Armory Show's Focus Section Presents America Today, From Warhol to Gun Control

An installation view of "All of Nothing" at Samsøn, Boston, 2011
(Courtesy the Artist and Samsøn)

What might Andy Warhol think of the art fair phenomenon? “He would love it,” said Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol Museum and curator of the Armory Show’s Focus Section, opening today. “For Warhol there was no line between art and commerce. I can picture him renting a booth and doing society portraits as you wait.”

Fast-forward to today. “Artists are hardly ever present at art fairs,” says Shiner. Why? Perhaps artists are protecting themselves: The quantity of artwork at fairs and the pace at which people move through booths can be dispiriting for exhibiting artists.

Whatever the reason, Shiner is committed to reversing this trend, at least on opening day. Nearly all 22 artists from the 17 galleries in the Focus section — devoted to the United States — are on site. Warhol is also here, in spirit, courtesy of a Gagosian Gallery mini retrospective. Oh, and Todd Pavlisko’s work at Samson Projects has two of the artist’s weight-lifting benches. They’re part of an installation.

Shiner says Warhol’s presence makes for a timely reminder that the art market wouldn’t exist without the producers. The problem: With the Dow Jones Industrial Average spiraling upward, the split between producers and consumers of art only widens. Several participating artists have created interactive projects to disrupt the usual fair flow. At Magnan Metz, Duke Riley invites visitors to make rubbings of the booth’s floor, constructed from driftwood picked up along the shores of Rockaway Beach after Hurricane Sandy.

Not quite your speed? Don’t worry. At Wendi Norris Gallery, the family of late American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning is on hand to chat about her life and work. To provide his intervention with structure, Shiner divided his selection into three themes: critical, historical, and humorous takes on the United States. The goal, he says, is to offer an accurate if varied portrait of America today.

Politics is an unspoken if persistent theme. New York–based collective Type A is showing three red, white, and blue neon silhouettes of a man pointing a handgun. They’re modeled after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s official shooting target. The idea, in part, is to examine male aggression and America’s fascination with guns. It goes without saying that not a lot of this work is designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, allowing, perhaps, a visitor to wander by uninhibited.

But that’s not the point: While most things in the section are for sale, creativity, not commerce, drives Shiner’s selection. In that spirit, the artists will gather at the end of the first day for a group portrait as a snapshot of American art today.

To see photos, click on the slideshow.