New York City- On a canicular early September day, the much-anticipated 2023 Armory Show, known to many as the “essential New York art fair,” launched the fall arts season and transformed the Javits Center into a sanctuary for creativity.
Recently acquired by the London-based Frieze, The Armory Show returned to Manhattan’s Javits Center for its third year, featuring over 225 leading international galleries, a drop from last year’s 240, representing more than 35 countries. “The scope of international participation among both gallerists and artists reflects the rich diversity of the city itself, a place where art professionals of all backgrounds have historically come to push boundaries and join in a global conversation,” says Executive Director Nicole Berry. This year’s trends: textiles, ceramics, and figurative painting continue to enjoy strong revivals and representation of female African artists, African American artists, and the African American experience as subject matter prevailed.
I wandered around the fair, insisting on being captivated, even after all these years. It never loses its charm: the joy of strolling among the enthusiastic, multilingual collectors, art advisors, and enthusiasts, and the wonderfully eccentric art lovers/performers adorned in vibrant, often handcrafted attire. Considering the steep price tags attached to any of the fair’s booths (a large one, measuring around 93 sq m, can cost an exhibitor upwards of $100,000) and wishing to test how The Armory Show stays true to its mission of “active facilitator of discourse and exchange” in the intrinsically elitist contemporary art world panorama, I decided to head at once to the Non-For Profit section of the fair.
Alongside its customary focus on Non-Profit initiatives, The Armory Show’s 2023 edition has dedicated a whole section to approximately a dozen Non-Profit organizations. While these booths may be smaller in scale than commercial galleries, they are offered substantially discounted rates. The inclusion of Nonprofits within the art fair ecosystem signifies a recognition that these organizations play a vital role in the support and cultivation of emerging artists, experimentation, and risk-taking.
The Not-For-Profit section on-site at The Armory Show highlights international organizations, ranging from museums to Non-Profit galleries to art foundations, united by their common goal to promote the visual arts to collectors and the public alike. Joining The Armory Show, the inaugural edition of Photofairs and Independent, both dedicated some of their exhibition space to non-profit organizations. The 2023 Not-For-Profit exhibitors were Aperture Foundation, Ballroom Marfa, International Studio & Curatorial Program, Light Work, Lower East Side Printshop, Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, Skowhegan, Tate, The Invisible Dog, Wave Pool, Whitechapel Gallery. Selected by The Armory Show as the 2023 recipient of the Armory Spotlight initiative, Artists Space was provided with a booth at no cost.
Launched in 2022, the Armory Spotlight expands the fair’s long-standing Cultural Partners Program by honoring and highlighting a New York cultural institution. Artists Space presented Housecalls, live drawing sessions by New York-based artist Drake Carr unfolding within an ever-changing installation. Even though I appreciated the voyeuristic side of the faux storefront built within the booth, where viewers could peer at Carr’s deft portraiture performance in his makeshift atelier, it all felt overly staged and uneventful.
Amidst the numerous booths within the Not-For-Profit section, Ballroom Marfa/ Skowhegan and Lower East Side Printshop New York stood out for their thoughtfully curated presentations, each addressing unique facets of contemporary cultural dialogue. Ballroom Marfa is an internationally recognized contemporary art museum and residency in Marfa, Texas. Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture is a celebrated summer art school in Maine dedicated to nurturing emerging visual artists through mentorship and peer-to-peer exchange. Ballroom Marfa presented, among others, Kenneth Tam’s poignant photographic diptych Alfred Solo 1 & 2, where the artist considers how Asian men have been stereotyped and maligned against the iconic trope of American masculinity: the cowboy.
Moving on, I was struck by Lower East Side Printshop New York’s presentation, an arresting duo featuring Sebastiaan Bremer and Saya Woolfalk. Lower East Side Printshop is a non-profit printmaking studio that supports contemporary artists through programs such as Keyholder Residency, Publishing Residency, exhibitions, educational programs, and affordable studio rentals in New York City since 1968. The booth is anchored by Woolfalks’s prints, part of her Encyclopedia of Cloud Divination series. Her luminous, delicately hued explorations of science fiction, metaphysics, anthropology, and genetics conjure a futurist vision of cultural hybridity.
The Javits Center’s vast environment can be exhausting for art enthusiasts who spend hours walking around. However, the 2023 edition of The Armory Show had an excellent curation, providing a refreshing and delightful experience amidst the gray blur of shapes, colors, and textures.
About the writer: Eva Zanardi is a freelance writer, independent curator, and owner of Visitor Center, a contemporary art gallery located in Newburgh, NY. Her writing has been featured in various publications including White-Hot Magazine, Widewalls, and Art & Object Magazine, among other international print and online media. Prior to relocating to Upstate NY, Eva founded and directed GR Gallery, which was known for its cutting-edge contemporary art exhibitions in New York City. Additionally, she serves as the President and Senior Advisor of EZartconsultingnyc, a private art consultancy that specializes in modern and contemporary art, with a particular focus on Op Art, Kinetic Art, Concrete Art, Spatialism, and Programmed Art.