Artists tackle big issues like global warming, gun violence and the political struggles currently being fought over the world’s resources.
This past weekend was the Armory Arts Week in New York, an event centered around the Armory Show, an international art fair that featured over 200 galleries from 30 countries in huge abandoned warehouses on the far West Side of Manhattan. In response to the perceived stodginess of the main event—booths at the Armory cost $30,000, a prohibitively expensive price for emerging gallerists and artists—a number of satellite fairs opened concurrently around the city. One such fair was the Spring/Break Art Show, a conceptual, curator-driven exhibition that showcased over 70 artists many of whom tackled big issues like global warming, gun violence, and the political struggles currently being fought over the world’s natural resources.
Spread out over three floors of an old school building, in the hallways and classrooms—and even, in the case of one site-specific installation, the latrine—the show was centered around the theme of New Mysticism. For many of the artists, mysticism was understood as the end result of an art-induced hallucination. In alonetogether, an installation by Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Grace Villamil and Myla Dalbesio, guests entered a room covered floor-to-ceiling with crinkled Teflon, ornamented with fuzzy, brightly colored images. The effect was something like walking into cave full of rock crystals—or, although I can’t speak from experience—taking LSD in an elevator.
But more than just exploring the paranormal and spiritual aspects of life, the artists responded to the world around them. They did this by utilizing new, technologically advanced mediums—digital large-scale printers, Internet videos, mash-ups of computer programs—but also by addressing the sorts of issues that socially conscious Americans are concerned with. In a first floor room, the artist Adam Ianniello, whose practice is concerned with collapsing landscapes, presented two photographs of detritus-littered scenes. In the foreground of one was a ladder lying on a bank of rocks—in the background, there was a glacier. It was an acute reminder of how quickly our world is changing thanks to global warming—in one hundred years, the swath of rocks will have swallowed the whole expanse of white snow and ice behind it.
Out in the courtyard, the environmental artist Lita Albuquerque installed a blue sphere in the center of a white triangle of salt. Part of a larger work that Albuquerque will later stage in the sand flats of Bolivia, the work is inspired by two things. First, by the artist’s interest in combining simple materials—salt—with simple forms—triangles and sphere—which she feels causes a alchemical reaction in a human body. The second is to comment on the wars currently going on over the world’s salt flats—Bolivia being one such place—as well as the changing state of the oceans that, of course, are filled with salt.
On the second floor, prints of Albuquerque’s earlier works—which resemble Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty—are hung in a hallway that lead to a room containing Winchester Redux, a mixed media work by Jeremy Blake. It consisted of a projection of appropriated images of the extravagant Victorian mansion built by Sara Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester firearms fortune, for the victims of those killed by her family’s merchandise. It was the only work I saw during Armory Week that even obliquely referenced the issue of gun control in the United States.
In some dictionaries, mysticism is defined as the pursuit of conscious awareness of the ultimate reality. One way to explore this is, of course through art, a medium into which the world is processed and then presented to a captive audience. The ultimate reality it relays is not always the same—nor should it be. But it was reassuring to see that at Spring/Break, at least a handful of the artists and curators were interested in a reality that addressed pressing issues like global warming and gun control, while their peers at the Armory seemed concerned mostly with selling expensive pieces to rich collectors.
Images courtesy of Spring/Break Art Show