The best of New York Armory 2016

Crashing cars don’t distract from an inspiring African focus

A Mini Cooper crashing into a wall and a naked woman in a cage are two of the attention-grabbing works that await visitors to the Armory Fair in New York, opening on March 3.

Jonathan Schipper’s car smash is inspired by the “muscle” of the car industry (heading for a collision?), and costs $145,000. The caged woman is Paris-based Italian performance artist Romina de Novellis, who is working in conjunction with Kreemart, an organisation that brings together artists and chefs. She hands out caramel roses for visitors to eat, while creating a bower of real ones to protect her modesty.


Established in 1994, the Armory is one of the premier art fairs in New York and, these pieces notwithstanding, the one with the greatest gravitas. For the past six years it has held a special focus exhibition to highlight works from a particular region and this year it is all about Africa.

Fourteen galleries display works ranging from visionary Caribbean culture-influenced paintings (about $10,000-$65,000, October Gallery: Symphony No 5, Opus 47, second picture) by Aubrey Williams, who arrived in London from Guyana in 1952, to the stark luminous paintings (about $18,000, October Gallery: Lost, first picture) of Congo-based Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, which comment on the effects of modernisation on ancient tribes. Also showcased are works ($28,000-$850,000, Vigo Gallery: Calligraphic Forms III, third picture) by the “Picasso of Sudan”, Ibrahim El-Salahi, as well as works by El Anatsui, winner of the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale last year, whose aluminium and copper wire sculpture, Blood of Sweat (fourth picture),is on sale for around $1m, also with October Gallery.

Photography is a strong genre within the focus of the exhibition: highlights include Namsa Leuba’s wonderful new prints (from $3,000, Echo Art: Untitled III The African Queens, fifth picture), as well as Zanele Muholi’s self-portraits ($6,750, framed at Yancey Richardson: Somnyama Ngonyama II, sixth picture) from her Somnyama Ngonyama series. “By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness,” she says.

Equally eye-catching are the delicate dreamy drawings ($6,500-$18,500, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery:The Gift [a room of no ones own], seventh picture) of fantastical realms by the Nigerian-born Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze.

“There is great interest in African art right now,” says the fair’s executive director Benjamin Genocchio. “But we have to be careful not to pigeonhole art wherever it is from; everybody has a different relationship with their heritage – some love it; others disown it.”

In tandem with the breakdown of national barriers, artists are increasingly like to see themselves as citizens of the world rather than from a particular place. At this year’s Armory, however, you can see it is possible to succeed in being both.


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