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The Armory Show opens to the public this week, March 5—March 8, with a VIP preview on Wednesday. The art fair at Pier 90 and 94 brings together 183 exhibitors from 32 countries. In addition to special solo presentations, curated booths, and a variety of programming, keep an eye out for Platform. This year, the section is curated by Executive Director of ICA Los Angeles, Anne Ellegood, and showcases large-scale and site-specific installations by Trulee Hall, Christine Wang, Marnie Weber, Summer Wheat, and others.
In advance of the fair’s debut, Whitewall spoke with Ellegood about Platform and its “Brutal Truths” theme.
WHITEWALL: How did you arrive at the theme of “Brutal Truths”? How does this year being an election year, do you think, impact how visitors to the fair will engage with the work?
ANNE ELLEGOOD: We are living in particularly complex times. The United States has just been through an impeachment trial of the president; the deeply partisan political climate is the background for what will surely be the least civil presidential campaign in American history; the world is witnessing unprecedented calamities related to climate change; and the impacts of continued discrimination against women, people of color, and LGBTQ communities are felt every day.
I was interested in how artists today are using the longstanding strategies of satire, caricature, the grotesque, and humor to address important social issues and topical political subject matter. Artists’ keen observation and sharp wit serve to call attention to these subjects and to encourage civic engagement. Artists have for centuries acted as incisive social critics, and there seems to be no better time than now to call attention to contemporary artists who draw upon these traditions with fresh insight and formal ingenuity.
WW: Can you tell us about some of the projects specifically created for this year’s program?
AE: Charlie Billingham, new installation, presented by Morán Morán, is comprised of stenciled wall paintings with several figurative paintings hung on top. In the tradition of William Hogarth and other great British satirists, Billingham’s work recall satirical prints of the late 18th- and early 19th-century that skewered patrician society and corrupt politicians. Dressed in the coattails, breeches, and bonnets of an earlier era, Billingham’s figures are often crowded together or literally piled on top of one another in scenes of public unrest or upheaval. One painting portrays a congested group of spectators, their corpulent pink fleshy faces jeering at an unknown subject. Another portrays a large man carrying several bodies out of a crowded room, as if taking out the trash. Billingham’s resplendent color and graphic detail serve to exaggerate and amplify the messages of his narratives, quoting the long history of social satire in England while emphasizing the need in today’s atmosphere of intensely divided opinion for these powerful yet humorous forms of critique.
Queens-based artist Summer Wheat debuts a 16-foot-long painting, titled Sand Castles, designed specifically for The Armory Show 2020, presented by Shulamit Nazarian. For several years Wheat has explored the archetype of the female figure in vibrant narrative tableaus that resemble dense woven tapestries. Using a technique of pushing acrylic paint through fine wire mesh, the figures emerge in richly textured surfaces that coalesce into a type of contemporary history painting. Sand Castles depicts a community of women in acts of labor and leisure; a beach scene featuring women bathing, fishing, cracking crabs, swatting flies, sunbathing, and eating strawberries. Wheat’s painting make reference to ancient traditions, from Egyptian pictography to Roman gardens of antiquity, but her subject is a current day critique of the ways in which women’s labor is often unacknowledged or given lesser status. Through her strategic use of exaggerated and contorted female forms, nearly psychedelic color patterns, and pronounced sense of energy, Wheat elevates the quotidian experiences of woman to a monumental scale and celebrates their ability to collaborate and rely upon one another.
WW: What are some of the more historic works?
AE: Edward and Nancy Kienholz’s incredible sculpture The Caddy Court (1986–1987) will be presented in the Town Square area of the fair. Highly revered during their lifetimes for their dense and provocative assemblage sculptures that comment on sexism, abuse of power, and racial violence in bold and often disturbing ways, for The Caddy Court (186-87), the artists took a 1978 Cadillac and embellished it with an interior cabinet of curiosities that includes taxidermy, historic books, an American flag, and a gavel. Originally intended by the artists to travel the country imitating the early practices of the US Supreme Court—which traveled from state to state operating as a circuit court—there could not be a more potent time for this work to be experienced and considered, as there is increasing discussion in our country about the politicization of the Supreme Court, which faces one of its most consequential dockets in memory.
WW: Outside of the fairs this week, what are you looking forward to seeing and doing around town?
AE: As you can imagine, Peter Saul, whose outrageous and wonderful work could have easily fit into my Platform section, is a favorite of mine, so I’m looking forward to his exhibition at the New Museum. I’m also eager to see “Vida Americana” at the Whitney Museum and Adam Linder at MoMA. And there are several gallery shows I am excited to see: Kelly Akashi at Tanya Bonakdar; Jessica Jackson Hutchins at Marianne Boesky Gallery; Leidy Churchman and Gladys Nilsson at Matthew Marks Gallery, among others.