In December I walked into the Visual Arts Library at Boston University and was told by a friend that we were going to the Armory Show in February.
“Whatev” I replied, in usual fashion.
Two months later I was standing at Pier 94 in New York City pushing through groves of thick-rimmed black glasses and wealthy women speaking with affectations. I felt like I should have gone through some sort of boot camp. It was noon; we had until about three in the afternoon to get everything done. With roughly 170 different galleries being represented we had to move fast…really fast. We flew through the line, grabbed our tickets and hit the floor running. We were organized, efficient, and were making judgments faster than a speeding bullet.
It almost felt wrong to be giving the work at this show such little time, and it felt strange to have so much work in the same place at the same time all with the understanding that this was what was hot right now. I’m a junior painting major at Boston University and until this point the only real interaction I had with art other than my peers’ or my own was going to the MFA and First Fridays. To say that I was ignorant of what’s going on in the art world on a global scale is being gentle. I can say that I walked away from Armory a little more educated, and here are a few of the nuggets of wisdom I procured from my weekend in the Big Apple for any other first timers out there.
Shiny is the New Black: One of the trends that was more than prevalent at The Armory Show was to make a piece and then cover it in varnish, glue it to plexiglass, roll it in glitter and make it light up. There were countless pieces this year with a glossy finish from photos to drawings, paintings and sculptures. On the up side, almost everything in the show could have been cleaned with an old t-shirt and a bottle of Windex; on the down side everything had a pretty obnoxious glare that made photos difficult.
Be Nice to Everyone: During our invasion of the show we came across countless gallery sitters and owners from all over the world. Generally, the people we came in contact with who were working the fair were friendly enough, but there were a few standout exceptions. Kodama Gallery from Osaka Japan gave us CD’s of their artists work after we told them how much we loved what they were showing. The lovely girl working the Galleria Continua booth was kind enough to not only give us a little book about what they were about, but also a few of the big posters featuring work done by the artist that we liked. Several other galleries, mostly foreign, made similar gestures and we more than appreciated all of them, it made us feel special and we got lots of swag. None of these connections would have been made or the cool items procured had we not taken the initiative to inquire about the gallery, and show genuine interest in the artists they represented. So next time you find yourself at a fair take the time to smile, say please and thank you, and you just might find yourself with some cool CDs.
Check Your Bag: After fifteen minutes of my beginning “Operation Armory Show” I noticed that my backpack was making several gallery owners very uncomfortable, not because of all the naked women on it, but because they spent the entire time I was in their booth making sure I didn’t accidentally knock something over or back into a painting. If there is a coat check, take advantage, make everyone’s life easier, and drop your bulky baggage.
Take Plenty of Notes and Pictures: As I began writing this article I realized how frenzied my note taking was. Though I took many notes, lining everything up and making sense of it out of context took some magic. As well, the sheer volume of art I was privy to in those three hours made recalling specific pieces next to impossible. If you go, take notes. Better yet, use the little map that they give you and write directly on it and note when you take photos, etc. It just makes life easier.
After three hours at the fair I became very aware of how different of an experience it was than being in the studio or even at the First Friday openings. For one, the sheer amount of artwork being thrown at me from every different angle, though daunting at times, was also refreshing. The Armory Show was an amazing opportunity to get a taste of what was happening globally in the artworld. Though I may have seen several pieces I didn’t want anything to do with, I also saw more work in one place that I really liked than I ever had before. Even the kinds of work I am not usually attracted to were so polished that it raised my appreciation of them. At BU we get a little pigeonholed into working in traditional media in a very conservative way. I don’t work like this and for the past year I’ve had a really hard time fitting my artwork in with my peers’. For me, going to the fair was almost instantaneous validation and getting to see so much quality work in so many different media had a very positive impact on how I view my own stuff.
After two days of romping around New York I was tired, bleeding, and ridiculously overstimualted but I had seen some amazing things. Some of what I saw at Armory was visually stunning, and it was reassuring to see things in a fair that really looked like they deserved to be there. I suggest that every young artist make it out to a fair because in addition to learning survival techniques, I also managed to fall in love. Right before you got to coat check, down the shorter left wing of the Armory Show, Kukje Gallery from Seoul, Korea had a piece on the wall by sculptor Chun Kwang Young. Young does huge assemblage pieces constructed from individual origami. The pieces are all pretty large, but even the smallest details are not only considered, but the evidence of their consideration is so apparent. Since the whole piece exists as separate, sometimes tiny, pieces of origami, each one represents a separate thought and action. There’s motion, and space, and oddly enough a kind of visual noise that results from all the tiny relationships between. It’s like static on the television. I am in love with his work, and really it’s the first time in my life I have run into another artist I felt a strong connection with.
But does he like me back?
[ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Maybe
"The Armory Show: An Internaitonal Fair of New Art" was on view from February 23rd-26th, 2007, on Pier 94.
All images are courtesy of the author, Heidi Aishman, and Danielle Durchslag.