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Meta-Alert: The Armory Show 2016

The Armory Show is the definitive art business fair, but it might have become self-aware this year.

Beckett Mufson

Beckett Mufson

Ed Young, ALL SO FUCKING AFRICAN, 2016. Photo by Nicole Cone

If aliens had visited our planet last week, choosing to base their entire understanding of humanity on The Armory Show, here's what they would have learned: we like to make giant versions of tiny objects; we like shiny things that distort our reflections; we like beautiful objects made from literal garbage. If they were really paying attention, they would have also drawn the conclusion that humanity is obsessed with self-reflection. Two of the physically largest and most central pieces in the massive Armory Show warehouses on Piers 92 and 94 were Nigerian illustrator Karo Akpokiere's Alternate Art Fair and South African "bad boy" Ed Young's All So Fucking African. Each of piece comments on the circumstances of The Armory Show, particularly this year's African focus, while still being part of it.

Akpokiere's work is a large white prism in the middle of The Armory Show's opulent champagne lounge, separating the booze from the art. He invites passers by to help him fill in a grid scrawled onto both sides of the blank rectangle. "There's something about a blank surface. You just feel like it has to be filled with something," he tells The Creators Project. He explains to potential collaborators that The Alternate Art Fair is, "a mock proof print of an art fair. I'm creating my own custom galleries as an artist and using them as a way to approach certain issues."

His blank surface draws fairgoers in, trapping their concepts and concerns about the fair in a single place. Big, bold letters, for example, read, "Art grow some ovaries," in the bottom corner, reflecting a perceived tendancy toward safeness in the art world, and its tendancy to favor white males. "It's an interactive body of work, and also quite spontaneous," says Akpokiere.

Karo Akpokiere, Alternate Art Fair, 2016. Photo by the author

The author was invited to contribute to 'Alternate Art Fair,' so he drew an octopus. Karo Akpotiere, Alternate Art Fair, 2016. Photo by the author

Big, bold letters, are also Young's medium of choice for this year's Armory Show. A massive banner greets visitors on their way in from the main entrance, reading, "ALL SO FUCKING AFRICAN," on one side and, "NOT ME IT'S YOU," on the other. Young, a white South African, is commenting on the inherent problems with building your multi-million dollar art fair on top of an African art focus. "There's a lot of interest in Africa at the moment, and a lot of commodification of African art," he tells The Creators Project. "The focus is obviously good for Africa in general, getting a lot of attention and the work has definitely improving, becoming far more interesting and stronger. But it also feels like a commodity, like going to the market and buying an African curio."

His main piece, also titled, ALL SO FUCKING AFRICAN, takes advantage of his position as an artist independent of the gallery art fair grind, to comment on what money does to art. "It's nice because it's a one-liner, but at the same time it's very multilayered," he says. "But to get to that point you really need to stand and think about it."

Ed Young, NOT ME IT'S YOU, 2016. Photo by Nicole Cone

Both works were centerpieces of the entire show, easy to access compared to the works tucked within the maze of gallerists exhibiting in the main area. Yet both exist partly outside of the fair, commenting on critiquing the international art marketplace, like a self-deprecating Mitch Hedberg joke incarnate. Aliens, if you're reading this, I hope you value meta-ness as a sign of intelligence and not a damning paradox.

Check out footage from The Armory Show, and hear these artists' ideas firsthand, in the video below, and check out a few shots from The Armory Show floor.

Los Carpinteros, Clavo Tres, Metal, 43.75 x 118.25 x 47.25 in, Sean Kelly Gallery, 2015

Shih Chieh Huang, Disphotic Zone, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 2016

Cyrus Kabiru, Njia Ya Maisha, Macho Nne-Maona Chuma, Pigment Ink on HP Premium Satin Photographic Paper, 150 x 120 cm, 2015

Learn more about The Armory Show on the official website.

Related:

8 African Artists to Know at The Armory Show

A Fake Art Fair Takes Aim at Contemporary Practices

Inside Spring/Break, the Standout Fair of Art Week 2016