In person again, the 2021 Armory Show celebrates superlatives

New Yorkers are heading to the Javits Center again, not for their COVID-19 vaccine recalls, but for the biggest extravaganza of the year when the art world is no doubt striving for a boost. The

New Yorkers are heading to the Javits Center again, not for their COVID-19 vaccine recalls, but for the biggest extravaganza of the year when the art world is no doubt striving for a boost. The Armory Show’s return in physical form coincides with its debut in September and a new location, steps away from The Shed and Chelsea galleries. While the 27th edition of the fair is the anchor of the art world’s back-to-school week, other events, such as Independent at its new venue Cipriani South Street with views over the water and Future Fair in the Starrett-Lehigh Building in addition to numerous gallery openings, echo the pre-pandemic frenzy of crowded Chelsea streets and generously poured champagne.

On Thursday, fully vaccinated, masked VIP attendees filled the spacious convention center where the booths are arranged in a more orderly fashion compared to older iterations of the Armory at Piers. The newly adopted greeting rituals of distant hugs and fist pumps were mixed with tight hugs among colleagues and missed friends. Global travel restrictions limit the physical presentation of 157 exhibitors to predominantly US-based galleries, while the fair expands online to a total of 212.

The long-awaited in-person format took place in a calm but joyful spirit from day one of the show. Sales were in full swing as guests arrived according to their time slots with proof of vaccines in hand. St Louis Museum of Contemporary Art Curator Wassan Al-Khudhairi hosted this year’s Focus section, which features emerging galleries, and Claudia Schmuckli, Contemporary Art Curator at San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, oversaw Platform, the orchestration of large-scale works that welcome guests. The VIP day ended with toasts for Michael Rakowitz whose booth with the Jane Lombard Gallery won the third Pommery and Moslem Khezri Prize from Saradipour Art of Tehran who received the fifth Armory Presents Booth Prize. However, the fair is open to the public until September 12 and these five stops are also must-see.

The 1957 Gallery Armory Show features paintings by Kwesi Botchway. Photograph courtesy of the gallery.

1957 gallery

Each year, a gallery dares to experiment with a striking paint color and attracts festival-goers in search of the selfie background. The radiant fuchsia walls might draw you into the 1957 gallery booth this year, but you’ll stick around for Kwesi Botchway’s piercing portraits of black figures in flamboyant outfits in the 27-year-old painter’s Ghanaian gallery solo presentation. Making their debut in the United States after the gallery’s recent acclaimed exhibitions in Accra and London, Botchway’s paintings almost speak, communicating with the viewer through direct visual contact and disarming postures. Their red eyeballs and lush textures contrast with the nocturnal blue that the Accra painter uses to capture skin of Earth-like density.

View of the Jessica Silverman gallery installation at the Armory Show. Photograph courtesy of the gallery.

Jessica Silverman Gallery

While the Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco presents a group show titled “Foreseeable Women” on its neatly hung booth, you can meet its two artists in New York City, where they are both exhibiting their public commissions. During the presentation of the Armory Show, one can take a close look at the oil paintings on linen by Turkish artist Hayal Pozanti depicting bulbous body abstractions in uplifting hues, but make your way to the library branch of the newly renovated Stavros Niarchos Foundation of the New York Public Library, where its permanent 85- by 17- foot ceiling mural, Instant paradise, majestically embodies his introspective approach to the history of language. German artist Claudia Wieser’s gold leaf and colored pencil lithographs depicting mystical geometries at the fair offer insight into her Public Art Fund exhibition, Rehearsal’s fragmented mirror sculptures that reflect views of Dumbo under the Brooklyn Bridge.

armory show

Kenny Rivero at the Armory Show booth at the Charles Moffett Gallery. Photograph by Vlad Weinstein.

Charles Moffett

Another perfectly organized booth is the New York-based Charles Moffett Gallery’s solo presentation of Kenny Rivero’s drawings, which coincides with the artist’s solo exhibition “The Floor Is Crooked” at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas. The imbalance in this presentation is rendered metaphorically to reflect the class disparity in Rivero’s whimsical designs on discarded papers he collected while working as a doorman in an upscale Manhattan residential neighborhood. A total of 29 drawings are exhibited through the walls as well as in wooden display cases. From record covers to couture models, the artist’s source material offers varied textures and nuances to her candid sketches that silently speak of manhood, brunette identity or isolation. Caricatural and enigmatic, the artist’s visual language both opens a door to his subconscious and arouses curiosity for its symbolic details.

armory show

The stand of the Nara Roesler gallery. Photograph by Charles Roussel.

Nara roesler

The art advisers and fast-paced merchants sprinting down the aisles are a typical sighting of the fair – this year, also pay attention to the art in motion at the Nara Roesler Gallery booth. Raul Mourão’s staggering geometric Corten steel sculptures amused visitors last month at the Rio de Janeiro-based artist’s solo show “Empty Head” in the gallery’s Chelsea space. Rebel # 04 from the same series swings up and down on the stand next to the mysterious portrait of Cristina Canale, Despedida no cais. Similar to those in Canale’s current solo exhibition, “The Encounter,” a few blocks from Chelsea, the painting lacks the poseur’s face, begging the viewer to paint the mistaken impression in their imagination while drawing the visual language of the artist towards abstraction. The anonymous character, however, isn’t the only fixer with a mysterious identity across the booth. The red and black painting of Rodolpho Parigi, Phthalo Magenta Black Costume, features a female figure whose body and face are covered in a glowing black latex costume, both fetishistic and wicked.

SOCO Gallery at the Armory Show. Photograph courtesy of the gallery.

SOCO Gallery

Clara Rojas’ individual presentation with the Charlotte-based SOCO Gallery immerses visitors in the visual universe of the San Francisco-based painter where abstraction and figures coexist. Through a hallucinatory wallpaper of vertical red and pink lines, the geometric shapes of Rojas on oil on linen recall the sensual secret of the pioneer of female abstraction, Hilma Af Klint. Colors are embodied in curved or rigid shapes, with a playful approach to the dynamics of negative space. Rojas’ figurative paintings only elevate his veiled visual language. The well-titled Woman in chair reading with fly shows a woman in a red sweater – potentially the artist herself – perched on a chair and reading while one of her equally red shoes dangles from her foot, ready to fall. Inquisitive eyes will see the subject’s fly on the curtain behind her; however, another unique shoe with a color that matches her socks remains the puzzle of the painting.

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