big, bold and fresh

| 01 Mar 2017 | 12:47

It’s become so big, they’ve named a whole week after it. 2017’s Armory Week is here, bringing with it a slew of art fairs. VOLTA, the Art Dealers Association of America’s Art Show, the fledgling Independent, NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance), SCOPE, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Art On Paper, Moving Image New York, Clio Art Fair (billed as “the anti-fair for independent artists”) and the tiny Salon Zürcher (featuring only six galleries) all ride into town on the coattails of the biggest of them all, The Armory Show.

The Armory Show takes its name from the audacious 1913 exhibition that first presented European modernism to New York. That exhibition so shocked the American art world that it resulted in the burning in effigy of a Matisse masterpiece that currently hangs in the Baltimore Museum of Art. Now, some of the same venerable museums that were scandalized in 1913 over Picasso and Duchamp regularly shop the new Armory Show’s aisles. But that doesn’t mean the fair has become staid or stodgy.

With over 200 galleries from 30 countries spanning five continents, this year’s Armory Show fills Piers 92 and 94 with contemporary and modern art by renowned masters as well as up-and-coming artists. That’s what it’s done in all 22 of its previous installations, but this year’s show changes things up in interesting ways.

The show’s executive director, Benjamin Genocchio, a former editor-in-chief at artnet News, just a little more than a year into the job, has overseen the entire production. He’s changed the physical format, the conceptual bent, and the feel of the experience. This year’s fair is no longer broken into two sections — Modern vs. Contemporary — each on its own pier. They’re interspersed on Pier 94, providing richness and variety in themes, styles and artistic voices.

A “Focus” section, on Pier 92, is curated by LACMA’s Jarrett Gregory with 12 separate solo exhibitions under the theme “What Is to be Done?” International artists take on critical political and social issues of the day, enabling Genocchio to support new voices both artistic and curatorial.

Meanwhile, the “Platform” initiative presents museum-like installations. Check out “Guidepost to the New World,” Yayoi Kusama’s shiny, biomorphic sculptures that resemble red and white dotted cartoon mushrooms. The iconic red-wigged Japanese art star (and recently anointed most expensive living female artist) will be the hottest ticket of the upcoming season at Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum, but you can get a jump on her work here. Also part of the Platform project is Ai Weiwei’s “Niao shen long shou shen,” presented by Helsinki’s Galerie Forsblom. The gigantic suspended rooster-shaped bamboo and silk sculpture, timed perfectly for the Year of the Rooster, captures so many of the artist’s themes. It’s appropriating a symbol, referencing the past and challenging values, all with a wink of humor. It’s also just about the perfect selfie backdrop.

A group of 31 young galleries, all less than 10 years old, are participating in “Presents” with solo and two-person shows, and “Armory Live” has talks and panels scheduled with art stars like Marilyn Minter, David Salle, Alex Katz and Shahzia Sikander.

But the bread and butter of the show is, of course, the “Galleries” section, where hundreds of galleries present thousands of works. Look for James Turrell’s “Sunda Strait Diamonds,” a glowing blue window onto the artist’s consciousness at Kayne Griffin Cocoran. London’s Alison Jacques has a female artists-only booth, featuring works by Lygia Clark and Hannah Wilke. Internationally famous local twins, Doug + Mike Starn, fill Sweden’s Wetterling Gallery booth with their first U.S. solo exhibition since their rooftop installation at the Metropolitan Museum in 2010. If you’ve admired the Vik Muniz portraits in the Second Avenue Subway, here’s another chance to see his work. In “Metachrome (Double Scramble, after Frank Stella)” at Ben Brown Fine Arts Muniz creates an homage to Stella out of intensely hued pastel sticks and then photographs the results. He unites his background in sculpture, his reverence for art history and his photographic practice to create images that are at once about the process, materials and the end result. Scattered among the contemporary artworks are jewels by Willem de Kooning, Joan Miró and Roberto Matta.

The chance at a snapshot of the entire global artistic zeitgeist is worth the price of a ticket alone. But according to Genocchio, the Armory Show wants to do more than bringing buyers to the fair. “We want to play a greater intellectual role in the artistic life of New York,” he said.