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Heritage, Identity, Culture, Community: Four artists at The Armory Show 2021

Alexandria Deters

Sep 16, 2021


Michael Rakowitz
The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, Room F, Section 1, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Jane Lombard Gallery, New York 




The Armory Show 2021 took place this year at the Javits Center, allowing for galleries and curators more space to explore ideas and inviting visitors to examine works up close. With the new space and the smaller crowds, I was not surprised that the energy of the fair was a bit different. There were four artists that really blew me away at just first glance at this year’s Armory. Of course, on further exploration, I discovered other great works and artists throughout the fair. 
There were two curated sections for this year’s fair, ‘Focus’ and ‘Platform’. ‘Platform’, curated by Claudia Schmuckli (Curator-in-Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), titled Can you hear the fault lines breathing? highlighted large-scale installation which exemplified “the urgency of working toward new models of bridging fault lines—societal, historical, or geographical—that are grounded in empathy and understanding”.
The works by Michael Rakowitz, presented by Jane Lombard Gallery, New York, were very impressive. His installation exemplified Schmuckli's curatorial goal so perfectly that I knew exactly what their purpose was; loss, sadness, recovery, defiance in the face of colonialism (British Museum) and eradication from within (ISIS). His installation, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, Room F, Section 1, Northwest Palace of Nimrud (2019), moved me so deeply. In the curator's statement Claudia Schmuckli describes that they were “recreated stone carved panels from a banquet hall in the historic Palace of Nimrud that were destroyed by ISIS, or went ‘missing,’ (aka stolen ‘excavated’ in the 1800s by British colonists to put in their collections and future museums) in vibrant collages of middle eastern food packaging”. I kept going back, the loss that cannot be recovered is saddening, but the loss of art that can still be returned?! I wanted to see the label changed. I imagined what it would be like if it said Recovered? Rakowitz’s installation left me with so many intense emotions and the need to learn more and asking myself ‘why are we not talking about this more? And how can I be a part of a societal change?’
‘Focus’, curated by Wassan Al-Khudhairi (Chief Curator, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis), featured solo and dual-artist presentations with future as a spectrum, examining how artists have used the challenges and monumental changes experienced in 2020 as a catalyst to explore future imaginations, communities, governments, economies, and environments. The standout artist was Marie Watt presented by Marc Straus Gallery, New York. Her blanket totem poles, each stack of blankets loving folded, layered, radiating their original domestic purpose. They are stacked high and command the space, paying homage to her matrilineal Seneca Nation tradition, and celebrating the feminine. 
I am always excited to see works by Baaéetitchish (Wendy Red Star), and the Sargent's Daughter's bright colorful solo presentation of her works did not disappoint. The painted wall grabbed my eyes from across the room. Like myself, she enjoys and thrives in researching archives and historical narratives. For example Axpishoope (Fourteen), 2021, showing a truck surrounded by a bright pink pattern fabric and draped with blankets and the fabric with archival pigment photograph "created from images of parade cars from past Crow Fairs fashioned in ornate fabrics" drew me in the most. 
One booth I was drawn to in the ‘Presents’ section, highlighting young galleries (younger than 15 years), was the Iranian gallery Dastan's Basement presenting works by Meghdad Lorpour.  The calmness of the scene, waves crashing, surrounded by a stone-colored and was a sweet relief from the chaos and neon of most of the fair. I felt the thoughtfulness and care in his brush strokes, falling in his oceans located on vistas in Iran, far away from the city I was in. The objects that mimic the texture and color of the frames, piqued my interest. What does this mean for the artist? I didn’t recognize the ocean views, but I wanted to. 


It was this contemplation in mind that I eventually explored the rest of the fair, carrying that sense of calm and curiosity with me. It stayed with me throughout, until I finally exited through the front doors to return next year.