It’s always a bit ironic – the art fair. Us art enthusiasts get hyped up for the big event, purchase our tickets in advance, mark the date on our calendars. But in the midst of it all, we somehow always forget that we really actually hate it. That the art fair is not truly for us. Because, after all, it is an art fair.
The Armory Show, held at New York’s Pier 92 & 94 this past weekend, was the usual routine: rows and rows of white dividing walls filled with art objects in little dialogue; dealers stationed at their tables rapidly typing away on their laptops; endless visitors doing more socializing than looking at what was on view.
Indeed, we learn a lot about society at an art fair. For example, the metallic and reflective trend in contemporary art is the perfect canvas for a selfie, and hats are definitely in fashion. The Armory Show is indeed a scene – one whose superficiality is enhanced by its VIP sections and upscale bakery stands. Between the socializing and the commerce, it is one giant overload. The galleries are there, after all, to sell art. And while that isn’t wrong, it certainly makes for an uninteresting experience of art viewing.
Nevertheless, for those unaccustomed to the daily grind of the New York gallery world, the art fair could be an adequate place to teach yourself. In many ways it is a survey of the names, artists and spaces that are important for the current moment – both in New York and internationally. Maybe you find one artist that catches your eye, or perhaps it encourages you to visit the gallery in person. But for those already immersed in the world, who recognize the works on view from that solo exhibition months prior, the fair feels like a collection of leftovers.
But here’s where the 2015 Armory Show was worthwhile: The focus on the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean (MENAM). Curated by Omar Khloeif, with the support of Art Jameel and Edge of Arabia, the section dedicated to MENAM brought sixteen galleries from the region into the show and compellingly introduced many artists that need to be known. Notable presentations included Beirut’s Agial Art and Saudia Arabia’s Athr. Artists such as Panos Tsagaris, Ahmed Mater and Mona Hatoum stood out with impressive works that were impactful and thought-provoking. These artists and galleries used the small white space to engage the viewer – to actually exhibit. In other words, the displays weren’t arbitrary – they showed us something. Indeed, the presentations dedicated to MENAM created a dialogue – making the 2015 Armory Show actually something to remember.
The Armory Show was held on March 5-8, 2015.