An Armory in New York?

With 180 galleries from 32 countries showing mostly new work, the Armory Show is massive.

With 180 galleries from 32 countries showing mostly new work, the Armory Show is massive.
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I went to the opening of this year’s Armory Show at Pier 94 in Manhattan on Wednesday. Outside was the sparkling Hudson. Inside, there was enough Purell to float the Circle Line. The first flu cases have already hit Manhattan but the mood was lively among big crowds. Elbow bumps, air kisses, unusually ridiculous jazz waves, and a bow or two ruled the festivities. Champagne flowed, as did 120 proof hand sanitizer, but hold the Corona beer, please. It’ll kill the mood.

With 180 galleries from 32 countries showing mostly new work, it’s a massive show, so big no Armory in New York can show it. The 1913 Armory Show was indeed in an armory and famously supplied Americans with so massive a dose of new art from Europe that the New York art avant garde was born. This fair, held every year, borrows the name “Armory Show” and covers the globe.

It’s a giddy show but not one big, floating junk shop. That would be the annual Frieze fair on Randall’s Island. Kudos to two dealers for tenacity on top of some very good art. Most of the dealers are European but, in a first, I saw an Iranian dealer. Dastan’s Basement opened in 2012 and focuses on living Iranian artists. The founder’s grandfather was a general in the Iranian army under the Shah, which was a better route than most to the firing squad, but he smartly changed careers to calligraphy. The owner is a civil engineer by training who fell in love with art. Now, the gallery is his full-time job.

My sense is that Iranian art is thriving, as art often does in tumultuous times. “The Joy Factory” by Mehdi Ghadyanloo, painted this year, is big — 78 by 118 — and probably one of the few things in Tehran these days putting a smile on people’s faces. About ten years ago, Ghadyanloo was hired by the Tehran Bureau of Beautification to paint big outdoor murals in a trompe l’oeil style. He’s doing very good studio paintings now. “The Joy Factory” went for $44,000, a good deal.

There’s an Iran chic, and as many of my readers might have intuited, I look askance at fads. Still, Ghandaloo’s mural work in Tehran relieved acre upon acre of dismal concrete. He’s an illusionist and possibly a fabulist, too, and I can read what he’s doing in a subversive way, though the mullahs, hardly connoisseurs, might not. I kept thinking about the optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleberg’s billboard — disembodied eyes — hovering over gray, drab Queens in “The Great Gatsby.” Ghadyanloo’s shiny, bright, relentlessly happy murals might be an exercise of, as art history professors say in class, “compare and contrast.”


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Pope Francis to livestream Sunday prayers amid coronavirus crisis


Pope Francis will not address the crowd for Sunday services from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, Vatican officials said. Instead, Francis will livestream the traditional Angelus Prayer from a library inside the Vatican. The pope won’t hold his general audience from the window on Wednesday either.


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