The Armory was bathed in darkness, save the spotlights on eleven towering concrete forms, resembling smokestacks or organ pipes scaled for giants. Some ninety ticket holders for Taryn Simon’s “An Occupation of Loss” were ushered down a steep staircase and invited to explore. Each column was occupied by a single or small group of professional mourners, invited by the artist to perform their services. With some trepidation, I entered one of these concrete tubes and stood a few feet from a man wearing all black (hat, clothes, and sunglasses) and playing a mournful song on an accordion. He and the other mourners—some thirty in all—represented an array of traditions, from a person masked head to toe in a feathered African costume to a wondrous female duo from Azerbaijan whose elegies sounded ancient and passionate. An intense half hour passed quickly as the cacophonous sounds from each tube swirled together in a funereal fugue. On the way out, visitors received a booklet with documentation about the visa applications for the performers, along with interpretive texts by anthropologists and musicologists on funeral rituals. Simon brought her usual rigorous research to this project, but the subject matter and humanity of the mourners gave it a pathos and gravity that left me reeling. —Lindsay Pollock
Pictured: Installation view of Taryn Simon’s “An Occupation of Loss,” at Park Avenue Armory. Photo Naho Kubota.