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Lauri Lyons

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The Armory Show; Contemporary Art in New York

Posted: 03/09/2010 12:33 am

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Since 1913, The Armory Show Art Fair has been the preeminent international exhibition of modern art in the United States. Every March, galleries, private dealers, and artists descend upon New York to review, sell and purchase the latest work by contemporary artist working in all visual disciplines. Quite simply, The Armory Show is a must see for any art enthusiast.


This year the show expanded to two piers on the Hudson River, and could easily take an entire day to navigate. While making rounds to view the work, I was surprised by how friendly and informative the art dealers were in regards to explaining the artist's work and practices. Although the dealer's first priorities were to sell work, it was good to see that they had a genuine enthusiasm for the work they were representing. Prices ranged from $4,000 to $555,000 in accordance to the complexity and scale of the work or the artist's stature.

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Upon entering the Armory Show, I was immediately attracted to five large sculptures by Polish artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz near the Marlborough Gallery booth. Abakanowicz created oversized bronze sculptures depicting walking legs. The sculptures address life during the Nazi's occupation of Poland and later Communism. Abakanowicz has created 300 pairs of legs that are exhibited as large scale installations in outdoor and indoor environments.

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Another Marlborough stunner was the work of Manolo Valdes. Valdes' work included Mariposas, a series of bronze heads that will later be presented as a public art installation. The bronze heads will transverse the length of Broadway in New York City.


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Normally one goes to the Armory show to discover new work, but this year I unexpectedly stumbled upon a rare printing technique called Mixografia. While looking at an image, I noticed the surface looked like a relief instead of a flat print, as it was labeled. The dealer informed me that the print was created by a rare printing process known as Mixografia.

The printing technique allows an artist to transform a three dimensional object, such as a plastic toy, into a print with a three dimensional surface and color. The technique sounds complicated because it is complicated. The Los Angeles based Mixografia, is the only company in the world that offers the technology to artists.


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Moving from L.A. to Japan, artist Manabu Ikeda produced several awe inspiring visions of an apocalyptic future in his series Ark, the History of Rise and Fall, and Foretoken. Ikeda is best known for his richly detailed labor intensive drawings. The drawings can take up to two years to complete. The work is a visual combustion of futuristic architecture, natural disasters, and time compression that manifests into a dense universe of its own on paper.


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At age 23, artist Devin Troy Strother brought a new voice to the Armory Show. His layered day-glow collages feature cut paper, glitter, 1970s advertisements, and trash-talking stick figures. The combination of all the elements produces unique collages that are evocative of Haitian vodun paintings. The Richard Heller Gallery in Los Angeles will be presenting a solo exhibition of Devin's work in June.


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Ghanian painter, Lynette Yiadon-Boakye was the single artist on view at the Faye Fleming & Partner stall. In essence, her paintings were a solitary pause from the visual acrobatics of the other work at the fair. Many of the paintings depicted solo portraits of people removed from an environmental background. The paintings are both deceptively simple in technique and muted in terms of color and content. However, Lynette's work delivers a solid punch in regards to the public's reception. On the opening day of the fair, all but one of the paintings were already sold. Yiadon-Boakye is scheduled to have a solo exhibition of her work later this year at the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


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Speaking of the Jack Shainman Gallery, I believe one of the standout exhibitions on site was the gloriously futuristic work of designer / sculptor Nick Cave. Cave's towering sound suits are immediately awe inspiring due to their heavily tactile qualities. In terms of popular culture, the sound suits can easily be considered a sculptural remix of Star Wars' Chewbacca, African Shaman costumes, and a heavy dose of Parliament Funkadelic, all rolled up in one. If that is not enough to get your attention, then Cave's remarkable craftsmanship will astound you with his fine attention to detail, tailoring skills, and saturated color palette.


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Although the Armory Show primarily showcases fine art practices, this year, artist Susan Norrie expanded the art fair's boundaries with the exhibition of her "Havoc 2007" video installation series. The documentary videos focuses on man-made and seismic disturbances that have brought devastation to areas of East Java.


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Each year the one question that is always up for debate is: "Where is the new up and coming arts center?" At this time, I will boldly predict that by 2025, Detroit, Michigan will become a new hub for contemporary art. If you are wondering what on Earth would attract artists to Detroit during the city's mass exodus? The answer is quite obvious; big spaces and cheap rent. Artists are always on the hunt for large affordable spaces to create work and call home.

At this moment, Detroit is a wide-open playing field for any type of development, including arts development. John W. Sauve, a member of the Birmingham Public Art Board, declared
"Detroit is full of people (former steel workers and car manufacturers) who actually know how to make things." That statement is valuable information to any artist that has big production ideas.

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As history has shown, whenever artists inhabit undeveloped neighborhoods, they create their own communities and give birth to "the new cool." If you doubt this theory, remember East Berlin1989? The mass exodus and empty buildings. Today, Berlin is regarded as the artist's Mecca of Europe.

As an ironic farewell to the Armory Show 2010, I had the pleasure of meeting a veteran fine art dealer who told me a funny story about a famous artist who received a private commission. The reputed wild child artist was commissioned to create a new piece of work at the home of a wealthy art patron. Staying true to his reputation, the artist arrived in town and promptly got wasted and trashed his hotel room.

He would later arrive at the patron's house to work. He was welcomed inside by the butler and proceeded to create his signature crumpled ball of metal and string. When the patron returned home to view his newly purchased masterpiece, he was unable to find it and immediately asked the butler where the artwork was. The stunned butler replied, "That was art? I thought it was junk. I threw it out with the garbage!"

No matter how sophisticated your taste in art may be, always remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder!


Lauri Lyons is the author of Flag: An American Story and Flag International.

All images are the copyright of the featured artists.

 

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