Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Intervention At the Armory Show

This year's Armory Show, much like previous years', was organized around a particular, limited domain of consumption and transaction. Its invitation and admission procedures strategically classified attendants into two groups: VIPs (collectors, patrons, and professionals), and the general public. As the Armory Show focuses largely on connecting galleries with collectors, both the schedule and the physical layout of the event are organized to identify each party and facilitate their interactions. To this end, the show starts off with a series of VIP functions establishing the event with community and asserting their preferred status. Each day then begins with a period of "private" viewing, maintaining this relation. The location itself, a giant warehouse, is not organized by artist, region, or curatorial process but by gallery, each restricted to a fairly uniform stall, dozens deep across several columns, creating the sense of a bazaar or farmers' market.

After the private viewings, the general public is admitted for a range of fees including "student" and "group". Thousands of visitors each day are allowed the same opportunities to consume the show and its contents much as if they were attending the MoMA. Particular to the Armory show, however, is the spectacle of its palpably active economy. The vast majority of attendees will not directly participate in a sale or see any explicit signs of a purchase. However, they are visitors to a moment of exposure of the contemporary art market, voyeuristic conductors in the field of socially, culturally, and economically competitive fervor.

Individuals roamed casually through the space in groups of two or three, pausing momentarily to take in a piece or a fellow attendee, often seemingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume available to consume. Amidst this multilayered, ethereal orgy of consumption and transaction, a tall woman appeared in full body paint, wearing only a thong. A crowd immediately formed around her, observing, interacting. Those who had been drifting, guided moment to moment by their overloaded span of attention, quickly diverted, forming a focused, attentive cluster like ants to a sugar cube. Of course, she was immediately approached by an employee of the show and interrogated. "Are you exhibiting?" he asked. "Well, look at me." "Are you an exhibitor?" "Well, I'm here." After a short discussion, she was clothed to just the other side of legal decency and escorted out. The cluster of spectators chattered on for a bit but quickly dispersed back into smaller groups, pursuing their previous patterns.

— Brian Johnson

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