Photography Highlights from the 2021 Armory Show

So much has changed about our lives since the last time the Armory Show was in New York (in early March of 2020), we would be right to assume that whenever we came back to the Armory, things might be radically different. And in a sense, they were. Yes, vaccine status was checked at the entrance. Yes, masks were required for collectors and gallery staff alike. And yes, the show has changed venues, moving from its previous location at Piers 92/94 to the cavernous Javits Center, where a sense of expansive professional roominess allowed for a more spread out wandering experience.

But aside from those practical details, and a noticeable shift in the mix of work on view toward artists of color, this 2021 Armory Show was an art fair like we used to know them. That predictability was comforting, and also quietly distressing, like we’d missed an opportunity to make some changes to a system sorely in need of new ideas. But the show goes on, and we have seemingly rebooted an art fair experience that is materially unchanged from its previous incarnation. The resulting mood in the booths mixed relief to be back at it, and wary understated hope for the future.

As usual, the photography to be found at this year’s Armory Show leaned toward the very most contemporary work, much of it made in the last year or two, with a few re-emergent works from the past decade or two mixed in here and there (generally following scarcity trends). And since the exhibitor mix was similarly weighted toward the biggest and most established galleries (even with areas of smaller slots available for less well known exhibitors), the photography on view skewed that way as well, with more new work from well known names and fewer unexpected finds and discoveries than we might have liked, however hard we looked.

The slideshow below covers what caught my attention in the various booths, and as usual, the individual images are accompanied by linked gallery names, artist/photographer names, and prices where appropriate, along with further description and analysis.

Two Palms (here): This booth was a solo show of new works by Richard Prince. Each tall vertical image documents a section of the joke archive of Milton Berle, with file dividers that arrange the material by subject. This aesthetic was previously explored by Erica Baum in her late 1990s series of card catalog images, but Prince has made the approach his own by tying it back to his long standing interest in jokes and wordplay. Priced at $40000 and already sold out.

Yossi Milo Gallery (here): This new work by Kyle Meyer brings us up to speed on his artistic evolution since his 2018 show at the gallery. While most of the works in that show were portraits of single individuals woven together with single fabrics, here Meyer has not only made a double portrait, but he has woven it with two separate fabrics. The result is a shifting swirl of patterning that seems to undulate from top to bottom, with round bursts of texture like fireworks or floral blossoms. Priced at $16500.

Van Doren Waxter (here): This recent work by Mariah Robertson simplifies some of the frenetic energy of her earlier darkroom efforts, and surrounds it for the first time with a color coordinated artist’s frame. The frame accents the object quality of her prints, while the larger elemental shapes here feel more purposefully geometric. Priced at $18000.

Galeria Nara Roesler (here): While the approachable works of Vik Muniz can sometimes feel like they are everywhere (especially at art fairs), he continues to restlessly experiment with his craft. In this new work, he moves beyond scraps of paper/magazines to painting each individual scrap by hand, almost like separate brushstrokes. From there, he physically assembles them into a sculptural collage (here echoing a composition by Paul Ranson), which is then photographed. This thoughtful movement from painting, through sculpture, and ultimately to photography keeps us thinking, as he emulates and negates each medium along the way. Priced at €50000.

Kasmin Gallery (here): While the physical doubling effect in this new work by Daniel Gordon is more pronounced than in some of his previous images, perhaps it signals a return to first principles and a simpler vision of the parameters of the constructed still life, in contrast to some of his more eye-poppingly exuberant compositions of late. That this and another print were hanging in the Kasmin booth also seems to imply the beginnings of a new representation relationship. Priced at $8000.

Galeria Lume (here): This booth was a solo presentation of the Brazilian artist Ana Vitória Mussi, and her multi-faceted approach to photography was a discovery for me. Early projects included overpainted newspaper cutouts and ethereal silkscreen reversals, while this set of photographs from the late 1980s uses the lines on a sports court as the raw material for a lyrical kind of geometric Minimalism. Priced at $6500 for the set of 12 prints.

Edwynn Houk Gallery (here): Vintage photography is becoming more and more of a rarity at contemporary fairs like the Armory Show, but a well placed gem from the past still has the power to inform the present. This surreal 1934 work by Dora Maar combines tonal reversal, fashion shoot elegance, and an ethereal simmering glow into something unexpected. Priced at $65000.

Edwynn Houk Gallery (here): In contemporary fairs now overstuffed with painting, it makes sense to feature photographs that look painterly, if only as a kind of twist on the prevailing theme. This 2018 image by David Maisel is filled with expressively abstract washes of blue and white, which turn out to be the flattened tailing ponds of a mine in Chile. It’s a watery, almost gestural composition, with a sneaky real-life underbelly. Priced at $24000.

Halsey McKay Gallery (here): Sheree Hovsepian’s work is evolving further toward a subtle dialogue between mediums. In this recent work, she matches the curves of ceramics and carved wood with those found in photographic nudes, creating sinuous lines that transition from one texture to another. Priced at $10500.

Sargent’s Daughters (here): The works in this collage series by Wendy Red Star start with cutouts of Apsáalooke tribe members on parade at the annual Crow Fair, with their cars draped with traditional fabrics and textiles, mimicking their traditions of movement. These images are then set against fabric backdrops, creating contrasts and combinations that speak to the wider cultural influences of modern life. Sold in sets of 4, priced at $35000.

Cristin Tierney (here): This booth was solo presentation of the work of Janet Biggs, with a film and a handful of still photographs on view. The works were made during a residency at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. In simulations meant to replicate life in the Martian environment, her images capture intrepid orange suited pioneers performing various tasks in the harsh rocky conditions, mixing scientific practicality and surreal strangeness. Priced at $5000.

Chambers Fine Art (here): This booth was a solo presentation of the work of Ai Weiwei, including this new large scale image of a recent black glass sculpture made in Venice. The work gathers together references to many Ai works (including skulls, zodiac signs, and his raised middle finger), built up into an armature of bones that creates an aggregate silhouette. Priced at $60000.

Sean Kelly Gallery (here): This image comes from Dawoud Bey’s newest series In This Here Place. Documenting places of enslavement on various plantations in Louisiana, Bey has applied extremely deliberate looking to the land, allowing the details of trauma and passing time to come forth. In this picture, an ancient tree is covered by ivy and falling moss, with a humble shack rotting in the background, the textures, surfaces, and spatial relationships used to evoke hidden histories. Priced at $55000.

James Cohan (here): The Indian photographer Gauri Gill is now represented by James Cohan, and a pair of her prints were on view in this booth. Drawn from the same series seen in her 2018 MoMA PS1 show, in this image masked figures perform everyday tasks, adding a layer of inexplicable magic to the mundane. Priced at $20000.

David Zwirner (here): Wolfgang Tillmans received prominent placement in this booth, with prints of varying sizes scattered across the available walls. While larger prints of a stained black sweatshirt and the sparkle of light off a mylar balloon were continued proof of his voracious eye for the quietly sublime details of modern life, this group of small black-and-white prints of gardeners pruning evergreen trees in Japan was even more compositionally sophisticated. The carefully sculpted forms of the trees and the vertical lines of the ladders come together with surprisingly delicate elegance. Priced at $10000 each (in the smallest size).

David Castillo Gallery (here): This 2012 work by Xaviera Simmons comes from her Index series, where collages of archival images and objects (including clothespins, Grace Jones, and a palm frond in this case) cover the sitters to the point that the references and connections overwhelm any recognizable faces. It’s a strong series that has aged well. Priced at $80000 for an AP.

Robert Koch Gallery (here): This 2014 waterfall image from Adam Katseff harkens back to his larger show of this same body of work at Sasha Wolf in 2015. The prints from the series remain astonishingly dark and tactile, with the details of blocky stone emerging only reluctantly from the enveloping blackness. Priced at $16000.

Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery (here): This booth was a solo presentation of recent works by David Gilbert. This triptych takes a Constable cloud study as its inspiration, with a pixelated version of the image as a backdrop and paper cutouts and painted gestures of draped netting repeating the motifs. Seen together, the works have a liltingly constructed elegance that seems to dissolve into ambiguity. Priced at $24000.

Denny Dimin Gallery (here): This new work by Erin O’Keefe takes her meticulous tabletop constructions in a more painterly direction. More mottled surfaces accent the curves in this piece, and with a squint of the eyes, it reverses direction, becoming an inverted block balancing on its tip. It’s a smart optical illusion playing with the flattening eye of the camera, crafted with deceptive precision. Priced at $12900.

Inman Gallery (here): This booth was dedicated to the early photographic works of Demetrius Oliver, where everyday objects are given performative resonance. Many of the images have a strong graphic presence, including this black-and-white image of train tracks following the lines of a fist. Priced at $15000.

Galerie Loock (here): This booth intermingled prints from Gregory Halpern’s excellent projects Zzyzx and Omaha Sketchbook. The Omaha works have been made into a portfolio with actual prints affixed onto individual spreads, which is much more crisp and tactile than the original photobook facsimile presentation. Available in an orange clamshell box, the portfolio was also on display as a series of 30 framed pages. Priced at $35000.

Ben Brown Fine Arts (here): This submerged statue image by Awol Erizku wasn’t in his 2020 Flag Art Foundation show here in New York, but it’s clear that Nefertiti remains an intriguing source of inspiration for the artist. Here he adds a layer of complexity to the staging, with the water rushing away from the eyes like tears. Priced at $18000.

Galerie Lelong (here): This booth was a remix of Michelle Stuart’s 2019 show at Lelong, with a few different examples shuffled in. This array of archival images has been intentionally distorted, the watery blurs and hand-crafted erasures making the landscapes (and the memories and traumas they hold) all the more indistinct and illegible. Priced at $40000.

Yancey Richardson (here): Ori Gersht has been experimenting with freeze frame explosions for many years now, and this 2021 work turns a floral still life printed on tiles into a crackling study of breaking texture. The individual tiles seem to have been housed in a postcard rack, and each one has been smashed simultaneously, exchanging floral exuberance for an instant of all-over destruction. Priced at $18000.

Yancey Richardson (here): This work wasn’t included in David Alekhuogie’s recent show at the gallery, but its unexpected angles successfully upend our sense of the original mask. The cardboard physicality of his construction feels fresh and challenging, forcing us to see the mask (and what it and its archival image might represent) in alternate ways. Priced at $9000.

Microscope Gallery (here): Jeanne Liotta’s lightboxes using old NASA slides as source material were another discovery for me at the fair. Using various filters and gel cutouts, Liotta has interrupted and expanded the fading imagery, giving the stars and galaxies added layers of geometric abstraction and expressive extrapolation. A broader show of this project is currently on view at the gallery. Priced at $8000.

Patel Brown Gallery (here): This booth was a solo presentation of the photographs of the Canadian artist Anique Jordan. In each image, she has staged herself against an enveloping black background, surrounded by various objects, images, and archival materials, all relating to the climate of violence around her. In this work, she has placed herself between two newspaper spreads, one showing the black faces of victims of gun violence in Toronto and the other the white faces of the Toronto city council. It’s a pared down caught between setup that delivers a powerful punch. Priced at $5800.

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Read more about: Adam Katseff, Ai Weiwei, Ana Vitória Mussi, Anique Jordan, Awol Erizku, Daniel Gordon, David Alekhuogie, David Gilbert, David Maisel, Dawoud Bey, Demetrius Oliver, Dora Maar, Erin O'Keefe, Gauri Gill, Gregory Halpern, Janet Biggs, Jeanne Liotta, Kyle Meyer, Mariah Robertson, Michelle Stuart, Ori Gersht, Richard Prince, Sheree Hovsepian, Vik Muniz, Wendy Red Star, Wolfgang Tillmans, Xaviera Simmons, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Chambers Fine Art, Cristin Tierney Gallery, David Castillo Gallery, David Zwirner, Denny Dimin Gallery, Edwynn Houk Gallery, Galeria Lume, Galeria Nara Roesler, Galerie Lelong, Galerie Loock, Halsey McKay Gallery, Inman Gallery, James Cohan Gallery, Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, Microscope Gallery, Patel Brown Gallery, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Robert Koch Gallery, Sargent's Daughters, Sean Kelly Gallery, Two Palms, Van Doren Waxter Gallery, Yancey Richardson Gallery, Yossi Milo Gallery, The Armory Show

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