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Artnet’s Annie Armstrong Wants You to Go to Galleries Alone

The writer of the “Wet Paint” gossip column tells us where to go see some good art this fall and winter.

Rirkrit Tiravanija. untitled 2008-2011 (the map of the land of feeling) I–III. (Kyle Knodell / MoMA PS1)

Annie Armstrong's column at Artnet, Wet Paint, is the best source for gossip about rich people you've never heard of. She told me it got her "blacklisted" from Zero Bond, after she wrote a heater about the private social club and the art world fuddy-duddies who hobnob there. "If that is the top tier of culture, what we're supposed to aspire to as New Yorkers," she told me of the exclusive members-only club, "then this is the end of things. Count me out."

She added, "This is what people are talking about? This is what people are excited about? This is fucking pathetic." (Zero Bond is frequented by Mayor Eric Adams, whom Hell Gate is suing, by the way, in relation to his fondness of the club.)

Armstrong told me that from the beginning of Wet Paint, she knew she wanted to take the tone of an outsider to the art world that somehow made it in. "The art world in New York is so emphatically exclusive that it keeps a lot of interested parties away from it," Armstrong said. "It shoots itself in the foot that way."

She wanted to take an approach similar to how "Portlandia" treated hipster culture, by both making fun of and also celebrating the art world. "I want to remind the people on the inside that this is a living, breathing thing, and we're dealing with expression and the canon of art history, and it's not just commerce," Armstrong said. "And then I wanted to remind people on the outside, that you shouldn't be so afraid of this. After all, she pointed out, insiders "want you to feel like you're an outsider for their worst intentions."

Fran Lebowitz recently quipped that "there's no more art world, now it's the 'art market.'" But Armstrong's column, which refers to people like Larry Gagosian by their first name, reminds its readers that the art world, even as hypercharged as it is by capital these days, is still populated by characters with a capital-C—reading them is akin to gleefully cavorting as the plus-one to a fancy party where everyone's a famous person you don't recognize. She told me wanted to talk to an audience that just wants to know the basics: Why is the art market like insider trading? Why do people talk about it like it's white-collar crime? Who is everyone? "The personalities in the art world are so bizarre," she said.

There's one tip Armstrong tells everyone who wants to see some art in New York City: Don't go to art fairs. "They're not really for people that are trying to enjoy art," she said. "They're for people who want to buy, and they're a waste of money otherwise."

Some more advice: "Just go see shows by themselves without the artists around, without the glitterati around. That's probably the best thing you can possibly do," said Armstrong. "Museum shows are the touchstones for me. Anytime I feel like 'fuck this, I'm sick of art, I'm sick of all this posturing,' I'll go to the Ed Ruscha show, for instance. It's fantastic. It made me feel like I could run a marathon after I went to go see it."

For galleries that have consistent bangers, she recommends O'Flaherty's and Dunkunsthalle, the latter of which is run by Rachel Rossin. ("It's modeled after a northern European Kunsthalle, but it's in an old Dunkin' Donuts," Armstrong said.) And she has other advice for finding cool shows. "Instagram is a huge tool," she said, adding, "Download SeeSaw and figure out your taste. Galleries cluster themselves. The more you go to openings, the more you'll see clusters of galleries that fit the same aesthetic mold, and you'll find your tribe that you gravitate most towards." 

"You've got to pound the pavement and go see stuff," Armstrong said. "No one's going to judge you for going to a gallery by yourself. You might think they do, but they don't. Bite the bullet and deal with the awkwardness up front."

So, go by yourself to any one of Armstrong's recommendations:

Through January 24, 2024: "Now Then" by Edward Ruscha at MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan ($28 for non-member adults, discounts available for seniors, children and students)

"You can't miss it. He did all this screenprinting, and the ink he used is chocolate, and it fills the entire room, and it smells like chocolate. The whole show is an amazing testimony to his passion for process and material. There's a lot of excellent drawings, a lot of his gunpowder drawings. It's a great show, and I would highly recommend going."

Thursdays to Mondays through March 4, 2024: "A Lot of People" by Rirkrit Tiravanija at MoMA PS1. 22-25 Jackson Street, Queens ($10 for non-member adults, discounts available for seniors, children and students)

"Tiravanija's work is a lot about community and community building, which doesn't always necessarily translate well in a museum space, but he used to have a show at Gavin Brown's gallery, and he would make this giant paella for the opening. It's all about what brings people together. He, just like Ruscha, uses unconventional materials to reach an unconventional end. He does a lot that's very involved, where he gets people to get their hands dirty. I haven't been to it yet, so I can't speak on what exactly goes on there, but that's what I'll be doing this weekend, probably."

Opening Tuesday, November 7: "Perspectives" by Nancy Holt at Dunkunsthalle, 64 Fulton Street, Manhattan (Free)

"Holt is kind of unsung, and has been around forever, and hasn't really fully gotten her due. I think she's finally starting to. That show will be amazing."

Opening Thursday, November 9: "Island Life" by Alvaro Barrington at Nicola Vassell, 138 10th Ave, Manhattan (Free)

"Alvaro is a genius of mixed media, and kind of like Rirkrit, he incorporates community involvement and direct audience intervention into his artworks. He always makes for a dynamic show."

Opening Thursday, November 9: "Prickling Goosebumps & a Humming Horizon" by Pipilotti Rist at Hauser & Wirth, 542 West 22nd Street, Manhattan. (Free)

"Rist's exhibit was the New Museum's most trafficked show of all time, at least for a while. She's having her first show back in New York since that show in 2017 at Hauser & Wirth. It will likely be quite the spectacle, and likely quite the Instagram destination, which I am not one to be judgey about."

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