For all of its trumpeting of a “centennial edition,” The Armory Show is still a teenager, born in 1994 as the Gramercy International Art Fair some 81 years after Duchamp and the gang wowed ‘em at the 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets. The fair has survived a tumultuous childhood—frequent moves, parental squabbles—and now, at 15, is grappling with adolescence, trying to define its place in an art world family with a new baby (Frieze New York).
Teen angst can be awfully fun to watch, and Armory Show executive director Noah Horowitz and his team knew that it was time to seek professional help. Visitors to the fair, up through March 10 on Piers 92 and 94, are greeted by Cary Leibowitz (Candyass)’s site-specific “I need to start seeing a therapist,” spelled out in twelve-foot-high wood and steel capital letters in Hudson River Park, the fair’s first foray into outdoor sculpture. Enter Liz Magic Laser, who as this year’s commissioned artist reveals rather than paints over the struggle to forge an identity among and within colliding worlds: corporate and creative, global and domestic, contemporary and modern. Her “Armory Show Focus Group” video, on view at the booth of Various Small Fires, is a wonderfully cringe-inducing look at market research as a compositional strategy.
More refreshing changes are apparent in the fair’s contemporary section on Pier 94, where the number of exhibiting galleries is down from last year’s 228 to a more manageable 153. The architectural firm of Bade Stageberg Cox, back for its second year as fair designers, has further simplified the usual booth maze into a single-loop circulation studded with inviting lounge areas and abundant seating, including experimental plywood creations and “Street Seats,” chairs and tables salvaged from New York streets and given a fresh coat of taxi cab-yellow paint.
The highest-profile new presence is Gagosian Gallery, showing in the “Armory Focus” section curated by Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner in an “attempt to address the very broad topic of ‘America’ through the eyes of over 20 artists who make it the subject of their work.” Gagosian’s booth, positioned steps from one of the main entrances, is wallpapered in Warhols– large camouflage silkscreens and self-portraits hung over the self-portrait wallpaper designed by the artist in 1978—a layered installation that falls flat, cancelling out Warhol and conjuring instead Hans-Peter Feldmann’s recent all-cash wallcovering at the Guggenheim.
For respite, one need only glance across the Armory Focus aisle to the booth of another first-time exhibitor, Anthony Meier Fine Arts. The San Francisco gallery is showing the sculpture-meets-furniture-meets-art-and-craft work of Seattle-based Roy McMakin. In addition to chunky, pensive wooden dressers, there are photographs and drawings, including a 2013 sketch for a chest of drawers based on the one in Edward Hopper’s 1926 painting Eleven A.M. McMakin’s plan calls for “painted maple, 3 shades of ochre,” according to his annotation. Another consideration of the power of objects can be found in the work of British sculptor James Capper, whose rugged power tools are presented on plywood plinths by Hannah Barry Gallery.
Out in the main fair, a shift toward showcasing the work of younger artists was apparent on opening day, although the blurry human-letterforms of Tala Madani’s “Eye Exam” (2013), on view at Pilar Corrias, served to caution fairgoers on the perils of trend-spotting, lest one’s path lead from the candy-colored little Rachel Whiteread sculpture (at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill Roma) to Rafael Carneiro’s sumptuous oil of a tiered wedding cake (at Luciana Brito Galeria), inclining one toward the geometric abstraction that seemed to appear at every turn, most memorably in the canvases of Patrick Wilson (at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects).
Standouts at softening up all of the hard edges were the contorted monochrome canvases of Kaz Oshiro (at Honor Fraser) and the bubbling glass and concrete forms of Morgane Tschiember (at Loevenbruck). The figurative breakout star of the bunch is Oslo-based painter Lars Elling, whose assured canvases at Galleri Brandstrup evoke the mesmerizing absurdity of Neo Rauch crossed with the bleached palette of a Nordic Velasquez.
With the work of some 1,000 artists on view, boldness pays, particularly when it comes to film and video. At David Zwirner, new work by Diana Thater—lavender flowers that tremble like viscera through the 16mm haze of multiple camera techniques and day-for-night filters—is shown on three multi-monitor video walls that wrap around corners. Galerie van Gelder has darkened its booth to show Marijke van Warmerdam’s “Rrrolle” (2011), a pair of 35mm film loops. In each, a colorful macaw, projected against a field of poppies fluttering in the breeze, sits on a perch and every few seconds silently turns a somersault, and then starts all over again.