Fair  September 7, 2023  Kathleen Cullen

Preview Eva Respini's 'Rewriting Histories' at The Armory Show

© Shahzia Sikander Courtesy of Sean Kelly

Shahzia Sikander, NOW, 2023 (Detail). Patinated bronze, 97 1/2 x 49 x 49 inches.

When The Armory Show kicks off on September 8, there will be over 225 exhibitors lined up at the Javits Center. In addition to the section for galleries, there will be two curated sections including Platform, a space in the central Agora of the fair, curated by Eva Respini, Deputy Director and Director of Curatorial Programs at the Vancouver Art Gallery, that will feature twelve large-scale installations.

For this iteration of Platform, Respini has expanded on the idea of a thematic show inside the space of an art fair by working under the theme of Rewriting Histories. As such, this year’s selection of artists is concerned with expanding or challenging the canon of art, history, or culture. 

“The artists featured in the Platform section are thinking about historical narratives, legacies, and material traditions as a way of history-telling and re-telling, often pointing to what has been left out of dominant narratives,” Respini told Art & Object. “These works, many which question how history has been recorded and remembered, can perhaps make us think differently and more expansively.”

Liza Voll

Eva Respini

In her former role as Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA/Boston, Respini organized critically acclaimed group exhibitions including Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today (2018) and When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art (2019) as well as solo exhibitions for Deana Lawson (2021) and Firelei Baez (2021). For The Armory Show, Respini has brought together a mix of artists some of whom she has worked with before such as Yinka Shonibare, Jean Shin, and Hank Willis Thomas, but she also took the opportunity to work with new artists such as Teresita Fernández, Shahzia Sikander and Woody De Othello. And the Agora at The Armory offers a great space to create dialogue between the works.

“The Agora is a very public and central place in the Javits Center—the very name recalls the ancient Greek concept of public assembly,” says Respini. “Like a town hall or piazza, it is also busy, and active with people meeting, discussing, or simply taking a break from the fair and people watching. I thought about the placement of works to create some interesting dialogues and juxtapositions, but also know that each work needs to stand on their own in this busy crossroads.”

Below are some highlights from this year’s Platform section. 

Teresita Fernández, Island Universe, 2019 (Detail). Charcoal. Commissioned by The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New York.
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

Teresita Fernández, Island Universe, 2019 (Detail). Charcoal. Commissioned by The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New York.

Jean Shin, Huddled Masses, 2020. Cell phones and computer cables.
Photo: Kevin Candland. Courtesy of the artist and Asian Art Museum

Jean Shin, Huddled Masses, 2020. Cell phones and computer cables.

Hank Willis Thomas, Strike, 2021.
Photo: Airyka Rockefeller. Courtesy of the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts (London, Hong Kong, Palm Beach).

Hank Willis Thomas, Strike, 2021. 

Barthélémy Toguo, Urban Requiem, 2015. Eight steel ladders, wooden stamps, wood block prints.
© Barthélémy Toguo Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co. and Bandjoun Station

Barthélémy Toguo, Urban Requiem, 2015. Eight steel ladders, wooden stamps, wood block prints.

Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA Man Moving Up, 2022 James Cohan (New York)
Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan (New York).

Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA, Man Moving Up, 2022.

Shahzia Sikander, NOW, 2023. Patinated bronze.
© Shahzia Sikander Courtesy of Sean Kelly

Shahzia Sikander, NOW, 2023. Patinated bronze, 97 1/2 x 49 x 49 inches.

Teresita Fernandez’s Island Universe 2 is a reconstruction of the world map done with charcoal originally commissioned for the Ford Foundation. Fernandez has used pieces of real landscape or burnt trees or charcoal to illustrate the political construct of the land masses and land theory of power and/or who gets to be visible and invisible.  Island Universe 2 illustrates the hidden layers of historical violence embedded in land. Respini emphasizes that the work “re-imagines global territories, visualizing the interconnected geological, cultural, and historical relationships of geographies. Made of charcoal, this installation illustrates so well Fernández’s interest in uncovering what she refers to as ‘stacked landscapes’—the conceptual framework that allows her work to reveal the often invisible, buried layers of historical violence embedded in land.”

Photo: Airyka Rockefeller. Courtesy of the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts (London, Hong Kong, Palm Beach).

Hank Willis Thomas, Strike, 2021.

Many of the works presented here can also help us reimagine new ways to understand our past in the present. Hank Willis Thomas’s Strike (2021), is one such example. The work is a stainless steel sculpture of two disembodied arms, one grasping the wrist of another that is raised and holding a nightstick. The sculpture reinterprets Ukrainian-American artist Louis Lozowick’s 1934 lithograph Strike Scene, which features an encounter between a policeman and a protestor.

Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan (New York).

Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA, Man Moving Up, 2022.

Yinka Shonibare’s Man Moving Up (2022) depicts the burden of globalism. Carrying heavy suitcases, this hunched over, plaid-suited figure attempts to ascend a set of gold-plated stairs. What are the papers protruding from the valise? The artist is reflecting on the legacy of labor and the Great Migration movements from 1916 to1970 with the exodus of six million Black Americans from southern cities to the North, Midwest and West. Shonibare’s piece exposes the contradictions of Western culture by positioning his figure wearing 19th century attire in waxed African fabric—Shonibare’s signature style—ascending the aristocratic golden staircase of Great Britain’s Chatsworth House.

© Barthélémy Toguo Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co. and Bandjoun Station

Barthélémy Toguo, Urban Requiem, 2015. Eight steel ladders, wooden stamps, wood block prints.

The Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo’s Urban Requiem (2015) combines the formal beauty of a tall steel ladder with tiered sculptural shelves holding iroko wooden stamp sculptures shaped as human busts. The surfaces of these objects are inscribed with messages like “children are people too,” “don’t shoot,” and “ferguson is everywhere.” The letters are arranged in reverse so as to appear accurate when black ink is applied and it's used as a stamp.

© Shahzia Sikander Courtesy: Sean Kelly

Shahzia Sikander, NOW, 2023. Patinated bronze, 97 1/2 x 49 x 49 inches.

Shahzia Sikander’ towering patinated bronze sculpture NOW (2023), whose title references the National Organization for Women, combines the female figure with motifs from nature such as a ram’s horns on her head, winding roots for arms and a bed of lotus leaves at her feet. The goal of the work (which has been installed on the roof of a courthouse in New York City) is to ultimately confound our symbols of power and justice with women as active participants and witness to the patriarchal history of art and law. 

Photo: Kevin Candland. Courtesy of the artist and Asian Art Museum

Jean Shin, Huddled Masses, 2020. Cell phones and computer cables.

In Jean Shin's Huddled Masses (2020) and E-Bundles (2020) we’re presented with obsolete cell phones, laptops, and hard drives, embedded in colorful computer cables. The sheer accumulation of these everyday objects comment on conservation, e-waste, our digital footprint and planned obsolescence in consumer culture. 

“I hope visitors will see, through this variety of works," said Respini, "an acknowledgement that history is subjective, and the role artists play in both how we understand ourselves today, and how we might imagine our futures.” 

 

About the Author

Kathleen Cullen

Kathleen Cullen is a former gallerist, independent curator, and writer for CultureCatch.com. She was also the former head of sales for Art & Object. Cullen’s role as a director-curator permits her to maintain an independent spirit, presenting new artists “on the edge” by feeling the “pulse” of the emerging art market. It is this inalienable eye that posits her as a harbinger of new artistic expression.

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