Each year in West Manhattan, the global art world gathers at Piers 92 and 94 for New York’s largest art fair. Some of the most significant works of the 20th and 21st century, and plenty whose importance is just beginning to reveal itself, hover above the waters of the Hudson for the tens of thousands who brave the labyrinthine turns of the makeshift city of galleries.
Pier 92 hosted the modern collection and Pier 94 held the contemporary, with a total of 205 galleries represented overall. Venus Drawn Out: 20th Century Drawings by Great Women Artists on Pier 92 was a unique and appreciated surprise. Susan Harris curated the inaugural project, and the “cast of protagonists…often underestimated when compared with their male counterparts” came together for silent conversations with one another at four locations on the pier. The salon-style exhibition part of the collection held approximately 35 works on paper for sale by artists such as Anni Albers, Jennifer Bartlett, Lynda Benglis, Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Lygia Clark, Helen Frankenthaler, Eva Hesse, Joyce Kozloff, Lee Krasner, Yayoi Kusama, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Agnes Martin, Georgia O’Keefe, Carol Rama, Betye Saar, Nancy Spero, and many more. Amidst the constantly changing spectrum of color and mediums on the pier, the interludes of Venus Drawn Out provided a sense of stability bordering on relief, not unlike running into a friend in a foreign place and finding comfort in familiarity. As the show ran westward down the pier the viewer was drawn out into the river just below; Venus Drawn Out in a way structures this pull away from land like a peaceful but reckoning force which doesn’t so much demand attention, but captures it nonetheless. Armory Focus explores the geography of a particular spatial region opposed to the geography of gender in Venus Drawn Out. Armory Focus: China was curated for this year’s 2014 show by Philip Tinari, Director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. A selection of contemporary Chinese galleries staked their place at the show this year, not to mark a new presence but to correct misunderstandings:
“China is central to the makeup of the world system today in ways that are well understood on the level of geopolitics but have not yet been fully elaborated in the realm of culture. The wave of national surveys- the so-called ‘China Shows’- that introduced the first generation of Chinese artists to New York has come and gone, leaving even a decade later an aftertaste of gaudy, symbolic, often derivative work. This persistent memory clouds efforts by individual actors to illuminate the dynamism, seriousness, and originality of the Chinese art scene and system today. This section aims to change that.” – Philip Tinari, Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing
The destabilization of Western (mis)conceptions about China’s artistic scene is precisely what Noah Horowitz, Executive Director of the Armory Show, sought to accomplish with the Focus show and the collaboration with Philip Tinari. Twenty artists of diverse backgrounds and ages “ranging from the ‘Stars’ generation of the late 1970’s through the booming post-Mao generation born after 1975” comprised the show. Both Armory Focus and Venus Drawn Out seek inclusion and critical evaluation through careful incorporation: Armory Focus through a large-scale spotlight, Venus Drawn Out through multiple exhibition spaces that inspire a seamless sense of integration. This year’s commissioned artist, Xu Zhen, is a leading figure of Shanghai’s art scene coming out of the Post-Mao era (1976-1989) known for such exhibitions as “Supermarket: Art for Sale” and “Twins.” For the Armory show, Zhen built a large body of work concerned with the destabilization or critical analysis of social-political taboos in the contemporary Chinese landscape:
“If there is a common theme uniting his diverse bodies of work, perhaps it is the twinned drives to upend existing value systems and posit new ones, particularly those that may seem, at first, just beyond the realm of plausibility. If this work borders on cynicism, it also challenges us to take a brave leap, toward acknowledging the possibility that closest-held, most cherished beliefs just might be naïve fictions.”
Zhen’s “Currency’s Ideal” (2014) belongs to a series of collage-based works, the collection of which is called The Spread:
“[The works] utilize combinations of imagery from various cultures culled from the Internet (medieval images, caricature prints, classical paintings, exotic bestiaries, etc.). Just as traditional tapestries narrate epic scenes, this series features representations of historical events, portraits of political figures, and mythological and religious scenes.”
Artsy, the Armory Show’s online partner, is “more comprehensive than any previous attempts to bring a fair of this scale online,” with over 2,600 of the works represented online from over 90% of the galleries exhibiting at the show. The large-scale efforts to translate the show to an online platform feels corroborative with both Zhen’s mission and the highlighting of female artists to make the art world as transparent as it is visible, or to make seen certain issues which even the brightest of paintings can hide.
– Amie Zimmer