A Poseur’s Guide to Armory Week 2016

by Ally Betker and Stephanie Eckard

Alanna Vanacore

The sprawling art world event known as Armory Week ended in New York on Sunday. With a dozen or so fairs spread out all over the city, taking them all in was an enormous undertaking. Even if you narrowed your focus to three of the fairs — say the Armory Show, Independent New York , and the Spring/Break Art Show — it’s likely you still missed something. But no need to fret. Here’s ten highlights of everything you need to know about this year’s edition — the best booths, the most memorable controversies, the artists that had the critics swooning — so you too can pretend to hold court on the subject like your average snobby art world connoisseur.


Naked, Not Afraid at the Armory Show

During the VIP preview of the Armory Show, Italian performance artist Romina de Novellis locked herself naked in a cage with 500 white roses. Throughout the day, she slowly picked up the blooms one by one and secured them to the structure, eventually concealing herself from the curious gaze of guests. It’s unclear if she took a break for lunch or bathroom visits.


“American Reflexxx” at Spring/Break

In a video that left New York’s art critic Jerry Saltz in a tizzy, performance artist Signe Pierce and director Alli Coates left a lasting impression at Spring/Break with their 14-minute documentary of what happened when Pierce wandered the crowded streets of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina in a short, skin-tight dress and face-obscuring silver mask. She’s soon attacked with shockingly open insults and comments on her gender, which eventually escalate to the crowd following, spraying, kicking, and slamming her to the ground, sending her neon heels flying. Pierce and Coates had agreed beforehand not to interact for the hour-long experiment, and its unforeseen outcome, paired with Pierce’s utter vulnerability, make for a jarring portrait of the real threats of violence facing women and non-gender-conforming people in America.

Photo courtesy of @jerrysaltz.


Myla Dalbesio’s “You Can Call Me Baby”

“American Reflexxx” was just one part of a standout exhibition at Spring/Break from Myla Dalbesio, the model/artist who curated the show. With works like explicit, intricately woven tapestries from Erin M. Riley; poignant, prettily presented poems by Nicole Reber; and a surreal bedroom installation by Maggie Dunlap, “You Can Call Me Baby” was a clear home run. Tied together by a theme of female vulnerability, the show had a cogent, powerful thesis – something that was sadly a rarity among the week’s seemingly endless shows.

“The Bloody Chamber” (2016) by Maggie Dunlap. Photo by Katie Thompson.


Karl Homlqvist at Gavins Brown’s Enterprise If Instagram was the measurement of success at an art fair, then Karl Holmqvist at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise would have a big advantage. At Independent New York, the artist filled the floor with black and white clothes purchased from charity thrift stores, and covered the walls in text that called into question acts of charity.


Kehinde Wiley’s Very Good Week

Of course, sales are the true indicator of success – it’s easy to forget that’s why most people attend the fairs, though maybe less so at the official Armory Show, where you can hear people ask things like, “How much for the Haring?” In any case, Kehinde Wiley had a number of sales by a handful galleries, including New York’s Sean Kelly, which sold the painting “Equestrian Portrait of Philip III” for $300,000 and the sculpture “Bound” for $375,000. Galerie Daniel Templon sold “Jose Alberto de la Cruz Diaz and Luis Nunez” for $250,000, and Roberts & Tilton of Culver City, California sold “Equestrian Portrait of Prince Tommaso of Savoy-Carignan,” also for $250,000.


African Art at the Armory Show This year’s “Show Focus” at the Armory was on African art, which South African artist Ed Young announced from the get-go with a giant banner reading “ALL SO F—ING AFRICAN” right by the fair’s entrance. (That was a relatively chaste message compared to the other one he had in mind, making for a brief rumor that Young had been censored.) Controversy aside, the 14 international galleries’ worth of contemporary African art was a definite highlight of the Armory, adding a welcome mix of diversity and showcasing standout works like collage-like paintings from Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a video from Kapwani Kiwanga, and bright canvases from Barkley L. Hendricks, seen here.

Photo courtesy of @beckyhammer.


Not for Sale

Garth Greenan Gallery is exhibiting at the Armory Show, but still took one piece to Independent. (Independent as a whole, which moved to Spring Studios from Dia in Chelsea this year, was a buzzy topic in its own right.) Unfortunately, Mark Greenwold’s big, colorful “Bright Promise (for Simon)” from 1971-75 isn’t for sale, but head over to the gallery, where his later work is on view through March 26 and is available for purchase. Talk about a good PR move.


Art for Nerds at Independent

Artist Corazon del Sol designed a video game based on the life of her mother – Eugenia Butler, an artist whose work was also shown – which Los Angeles gallery The Box presented as an immersive booth, where visitors could play the game in the dark. The project explores her three-generational history, up to her maternal grandmother (also Eugenia Butler), and utilizes a game controller in the shape of a vulva – which might have spooked the actual geeks in attendance.


A Solo Show from a Female Artist at the Armory A solo show at an art fair is unusual – and one by a woman should be celebrated. At the Armory Show, New York gallery Two Palms showed Cecily Brown exclusively, a British artist who explores the work of Old Masters like Hieronymus Bosch and Jan Brueghel the Elder through the female gaze. Earlier this year, she was one of the female artists’ at the Rubell Collection’s all-women No Man’s Land exhibit.


Party Time A small room at the end of a hall inside the historic James A. Farley Post Office Building of all places, for the Spring/Break Art Show, ushered visitors in to a “birthday party,” filled with music and pink balloons they were encouraged to write messages on. Meanwhile, stretching along the hall was the “after-party,” a series of portraits of morning-after accoutrements like crushed beer cans that alluded to the aftermath.

“Seven Minutes in Heaven” by Alanna Vanacore. Curated by Aaron Levi Garvey. Photo by Katie Thompson.