory is an Afghan Hound wearing a pearl necklace.

Thank Goddess for Press Passes! The lines. OMG. The Armory Show, the main attraction at NY Art week, is so large it’s hosted on two separate piers on the Hudson, both full of insane amounts of people. I guess I should be happy that so many humans with busy lives were willing to wait, uncomfortably crowded together in the freezing cold in the name of art, but… really? Was it the art or just FOMO? Even the VIP line was clogged to hell. The line for press was wide open or I probably wouldn’t have bothered.

I made the mistake of going into the sleepier Pier 92 first, which featured Post-World War 2 (50s-70s) art, and it felt like a Vegas hotel. I saw a lot of decorative antiquated fluff with a few Diebenkorns thrown in, bisected by a huge line of people queuing up in the middle of it, waiting to walk to Pier 94 without having to actually go outside. I did a quick loop, took few photos, and went outside to walk the one block (no lines!) to the more contemporary Armory pier, with many of the same top galleries you’d see at Art Basel.

Lines. Lines. OMG Lines. I saw Ja’Tovia Gary being escorted into the fair for a lecture with Leonardo Drew and I thought, YES. This is the place to be. So many crowds. Big gallery names. Multiple VIP lounges. Two men sitting inside a giant hamster wheel with Ikea chairs. Champagne. Familiar Faces. Lots of jostling to see the art and, on the whole, the mood was friendly and upbeat.

Since it’s housed on two giant piers, Armory has the slapdash quality common to art fairs: gray carpet, lumpy floors, temporary walls beat to hell, but the best of the blue chip art is there. You walk around this fair with the knowledge that much of the art will be housed in museums, knowing it will look a lot better there.

The Leonardo Drew and Ja’Tovia Gary lecture was the highlight of my visit. If you’re not familiar with her work, check out her video, An Ecstatic Experience, currently on exhibit in The Whitney’s An Incomplete History of Protest – it is incredibly moving and features footage from the Baltimore Uprising.

Some favorites from Armory:

Cute But Aloof: The Independent Fair is a Shiba Inu

Vigorous? Yes. Agile? Yes. Attractive from a distance and surprisingly cute up close, but do not pet him. The Shiba Inu may be a borderline sociopath, but he is so charming you stay on your best behavior. You like him and want him to like you.

The Independent is an invite-only fair, more of a rambling exhibition with no booths. Hosted on multiple floors of the Spring Studios building, it benefits aesthetically from slick concrete floors, soaring ceilings, and gorgeous views of the city. It felt stylish and museum-like, with curated selections from The New Museum, Cheim & Reed, Canada, David Kordansky, and more. The higher up you went in the building (Floors 1, 5, 6, 7) the more consistently better the art was. On the whole, a sophisticated offering of new contemporary works from a few big name artists and many more with significant promise.

Highlights from Independent:

The Labradoodle: Spring Break Art Show is a Loveable Spazz

SPRIIIIINNNNNGGGG BREEEEAAAAAAK !  You can’t even say the words ‘Spring Break’ without embellishing.

SPRING/BREAK Art Show is a love fest. SPRING/BREAK is so excited to see you! SPRING/BREAK is a little overbearing and sloppy, but so friendly. This fair is for young artists and those who love them. Much less commercial than the others, it’s a sprawling community of curatorial projects featuring young and established artists (mostly young), thematic exhibits, and experimental performance. There’s a joyful, anything goes vibe here and an emphasis on artists and ideas, as well as curators taking risks.

SPRING/BREAK has been hosted in a variety of temporary locations including St. Patrick’s Old School, and then the former James A. Farley Post Office. This is the seventh year for the fair, and the second year the fair has been at 4 Time Square Plaza in former Conde Naste offices, a warren of interlocking spaces with stunning views around the edges and cramped cubicles in the center. It was great fun to see institutional-looking cubbies, bookshelves, and office furniture repurposed for art, and a range of curatorial projects where some spaces were completely transformed and others bare and minimal.

All art is for sale here, but this fair mainly exists to create exposure for young artists and curators and to expand the definition of the art economy, the value of art, and the purpose of an art fair in NYC. And it’s SO MUCH FUN!

Highlights from Spring/Break:

VOLTA is a Pug

Volta is loveable, but a little uneven and wheezy. There are moments of excellence at this fair, but also a sense of complacency. Volta is hosted on the next pier down from Armory, with a similar aesthetic: gray carpet, lumpy floor, temporary walls, cramped space, but it had less of the crowds when I was there and less energy. This makes for good art viewing, but if the point of an art fair is to generate energy it needs some oxygen.

There were many gems at Volta, including The Aesthetics of Matter, a centrally located group exhibition curated by Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont and DC’s own Hamiltonian with gorgeous photos by Kyle Tata.

Highlights from Volta:

NADA is Your Favorite Childhood Dog that No Other Dog Will Ever Rival

Have you ever had a dog whose breath smelled good? Who knew how to open the back door? Who put their head in your lap when you’re feeling sad and gave you the eyes? The dog who snatches a steak and runs with it, but you find it endearing and funny? NADA is the dog whose death still makes you teary. You love your new dog, but he’ll never ever rival the dog of your heart. NADA is smart and effortlessly cool, without pretension or attitude.

At NADA this year there were lots of garishly colored shaped paintings (think joyful, not tacky). There was a great variety of ceramics, ironic found objects, prints, and works on paper. There were zines, books, T-shirts, totes, and a giant 3 Channel video with 10 gorgeous pieces on a loop. Located upstairs in a darkened area, the videos were cinematic and colorful, sensuous and bold, with benches so that viewers could sit and be immersed. In addition gallery booths, NADA hosts mini-booths for non-profit art spaces and organizations, which adds diversity and an egalitarian feel.


NADA wins it for me, with Independent a close second. Next time you’re in NY for Armory week, and you feel confused about which fairs to give your time and money too, remember the Westminster Dog Show. There are winners and losers, but always something loveable for everyone.

Added bonus: I was so busy all weekend I completely forgot about Donald Trump which was a minor miracle and a testament to the value of art.

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