The contemporary and modern art explosion that is The Armory Show is back again for another year and, as usual, it's a lot. Spread throughout Pier 92 & 94 on the Western edge of Manhattan, the show features hundreds of galleries from dozens of countries hawking thousands of pieces that range from "whoa now" to "wtf?" The Armory Show is a high-fallutin clusterfuck of dandy capitalists who trade and invest in art like it's Bitcoin futures; it's also a beautifully good time.
The stated theme of this year's Armory Show is "What Is To Be Done?," a question intended to touch on the fraught—or perhaps even decimated—state of politics and society around the world today. The title was lifted from a novel by 19th Century Russian writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, whose work nurtured some of the earliest socialist ideas that would eventually lead to the February Revolution.
It's tempting to sneer at Armory organizers for tacking a political theme onto what is essentially a rarefied shopping mall for the one percent, but strolling through row after row of gallery showcases, it's clear that works critiquing the status quo have been given more than their due. For every Dali oil painting with an extortionate price tag, there are many more sculptures, paintings, and prints that condemn today's clear and present dangers: Chinese oppression, racist American policing, smartphone surveillance, modern sexism, and materialist waste.
One of the most affecting pieces is Carrie Mae Weems's All the Boys (Blocked 1) a diptych of prints that features an anonymous black boy with his face blocked out in red; beside him hangs the censored police report filed shortly before Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail. Weems's stark look at black erasure and death in America is made all the more powerful given the surroundings. Amidst the all the Armory's giddy, multi-colored commerce, this quiet look at hate and death is both sad and easily missed.
Much like the excellent new Spring/Break show, there's so much good art (and solid people watching) at the Armory Show that it'd be impossible to take it all in in a day. Still, for aficionados, the $47 ticket fee is well worth it, and even casual art fans might be able to justify the price (honestly, where else are you going to be able to see this kind of stuff?).
By virtue of its own cacophonous essence there's no answer to "What Is To Be Done?" at this year's Armory Show, but the question gets asked in so many provoking ways. Go and see yourself some art.
The Armory Show continues through Sunday at Piers 92 & 94 on the Hudson River.