The Armory Show Returns With Renewed Energy and a Global Perspective

New York’s pre-eminent contemporary art fair returned to the Javits Center this past weekend with renewed enthusiasm, a distinctly international presence, and a wider focus on up-and-coming talents.

The Armory Show 2022 at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Photography by Vincent Tullo

As thousands of tennis fanatics descended on Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens over the past two weeks for the U.S. Open, they strolled past five sculptures that would set the tone for the city’s upcoming fall arts season. Commissioned by the USTA’s Be Open campaign in partnership with The Armory Show, the pieces were made by artists such as Myles Nurse, Jose Dávila, and Gerald Chukwuma, who come from underrepresented backgrounds and plumb weighty topics befitting the week ahead: empowerment, balance, growth. 

Those themes dominated The Armory Show’s 28th edition, which made a splashy return to the Javits Center this past weekend. New York’s pre-eminent contemporary art fair brought together nearly 250 galleries from more than 30 countries, a renewed global presence owed to loosened Covid-security protocols and travel restrictions. (The vibe was certainly an upgrade from the building’s use as a mass vaccination site and makeshift morgue during the pandemic.) “We aren’t just bigger to be bigger,” says the fair’s executive director Nicole Berry, noting how this year’s rendition is more aligned with her vision of the fair reaching its full potential. “We’re bigger because the demand is there and the space warrants it.”

Sean Kelly Gallery’s booth with paintings by Hugo McCloud. Photography by Vincent Tullo

The building’s cavernous halls and smart layout—once again devised by architects Frederick Fisher and Partners to provide unobstructed sight lines and breathability—gave the fair space to swing big. This year, two new curated sections tackled big ideas. The Focus section, organized by the MCA Chicago curator Carla Acevedo Yates, highlighted artists focused on how environmental issues interact with the current political climate of race, gender, and power. Perhaps best embodying this notion were three canvases by Hugo McCloud, which depict an older man riding a rickety bicycle delivering flowers. The self-taught painter collected plastic bags and affixed them to the canvas through a heat transfer process, lending material depth. 

“The fair has a Latin American and Latinx focus, but not only,” Tobias Ostrander, who curated the Platform section, tells The Art Newspaper. “It’s really how those things interact with other thematics: Black artists, artists from the African diaspora, Indigenous artists. All of this has been on people’s minds.” In his section, Ostrander explored how recent revisionism, particularly the toppling of Confederate monuments, is shifting how artists approach sculpture. For instance, Juan Fernando Herrán’s imposing plinths devoid of commemorated heroes and Roberto Huarcaya’s towering 300-foot-long photogram of the Amazon Rainforest shot at night. The works individually attain what they set out to achieve, but as one critic noted, the section’s unfortunate placement between two champagne lounges somewhat dampened its message.

A work by Roberto Huarcaya in the Platform section. Photography by Vincent Tullo

In the conspicuous absence of mega-galleries Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian, and Pace, more emerging dealers were given room to shine. The fair’s Presents section spotlighted galleries less than 10 years old showcasing recent work in solo-and-dual artist presentations. Among the standouts were Keith Jackson’s vivid family paintings at Charles Moffett Gallery, scrappy Lower East Side upstart Kai Matsumiya’s showing of disparate Jan Kiefer canvases, and London dealer Jack Bell Gallery’s trove of evocative works by Cameroonian artist Marc Padeu. A new initiative called Armory Spotlight, meanwhile, provided a complimentary booth to a New York Institution. The inaugural partner, The Kitchen, unveiled a “digital jukebox” layered into a wallpaper installation of print ephemera designed with Apply Stickers. 

When asked about the resilience of New York’s cultural community before the fair opened its pared-down edition in 2021, Berry reaffirmed her belief that the city would “emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.” Her optimism was well-placed: More than 42,000 people spanning exhibitors, collectors, and enthusiasts showed up across the fair’s four-day run this year, securing early six-figure sales of artworks by the likes of Fred Tomaselli, Huma Bhabha, and Kehinde Wiley, not to mention the acquisition of new works by museums such as the Centre Pompidou, ICA Miami, and the Rubell Museum.

“Le dejéuner dans la plantation” (2022) by Marc Padeu. Image courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery

“In the 20 years that I’ve participated in this fair, this is the freshest new energy that I’ve seen in all this time,” says Susanne Vielmetter, owner of the eponymous L.A. gallery. “The established galleries need to pay attention to this new wave of younger dealers and excellent artists.”

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