Art fairs are often associated with abstract painting (much of it looking the same), stunt pieces (almost instantly forgettable), and neon sculptures (brightly and, in many cases, annoying), but, at this year’s Armory Show in New York, some galleries had on offer works that explicitly addressed the political situation in the United States. Some took on this country’s tumultuous recent history; others urged viewers to stand up and fight for their beliefs. A few works were even inspiring.
At Roberts & Tilton’s booth, Daniel Joseph Martinez had on offer two sculptures that addressed systemic oppression. In butter-yellow font, Martinez painted elusive text onto transparent police shields. “I eagerly await the end of the world, as we know it,” reads one. Perhaps the most shocking thing about either of these works was when they were made—they both date from 2012, a few years before police violence became a hot-button issue for many Americans.
Jack Shainman Gallery, always politically engaged, featured Carrie Mae Weems’s 2016 diptych All the Boys (Blocked 1), a memorial of sorts to Sandra Bland, who allegedly committed suicide after being arrested for a traffic violation. A blurry image of a woman with a maroon rectangle over part of her face is paired with a silkscreened panel showing Bland’s jail-booking screening form. Weems has redacted certain pieces of information from the form, including Bland’s images.
Awol Erizku looked to the more distant past with a sculpture at Ben Brown Fine Arts’s booth. Featuring an old-fashioned American flag clamped to a photo stand, the work addresses the violence that runs through much of America’s history—Erizku printed a pixelated image of a cougar onto the flag. The animal’s teeth are bared; it’s ready to pounce.
In typically strange, impassioned fashion, Pope.L turned his attention to the present with two paintings at Susan Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. In both, the artist wrote a series of nonsensical texts, in one case in deliberately naïve, child-like handwriting. “REVERSE THE TRUMP,” Pope.L scrawled on one unevenly primed canvas, rhyming the President’s name with the word “BUTTCHUMP.”
Those works are downers, but there are glimmers of hope at Kaufmann Repetto’s booth, which includes an Andrea Bowers piece made of flickering LED lights. Using cardboard boxes as makeshift frames, Bowers shapes the lights to form the word “RESISTERS.” They shine magenta, navy blue, and fiery red, casting a positive light on an otherwise dark political situation.