A custom-made Armory Show

With so much amazing art to choose from, our critic curated her own exhibit of great works by women

  • Faith Ringgold, “Coming to Jones Road Tanka #1 Harriet Tubman, “ 2010. Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 65 x 44 inches, (C) 2019 Faith Ringgold, ARS member. Photo: Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York.

  • Grace Hartigan, “Kansas,” 1959, Oil on canvas, 87 3/4 x 86 3/4 inches. Photo: Courtesy Hollis Taggart, New York.

  • Brie Ruais, “Weaving the Landscape (four times 130lbs),” 2018. Glazed and pigmented stoneware, hardware, 95 x 152 x 8 inches. Photo: Courtesy Albertz Benda Gallery, New York.

It’s been said that no two people read the same book. With 198 galleries from 33 countries represented, and thousands of works of art, no two people see the same Armory Show. The breadth and scope of the fair, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, is outstanding even in a city filled with art fairs. Acres of art and exhibitors hoping to catch the eyes of tens of thousands of visitors promises lots of spectacle and eye-candy, as well as innumerable possibilities for moving, thought-provoking one-on-one interactions with compelling works of art.

This year’s Armory Show wasn’t last year’s, or the year’s before. Sixty-three galleries brought their best artists here for the first time. They came from Rio, Berlin, Istanbul, and Singapore, among other places, transporting visions and voices from afar. Distant times also made an appearance, in the “Insights” section, which focused on early to late 20th century masters.

With Matisses and Picassos vying for attention with art made last month, along with photographs, paintings, installations, sculptures, and video, how does one make the most of the experience without being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the Armory Show? I decided on a do-it-yourself approach.

March is Women’s History Month, and disappointed by the dearth of exhibitions devoted to women artists (an exception being Chirlane McCray’s extraordinary “She Persists” at Gracie Mansion) I set out to curate my own. The Armory Show provides lists, directories and lots of navigational tools. With treasure maps it wasn’t hard to find great work by great women.

Modern Masters

Hollis Taggart Gallery used their booth to highlight the impact of New York’s Art Students League, a beacon of brilliance, in part because women were there. A who’s who of 20th century masters was on view. Absolute delights were Helen Frankenthaler’s ethereal fields of tone, Grace Hartigan’s bravura brushwork packed with color, Louise Nevelson’s complex forms devoid of color, Lee Krasner’s sophistication, and an early piece by Audrey Flack (done when she was 20) of earthy biomorphic shapes that give no clue of the later photorealism that we think of when we think of Flack. London’s Bernard Jacobsen Gallery also had beautiful Frankenthaler works on display.

Rebels with a Cause

Miriam Schapiro’s charming chintz fabric assemblages, on view at Eric Firestone Gallery, were a second-wave feminist punch aimed at male-dominated art circles. She took quilting, cloth, and thread and proved that great, meaningful works of art could come from historically female domains. Contemporary artists like Nick Cave (also on view at the fair) and Ghada Amer might not be making art from fabric if Schapiro hadn’t smashed preconceptions. Also pulling threads (among other media) into powerful works of art is Harlem-born artist, Faith Ringgold, shown at ACA Galleries. Known for her award-winning children’s book and to New York subway riders for “Flying Home Harlem Heroes and Heroines” at 125th St., Ringgold’s work can stop you in your tracks, take your breath away, and bring tears to your eyes. It’s that strong, honest and moving. Her “Tar Beach 2” quilt, along with others like “Coming to Jones Road Tanka #1 Harriet Tubman” blend traditional women’s work, spiritual references and proud documentation of African American history into unforgettable works of art. Feminist artist Marilyn Minter’s work is in more of the in-your-face variety. Her fearless, frank images deal with lips, eyes, makeup, fashion, and the complex layers behind them. “Loop-de-Loop” a 2013 chromogenic print, was on view at Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art.


Brie Ruais, a New York artist presented by Albertz Benda Gallery, creates ceramic works that bridge the worlds of sculpture and painting. Imagine gestural brushstrokes, like those of Franz Kline or Robert Motherwell, jumping off the canvas and becoming three-dimensional. The physicality of Ruais’ sculptures imparts a presence, balanced by calm, earthy tones. California artist Fay Ray (on view at Shulamit Nazarian’s booth) makes large-scale sculptures of rock, chain and metal that bring to mind giant sized earrings, wind chimes, Calders and Mirós. They’re at once fanciful, serious, and original.

Uncategorizable, But Not to Be Missed

Vija Celmins amazing work at Susan Sheehan Gallery. Celmins’ black and white images bring to mind the kind of tireless, devoted work done by manuscript illuminators in medieval scriptoriums. She recreates realms of sky, sea and earth in minute detail through precise observation and unimaginable effort. Look closely, and they become etched in your mind.

The 2019 Armory Show may be over, but these artists are forever. Seek out their work, you will be the richer for it.

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