Anyone who’s read art history would know about the Armory Show of 1913. Artist Robert Henri led the effort. From the beginning it had a modernist direction, moving away from “this damned provincialism” (described by Walt Kuhn in 1912).
New York’s Arthur B. Davies later replaced Henri and the exhibit plans expanded to include Europeans. He traveled to Paris, stopped at several important cities along the way, meeting important artists to make the first overture. In Paris he met the Duchamp brothers, Picasso, Braque, and Matisse, inviting them or their dealers to send work to the Armory in New York City. The artists from that show are currently on exhibit at the Guggenheim: The Great Upheaval, until May, 2011. And yes, it was an upheaval. When finally displayed together, the modernist Americans still looked a tad provincial.
Fast forward to the 21st century and we have a thriving international exhibit that has inspired several spin-off exhibits; Manhattan was positively hopping with art last week. Besides the Armory Show, VOLTA NY focused solely on stand-alone artist exhibits. Fountain Art Fair boasted Brooklyn-based performance artists, The Independent was a group of 40 artists in award-winning art-fair style. PULSE featured “leading contemporary artists alongside up-and-coming artists.” Red Dot had smaller galleries (similar to Minnesota’s Thomas Barry Fine Arts and Circa Gallery) with very serious publicity.Others included Scope Art Show, Verge Art Fair, Moving Image, and PooL Art Fair.
Of course it’s hard to have the physical energy to get to every show, but a shuttle bus was available for those who did. The Armory Show alone needs two piers. Pier 94 had the more experimental, less expensive artists, while Pier 92 featured galleries and dealers with the bluest chips of after-market art. Controversy over hierarchies follows us everywhere. But in this case the original discussion has brought us an unbelievable experience. Dealers and galleries brought their best stuff, boundaries were pushed, and the press was agreeable. One favorite was the 30-inch cube of blue confetti: compressed without glue, it responded to floor vibrations, unfolding and shedding during the four days. Animals were everywhere, as were videos and moving sculptures. Almost every booth had a work of art with reflective metal to bring good luck.
One should attend the full-run of the Armory because displays change. We in Minnesota are comfortable with museums and expect the display to remain static. Walking by eye-catching pieces of art is not smart. In this show, the art will be gone by day’s end; you will miss owning it, or even seeing it twice.
Because one of my pieces was showing in booth 1509, I had the luxury of hearing commentary about my work too. Attendees are well versed and eager to see everything. They travel long distances to attend the fairs and bring plans to buy work by certain artists. One overhears people discussing the pros and cons of purchasing a $35,000 painting, simply because the artist’s career continues to climb. (Even in Minnesota, art rarely depreciates. And the aftermarket is an unspeakable topic.)
Experienced people learn how to pace themselves, taking notes and pictures. Personally, I found myself near meltdown around the third hour and totally overloaded by hour five. There were few chairs, and even less free floor space! Saturday brought shoulder-to-shoulder people, but each day started slow and grew to a humid sauna of bodies. It’s not for the claustrophobic collector, but if you like hanging out, buy champagne and start strolling. People were friendly and diverse.
Due to my involvement as an artist in and past president of Art-A-Whirl (NE Minneapolis), the similarity between the Armory and Art-A-Whirl is absolutely clear to me. (Hmmm, wonder if it’s possible to develop an international art show at the Minneapolis Convention Center?) But the New York art scene is not yet happy. Lobbyists are pressuring the mayor
for an official recognition of the art week, similar to that already boasted by fashion week in NYC.
Same problems; different geography.
>> Click "Start Tour" above to see a slideshow of some of my photographs from Armory Show 2011.