The Armory Show started out as the Gramercy International Art fair, begun in 1994 by four New York art dealers. In 1999 its name was changed to the Armory Show, shedding its shabby beginnings, and solidifying its importance, by association with the eponymous show of 1913, through which the United States was introduced to modern art. The rest is art history. But as it is today, the Armory has nothing whatsoever to do with history.
It claims to be the world’s leading art fair devoted to contemporary art, relying for that assertion not only on New York’s glut of galleries and artists, but also on the rest of the international travelling gallery band. The 2006 Armory presented 148 international galleries including two from Glasgow: Transmission Gallery and The Modern Institute.
It’s easy to be negative about art fairs—they are essentially places of commerce, and somehow that reality is still a little bit dirty, even for the most sensible among us who understand that the garret myth is laughable, best left in the past and in films such as the 1956 Lust for Life, in which Kirk Douglas starred as Van Gogh.
Art fairs substantiate the reality of art. They are the place where art is taken off its pedestal, packed up and shipped to someone’s living room. And why not? Who are we to deny art its reality and its worth, not as a commodity, but as a means of being in the world, as a means of living life as a part of life itself?
In the 1970s, artists working in performance, video and other ephemeral media refused to make art that could be turned into a commodity. As a result, many of them, now in their 60s and 70s, find themselves in serious financial trouble, supported by benefits and laudable institutions such as the Pollock—Krasner Foundation, which provides monetary assistance to visual artists, young and old, experiencing financial difficulties.
Artists cannot live by exquisite shows alone. In Scotland we are accustomed to publicly funded galleries far outnumbering their commercial kin, although it seems that disparity is being redressed of late. The most obvious praise of the art fair is that it brings work from all over the globe to one location, at one time. It provides an opportunity to see what one might not otherwise. In the Armory’s case, the word ‘see’ must be used advisedly—in a crowd as large and eager as this one, it’s hard to say one really saw anything.
The arrival of the Modern Institute and Transmission provided the opportunity to see work both by established Scottish artists such as Jim Lambie and Simon Periton, and by the Transmission’s less well known roster—Fiona Jardine, David Sherry, Charlie Hammond, Jane Topping, Owen Piper, Mick Peter, Nick Evans, Ciara Phillips, Lorna Macintyre and Will Duke.
The presence of these galleries unequivocally announced that Scotland not only produces internationally recognised artists, but that the scene back home is increasingly making an international reputation for itself.
Victoria Miguel is a writer based in New York