Past years at the Armory Show have included Focus sections specific to various geographical areas—inviting artists from Africa in 2016 and galleries from Nordic countries in 2012, to name two examples. But, in a shift from the last few fairs, the Armory Show has broadened its Focus section this year to explore a theme: “What Is to Be Done?” Curated by Jarrett Gregory, who was formerly an associate curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, this year’s Focus section looks at economies, both here and elsewhere.
As the section was being installed yesterday, Gregory told me that she had been thinking through the idea of economies after traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she had stayed in a mud hut in a jungle, and Moscow, where she was doing research. “The other thought that had been in my mind a lot,” she said, “was, after reading Jimmie Durham’s writing, to think about political art and what it means to have a political artwork today, and what the alternatives would be for a political artwork. For me, the idea of political art has a bit of a negative connotation—too direct, too heavy-handed.” The Focus section, Gregory said, hopefully dispels those ideas.
Rather than zeroing in on a specific region, Gregory tried to create what she called “a global version of cause and effect.” To do that, she created juxtapositions between artworks. The section opens with two moving-image pieces—one by Johan Grimonperez about the global arms trade, courtesy of New York’s Sean Kelly gallery, the other by Mathilde Rosier about dancers in Nairobi, brought to the fair by Dusseldorf’s Kadel Willborn gallery. “I didn’t just want to give one perspective,” Gregory added. “It’s not one thing; it’s many things.”
Many of the works move into more abstract territory, often referring to various political issues in ambiguous ways. Lévy Gorvy and Thomas Erben Gallery have teamed up to bring Senga Nengudi’s body part–like stocking sculptures to the Focus section, while Apalazzogallery, from Brescia, Italy, has chosen to spotlight Ibrahim Mahama’s jute-sack works, which expose economic disparities in Ghana, and which were at the center of a legal battle with dealer Stefan Simchowitz a couple of years ago. One of Mahama’s works includes blankets that are used to cover smoked fish. “When we opened this, the smell of dead fish was really intense,” Gregory said.
Elsewhere in the section, photographs by Teresa Margolles and Deana Lawson, sculptures by Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantations Congolaises, and an installation by Koki Tanaka can be seen. One thing that’s noticeably absent: art about the Trump administration. “I’m sure people will do great things with that material,” Gregory said, “but this is more delicate, in terms of the approach, for the most part.”
For her part, Gregory said that she’s hoping to start a discussion rather than offer one specific viewpoint. “I don’t want to talk in terms of race or gender, but I think that in the art world, we too often have a single perspective—the European white male, for example,” she said. “I was really interested in voices and perspectives that were different from that because that reflects the world more accurately, to me.”