A Curator's Diary: Armory Week With FLAG Director Stephanie Roach

A Curator's Diary: Armory Week With FLAG Director Stephanie Roach
Stephanie Roach
(Photo © Rebecca Streiman)

NEW YORK — Stephanie Roach, director of the FLAG Art Foundation, was a few minutes late to meet me at the champagne bar, our agreed-upon meeting place on the Armory Show’s VIP preview day. “It’s crowded!” she wrote in a text message by way of warning. By “crowded,” she meant filled with people she knows — and there are a lot of those. As the director of the New York contemporary art foundation founded by MSD Capital managing partner Glenn Fuhrman, Roach is tasked with mounting three to five curated shows a year at FLAG’s project space on 25th street. During her five and a half years at the foundation, Roach has worked with galleries, artists, and museums from across the country, organizing shows that range from the political (Jane Hammond’s “Fallen,” an ongoing installation that collects handmade leaves inscribed with the name of a soldier killed in Iraq) to the playful (an exhibition called “Size DOES Matter” curated by Shaquille O’Neal). “There tends to be some pretense around seeing art, and we want FLAG to be an exciting space for viewers to see high-quality shows. We want to make it accessible to a diverse audience,” she said.

Art fair week is a workweek for Roach, as it is for any curator. “When I go to a fair, I’m always looking to see if there is an artist that is doing something different, or an artist we’ve been following that has new work. I look at the fair as an opportunity to see what’s out there, even if it is more in a commercial context than what we do,” she said. Looking at an artwork, Roach tends to get very close (looking at an object-filled Nick Cave wall piece at Jack Shainman Gallery, her nose almost touched its glittering leaves). “I like to see craftsmanship,” she explained. “I know some people prefer to look at work from far away, but I like to see where all the lines begin and end.”


Throughout the week, ARTINFO shadowed Roach at various stops along her itinerary to get a sense of what the barrage of events is like for a curator on the job. Here, in her voice, is a diary of events from the first few days of Armory Week:


10:30 - I met with Performa to iron out the details of a benefit auction that we’re hosting at FLAG in May, and then did some reading around the Web — Ed Winkleman’s blog, Artlog, and a few other places — about the fairs and other events taking place this week.

2:30 - On my way up to the Piers, I asked the cab to take Eighth Avenue so I could see Josephine Meckseper’s Public Art Fund work on the way up. She installed working oil pumps right near Times Square, and the installation looks amazing. We had a solo show with her last February.

2:45 - I made it to the main fair, which was already buzzing with people. Immediately, I bumped into the Warhol Foundation director Joel Wachs, who seemed to echo the sentiments of many at the fair by quoting Jenny Holzer: “Protect me from what I want.” Artist Patricia Cronin recommended that I see the Holzer works at Spruth Magers. Then I ran into Paddle8’s Andrea Hill, and we walked through Marianne Boesky’s booth together, enjoying Anthony Pearson’s sculptures. We also saw an interesting installation and detailed drawings by Eric Yahnker at Ambach & Rice.

3:30 - Continuing my walk, I visited the “solo projects lounge,” where emerging galleries mounted solo booths. Dario Escobar at Josee Bienvenu and Jennifer Dalton at Winkleman Gallery were some of my favorites. Jennifer had a solo show at FLAG in Summer 2010. I loved her candy piece at the Armory — it mounted a cube full of candy on a pedestal, and visitors could use tongs to reach in and grab a piece. The wrappers had messages like, “I think money corrupts except when I have some,” “Art is a gift but working for free is exhausting, ” and “I hate elitism but I distrust mainstream tastes.” There was a fourth, too, but we couldn’t find it.

4:00 - Dropped by the Ingleby Gallery booth. We have a solo exhibition of their artist, Richard Forster, on at FLAG right now. Their booth looks wonderful. I particularly liked the work of Harland Miller, whose watercolor of a book cover stating “You Can Rely on Me, I’ll Always Let You Down” is not only witty but has workmanship, and reminds me a bit of Steve Wolfe.

4:10 - I bumped into Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould, who told me that the Mona Hatoum at Continua and Nick Cave at Jack Shainman were not to be missed. We’re working on an exhibition focusing on floor works at FLAG, and I was interested to see Mona’s pieces, since she has done some Carl Andre-esque floor sculptures in the past.

4:30 - I checked out work by Anthony Goicolea at Galeria Senda from Barcelona, where I used to work six years ago. Ron Mandos in Amsterdam had more work by Goicolea — complex drawings on mylar combining nature and anatomy that are both haunting and engaging.  

5:15 - Thankfully, I leave the Armory just as it started to get swarmed by fairgoers.

6:00 - I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania's winter salon, which is a discussion held every year for members of the board and donors. (I joined as a student board member, a position Claudia Gould revived while she worked there and I was still in college.) This year, we discussed the Whitney Biennial at the apartment of a private collection on the Upper East Side. I loved talking to senior curator Ingrid Schaffner, and also listening to how forthright the discussion was. One of the collectors said, “I didn't really understand some of the works in the biennial,” and they had a real dialogue about why. The collection focuses on photography, and they have some great works by Cindy ShermanRineke Dijkstraand Elizabeth Peyton.

7:00 - I stopped by ADAA, which was nice and quiet, so I could absorb the work. Then I met my friend Daniel Lechner, who works at Cheim & Read, for dinner at Monkey Bar.

10:00 - The two of us headed to MoMA’s Armory Week kickoff party. There was a fun art chic group of people, and walking through the contemporary section, I particularly enjoyed the Felix Gonzalez-Torres "Placebo" candy work. By the end of this week, my purse will be filled with candies! The pineapple flavor is delicious, and reminds me of borrowing “Untitled” (Rossmore II), 1991, for FLAG’s show “Floating a Boulder: Works by Jim Hodges and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.” To manifest the work at FLAG, Jim and I worked with the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation and ended up “commissioning” brand new candy to be made for the piece. We sampled a variety of green apple candies and eventually ended up ordering original pieces from a place in Texas, taking the color from one candy, the shape from another, and the flavor from another. It was such an exciting experience.


10:30 a.m. - I went to the press preview of Moving Image, for which I served on the curatorial committee. There’s real range of emerging and established artists in the fair, but I was particularly struck by specific works that addressed the female experience. Kate Gilmore’s “Built to Burst” depicted a woman smashing vases of paint wearing a dress, which succeeded in creating tension between her appearance and unexpectedly aggressive actions. Alex Prager’s “Despair” showed a prototypical 1950s woman dealing with an emotional breakdown, with the lead played by Bryce Dallas Howard. I also appreciated Martha Wilson’s “I have become my own worst fear/deformation,” which dealt with issues of vanity.

12 p.m. - I returned to FLAG’s offices to work out logistics for our event on Saturday. We’re hosting the Coolhaus ice cream truck from 2 to 4 p.m. outside the gallery, giving away free ice cream to weary fairgoers and FLAG viewers.

12:30 - I recapped what I’d seen at the fair with FLAG’s assistant director Rebecca Streiman. We talked about which artists might be interesting to pursue for future exhibitions, particularly our summer exhibition of floor works.

2:30 - Did a walk through of the Independent fair. I like it because the vibe is very fluid, it’s got great “spaces” rather than booths, and there is so much natural light. I’m looking carefully for artists who might be of interest for the floor show. Matthew Darbyshire had great freestanding totems at Herald Street

 4-5:45 - Finished up remaining emails, then ran home to change. Good thing I live close by!

7:00 - Stopped by the Grey Area party to support my friend Manish Vora, the genius behind Artlog and Grey Area. I love the concept of their VIP badges. Have a great conversation with Panni Malekzadeh, who made one of the badges, about what she’s working on and her upcoming solo show.

8:30 - Went with friends to the Jewish Museum preview of the Kehinde Wiley show and its Wind Up dance party. The works in Kehinde’s series "The World Stage: Israel" are beautiful and ornate, and it's fascinating to see them along side Judaica from the museum’s collection.

10:00 - Grabbed a late bite at ABV on the Upper East Side.