Armory Show 2014: China steals the limelight? Media round up

The Armory Show 2014 wooed US collectors and commentators with its focus on Chinese contemporary art.

The Armory Show 2014 took place on Piers 92 and 94 in New York City from 6 to 9 March 2014. This year, the contemporary and modern art fair spotlighted contemporary art from China in its Focus section, and claimed to have made improvements on the 2013 iteration. Art Radar rounds up the various reactions.

Gabriel Leung, 'Future Archive for Future Past' no. 2, 2013, archival digital c-print, 52 x 42 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Gabriel Leung, ‘Future Archive for Future Past no. 2’, 2013, archival digital C-print, 52 x 42 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

The fifteen year old Armory Show, directed by Noah Horowitz since 2012, this year featured 205 exhibitors, a slight contraction on previous numbers which was intended to improve the fair experience. The 2014 fair was broken out into five sections: Modern art, Contemporary art, a section dedicated to not-for-profits, “Armory Presents” for emerging galleries and “Armory Focus: China”.

Hyperallergic Founder and Editor Hrag Vartanian gave a broadly positive reaction to the fair, but with some caveats:

The fair itself might be the most interesting in years for contemporary art fans. That’s not to say there aren’t a number of problems, including the Armory Modern section, which felt subdued and predictable, and the associated Venus Drawn Out exhibition of female artists, which resembled the visual equivalent of salon-style wallpaper for a sitting area.

Zhao Yao, 'A Painting of Thought I-305', 2013. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Zhao Yao, ‘A Painting of Thought I-305’, 2013. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Important galleries return

In the last few years, the Armory Show faced a number of hiccups that, when combined with the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, caused several prominent galleries to cease participation. However, Fair Director Noah Horowitz told Bloomberg that “all these issues needed to be addressed and we made a calculated attempt to address them.” The participants were reduced to 205 – as compared to 272 in 2011 when Horowitz took over as Director – with larger booths and sturdy walls that would not collapse, as well as a VIP lounge and better food choices being added.

“New energy”, new sales

The result of these improvements was that several galleries returned to the fair after a hiatus. Among them was Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, which this year sold a Tony Cragg sculpture for USD1 million and a Tom Sachs sculpture for USD200,000 during the opening hours of the VIP preview – two of the top sales of the night. Thaddaeus Ropac told ARTINFO:

We showed here years ago, but grew unhappy with the fair. We’ve come back now with ambitious material and feel there’s a new energy now.

Karolina K. Blasiak, art consultant at Gallery Shchukin, tweeted:

Art Consultant at Gallery Shchukin

According to The Huffington Post, galleries such as David Zwirner, Lisson Gallery and Michael Kohn continued their support for the fair, with galleries such as Lehmann Maupin and James Cohan Gallery on the roster of new exhibitors.

Double Fly Art Center, 'Save the World', 2012, screenshot. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Double Fly Art Center, ‘Save the World’, 2012, screenshot. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Focusing on China 

Philip Tinari, Director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, curated the fifth Focus section of the Armory Show. The section featured 17 galleries aiming to showcase “new cultural voices” from China.

In an interview with Art Radar in January 2014, Tinari said of his gallery and artist selections:

I wanted to present a range of styles and positions, while also pointing to figures and trends that seem unlikely or unexpected in an American context. Part of that meant showcasing younger artists and galleries who have not yet shown outside of Asia; another part involves revisiting certain historical moments that never received due notice beyond China. In the end, I was looking to put together a mix of artists, works and galleries that will surprise, delight and educate.

His choices have been well-received, with Chiu-Ti Jansen, Founder of blog China Happenings, saying:

I share a heart-felt affinity with Mr Tinari’s attempt to rectify many common misconceptions about contemporary Chinese art.

Craig L. Yee, Director of Ink Studio, told ARTINFO that:

perceptions of Chinese contemporary art are still largely based on the work of artists who came of age in the 1980s (…) What Phil is doing is bringing in a whole new generation of artists that grew up in an intellectual and cosmopolitan China.

Feng Ying, a manager of Beijing’s Space Station Art Centre, added:

We are very excited. We’d like to tell the world there’s not only Ai Weiwei or Cai Guoqiang in China. There are many more good and interesting artists and examples of avant-garde art.

Renowned Chinese artist Xu Zhen (b. 1977) was chosen as the commissioned artist for the Armory Show 2014. According to Art21, Tinari identifies Xu as:

an artist at the forefront of a generation that addresses Chinese identity as part of a larger global conversation. […] Tinari blended a mix of artists from China’s “On|Off generation” – a term coined by Tinari to describe a newer generation of Chinese artists – with Chinese artists from older generations, in an attempt to shed light on the diversity of artistic practice in China right now.

Zhao Zhao, 'Fragment', 2014, steel, 200 x 300 x 8 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Zhao Zhao, ‘Fragment’, 2014, steel, 200 x 300 x 8 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

“A strongly curated section”

Alexandre Errera, Founder of Artshare, commented on the selection of artists and galleries in the Focus section in his article on ARTINFO:

The group seemed thoughtfully selected, rather just a Who’s Who of the most important Chinese galleries, and there was a strong focus on conceptual artists born in the 1970s and 1980s.

Art Radar caught up with Alexandre Errera via email for his opinion on the China section.

What was your impression of the Armory Show 2014 and the “Armory Focus: China” section?

It was a strongly curated section – not what we see often in fairs. The choice of galleries was very interesting and the focus on young artists was great. Overall, it gave a great first taste to American collectors of what Chinese artists are capable of.

Based on your experience at Armory 2014, what would you say is the status of Chinese art and the Chinese art market in America at present?

American collectors are usually not familiar with Chinese art. For most of them, it is limited to what they see at auctions, because of the great geographical distance between the US and China, and that there are very few galleries in the US focusing on Chinese art. Thanks to the Armory Show, the Ink Art exhibition at the MET, or the Rubell exhibition, Chinese artists are now on the map for Americans. It is a long process of education, but I’m very confident that we’ll see a notable increase in interest in the next years.

In a recent article in Forbes, you said that China is changing the balance of power in the art world. Did Armory 2014 confirm or contradict this? Why?

I think that China will slowly take a more important place in the global art world and not only through auction results, but via its private museums and the ambitions of its collectors. I think the Armory Show was an example of the fact that the Chinese market is less and less local – but I would not go as far as to conclude that it confirmed or contracted China’s ambitions. It’s too early to say.

Auction houses have made massive inroads into China since last year’s fair. Did this change the atmosphere or the type of collectors present?

I don’t believe there is a direct link between Christie’s or Sotheby’s now operating in China and the type of collectors present or the atmosphere.

Errera did have some criticism for the fair, however, writing on ARTINFO that:

The booths were small – too small, in fact, which might have been the exhibition’s biggest drawback. Chinese artists express themselves better in large formats, and galleries did not have much choice but to bring relatively small works. […] What proved somewhat frustrating was the fact that some of the best artists of the new generation were missing, and that the focus was most often on paintings, rather than installations or videos.

Qin Qi, 'Bearers of Good News', 2013, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Qin Qi, ‘Bearers of Good News’, 2013, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Looking eastward: the Chinese art market

The Chinese art market and collector base is expanding, with auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s capitalising on increasing international interest and opening galleries there. Philip Tinari was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that China is “an emerging yet increasingly mature market.

The fluctuation of the Chinese art market in the last decade has led to claims about the sudden boom in Chinese contemporary art being a bubble. In an interview with Vogue, Tinari said:

There are two levels, really. There’s the normal expansion and contraction of prices and markets and stuff, and then there’s a really steady trajectory of growth that’s been happening over the last ten years. I mean, ten years ago, there were two galleries in Beijing and maybe two museums showing contemporary art in all of China. And now, even if half of it disappeared, it would be ten times what it was. What’s been created is an entire art world, a whole system.

Zhang Ding, 'Black Guardians', 2014, 3mm stainless steel plate, industrial baking gloss paint, 72 x 43 x 28 inches. Image courtesy The Armory Show.

Zhang Ding, ‘Black Guardians’, 2014, 3 mm stainless steel plate, industrial baking gloss paint, 72 x 43 x 28 in. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Emerging artists and galleries

The Armory Presents section of the fair provided a chance for emerging galleries, ten years or younger, to showcase their artists. In fairs of this scale, younger galleries are often neglected or lose out due to competition, and this format was well received.

art merge lab

A fair representative, as quoted on Hyperallergic, said:

The Armory Presents section allows the Armory Show to include emerging galleries which are often overlooked by the art market. We have made a special attempt to incorporate almost 20 newly established galleries into the Armory Show 2014, allowing them the opportunity to showcase cutting edge international works.

Hyperallergic also suggests that “as galleries learn to switch up art fair schedules, the larger fairs will see a decrease in yearly attendance, while smaller fairs will grow.”

Among galleries participating for the first time was Athr Gallery from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a display by artists Ahmed Mater and Nasser Al Salem.

Liang Shuo, 'Fit No. 8', 2014, mixed media, 303 x 144 x 303 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

Liang Shuo, ‘Fit No. 8’, 2014, mixed media, 303 x 144 x 303 cm. Image courtesy The Armory Show 2014.

American “surprise” at China’s contemporary art

Alexandre Errera claimed that US collectors were, more than anything, surprised by the range of Chinese contemporary art that they had not previously encountered. Hrag Vartanian echoed this view, writing:

in a city like New York, where there is art around every corner, you still encounter good surprises in a number of booths by artists you’ve never heard of at a place like the Armory – it’s a nice treat when it happens, though I wish it would happen more.

Kriti Bajaj

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Related Topics: Chinese art and artists, art fairs, round ups, Asia expands, events in New York

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