7 of the Best Artworks of Armory Week 2023, From Arresting Paintings by a 26-Year-Old Instragram Phenom to Elevated Interpretations of Outdoor Recliners
Here's what caught our eye during last week's crush of art fairs in New York City.
In the flurry of Armory Week, it’s easy for even the most dedicated fairgoer to miss something. That why Artnet News staffers have compiled a compendium of notable works from the whirlwind week. While this year’s fare across the New York art fairs was heavy on painting, there were standouts in other media as well, from painted chaise longues to mixed-media works in the style of Social Realism. Without further delay, here are our favorites from Armory Week 2023…
Alice Baber, The Green Reed (1966)
Showing at: Berry Campbell Gallery, New York, at the Armory Show
Why You Should Pay Attention: “Things are abuzz,” Berry Campbell gallery co-owner Christine Berry told Artnet News on the VIP opening day of Armory Show, where, among other sales, the gallery counted that of Alice Baber’s vibrant, lush painting The Green Reed (1966), which sold for $200,000. Baber’s work could also be seen at Luxembourg’s booth at Independent 20th Century, which took place downtown.
Baber was a founding member of the artist cooperative March Gallery along with Wilfrid Zogbaum and Elaine de Kooning, and had her first solo show at March Gallery in 1958. It was around that time that Baber found her mature style, described by Grace Glueck for the New York Times: “Disks and puffs of pure bright color drift lyrically over a white field toward a gentle vortex.” Critic Roberta Smith remarked in Artforum that Baber’s iconic style was “soft and static, like hazy clouds.”
According to one essay, “Baber once famously described her intent as looking for a ‘way to get the light moving across the whole thing.’ To a large degree, she succeeded. Light streams across her paintings, seemingly from different directions at once, while her cloud-like shapes appear to float across the canvas.”
Still, Baber’s work was largely overlooked during her lifetime and only in recent years has the art market started paying attention. The timing was a plus for Campbell and Berry, who have the largest cache of works from Baber’s estate. “So far, so good,” Berry said.
At auction, the current record for a work by Baber is $275,000, paid for Axe In The Grove (1966), sold at John Moran in February of this year and far surpassing the high estimate of $70,000.
Up Next: Berry Campbell will mount a solo show of the artist’s work in 2024.
Winfred Rembert, Jazz Singer (2002)
Showing at: James Barron Art, Kent, Connecticut, at Independent 20th Century
Why You Should Pay Attention: This work depicts one of Winfred Rembert’s more joyful memories of his upbringing in Cuthbert, Georgia. “My memory of jazz was of a dark place, never overcrowded, but almost full, lots of smoking and drinking and mellow moods, no dancing. Everybody just mostly laid back, sippin’ on their drinks, and puffin’ on their cigarettes,” he wrote in his memoir.
James Barron’s selection of work by the artist, who passed away in 2021, surveyed both Rembert’s joy and suffering, as he was incarcerated in Georgia for five years after stealing a car to avoid his own lynching. Later in life, he depicted scenes from both his time on chain gangs and of his life before through leather-based paintings, created with skills he learned while in prison.
Since his death, Rembert’s work, both in his fine art career and his writing, has gained an increasing amount of attention. Last year, he joined the small circle of people who have posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize, which he was awarded for his aforementioned memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South. The market for Rembert’s leather-based paintings has exploded in the past few years as well, as was reported in The Art Detective. Works have recently been selling in the low six-figures, whereas they had been sold for just $35,000 a few years prior.
This February, Rembert’s work made its auction record at Christie’s New York, where The Black Cat sold for $300,000 over its estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
Alanis Forde, Social Gathering (2023)
Price: This $8,000 canvas sold opening day to a collector in Germany who had only seen the work online.
Why You Should Pay Attention: Filo Sofi’s Gabrielle Aruta discovered 27-year-old Forde, who hails from Barbados, via Instagram in 2021, and arranged a studio visit during the artist’s 2022 residency with ArtLeadHer, at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. Forde’s first outing with the gallery came at a pop-up group show in Marfa, Texas, in May 2022, during the Marfa Invitational, where collectors quickly snapped up both of her works in the exhibition.
“What draws me to Alanis’s work is how developed and visually arresting her aesthetic voice has become over the past three years,” Aruta told Artnet News. “Her development of the character ‘Bubbles,’ covered in blue pointillistic dots, serves as her proxy and speaks to a desire for representation within and escape from what she calls the ‘Tropical Gaze.'”
Up Next: The artist will be one of four women artists in “Cozy: Comfortable In My Skin,” curated by Chantel Akworkor Thompson at London’s Gallery OCA during Frieze Week (October 11–15), and Filo Sofi Arts plans to bring her to Prizm Art Fair during Miami Art Week in December.
Lydia Blakeley, Daily Affirmation (2022)
Showing at: Niru Ratnam, London, at the Armory Show, Presents
Prices: Paintings ranged from $2,000 to $20,000, and painted lounge chairs were $9,000 each. All paintings sold during the fair, Daily Affirmation for $20,000.
Why You Should Pay Attention: The emerging British artist is quickly gaining curatorial and market attention. A college dropout, Blakeley, 40, returned to school after working in retail. A 2019 graduate of the prestigious Goldsmiths art school in London, she’s had 10 solo shows in six years. In 2021, she was included in a trendsetting group show, “Mixing It Up: Painting Today” at Hayward Gallery, whose 31 participants included today’s in-demand painters Jade Fadojutimi, Lisa Brice, Alison Katz, and Rachel Jones. Her deftly executed figurative works explore banality with a healthy dose of irony and address the multiple realities of contemporary existence.
Up Next: The Yorkshire-based artist has two solo exhibitions on the horizon: one at Bureau Bertoli in Lugano, Switzerland, later this year and another at Tabula Rasa in Beijing in 2024.
John Divola, Zuma #3 (1977)
Showing at: Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, at the Armory Show
Why You Should Pay Attention: Amid so much figurative painting at the Armory, Divola’s large-scale color photography with haunting lighting showing a seascape through the view of an abandoned property in Zuma Beach, Malibu, was a refreshing change of pace.
In the late 1970s, Divola happened upon an abandoned property in Zuma and between 1977–1978, he observed, augmented, and photographed this building. The structure was repeatedly burned and damaged in various ways by the local fire department, which used it for training exercises and practice drills. The artist himself also made additions of paint and graffiti, and these marks were augmented by others’ vandalism, decay from natural elements, and the passage of time.
Yancey Richardson just wrapped a solo exhibition titled “Swimming Drunk” that included both “Zuma” and “Daybreak”—the two photographic series that represent the breadth of the artist’s more-than-40-year career.
Both series are a result of Divola’s engagement with abandoned buildings, and his interest in transforming a situation through photography.
Up Next: Look for Divola’s work at the upcoming edition of Paris Photo. Divola is also leading a small, two-day workshop, timed to the fair, offering photographers and visual artists the opportunity to engage first-hand with the photographer. Conversations will also consider core issues related to photography’s increasingly hybridized nature.
Ena Swansea, service entrance to the Charlotte Country Club (2022)
Showing at: Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, Hong Kong, and Palm Beach at the Armory Show
Why You Should Pay Attention: The veteran painter’s distinct style often mingles the real and the imagined, figurative and abstract. Swansea is known for her dreamy or ecstatic landscapes, often populated with a solitary human figure. Her painting at the Armory Show depicts a man of color in a chef’s hat walking through a lush garden of green hedges and pink trees. A dusting of snow on the southern foliage gives a surreal edge to the scene, the white powder echoing the pristine garb of the man, who enters the elite club from the back door. The painting is set near Swansea’s real childhood home near the country club in Charlotte, North Carolina; the man is invented. The scene feels subtly political, topical yet non-specific, and suggestive of the racial tensions gripping the country.
Narsiso Martinez, Checker Leading The Crowd (2023)
Showing at: Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles, at the Armory Show
Prices: $10,800 to $28,500
Why You Should Pay Attention: The booth was immediately sold out, with buyers including two museums.
This is the first solo presentation of works by Narsiso Martinez in New York City. His drawings and mixed media installations include multi-figure compositions set amid agricultural landscapes and are drawn from his own experience as a farmworker.
The artist focuses on the unseen people who performing the labor needed to fill produce sections of supermarkets and restaurant kitchens all over the world. Martinez’s portraits of farmworkers are created on discarded produce boxes collected from grocery stores. His style clearly shows the influence of 1930s-era Social Realism and is heightened through the use of found materials.
A pair of large-scale pieces titled Essential Since 2013 and Essential Since 2004 feature gold leaf fragments of QR codes taken from the subjects’ ID cards, used in the fields by “checkers” who measure and track the harvests for each worker.
Up Next: A solo show at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum opening in December and running through April 2024.
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