How to understand Black art across the diaspora

The Armory Show 2020

The Armory Show is New York’s premier art fair, typically held in March. This leading cultural event encourages the discovery and collection of principal art, attracting thousands of booth applications globally each year. The 2020 edition took place from March 4th to 8th. Our team was able to visit the fair last month and experience, what they found out to be, its last year at the Piers. One of our co-founders had the opportunity to work on the VIP Team for The Amory Show, granting them behind the scenes access to the five day fair. 

The Armory Show 2020

Art fairs are much anticipated events in the art world and this year’s Armory Show exacerbated its significance. Despite the understandable COVID-19 fears and some event cancellations, dealers, collectors and enthusiasts still attended in large numbers. It was a testament to how influential, significant and integral The Armory Show is considered to the art market.  This year’s Armory Show emphasized the importance of curatorial exhibits, with the entirety of Pier 90 dedicated to curation sections: Perspectives and Focus. Along with displaying the majority of gallery booths, Pier 94 showcased Presents - a special section dedicated to emerging galleries globally. The galleries represented in this section hailed from cities including London, Addis Ababa and Dubai. Throughout both piers, Platform had additional curated sections. 
Below are some of the team’s highlights from the curated sections, booths and The Armory Live. 

Platform: Brutal Truths 

With areas across both Piers, Platform displayed works by artists that focused on socio-political critiques. This section aimed to highlight the role that artists have historically played in discussing current cultural events. This year’s Brutal Truths exhibited works within the satirical, grotesque and caricature genres in their critiques. 

Pier 90

Focus: Another Time, Another Place

Curated by Jamilah James, the 2020 edition of Focus highlighted the subjective nature of truth. Each of the presenting artists exhibited works that tiptoed the line between fact and fiction and grappled with the formation of self as a result of recieved knowledge. 

ier 9

Jon Key, Steve Turner Booth. California, United States.

Steve Turner’s booth featured work by Laylah Ali and Jon Key. Our team was lucky enough to meet and speak with Jon Key (whose work is featured above). His work at this year’s Armory Show was a development of a body of work he has shown in previous years. It is inspired by his family, upbringing, Black identity and queerness. 

Amir Fallah, Denny Dimin Booth. New York, United States.

Perspectives: Past as Present

The inagural edition of the Persepctives section was dedicated to art that depicts historical works through a contemporary view. This year, the works chosen reflected themes of The Armory Show’s earlier editions. The curator for The Amory Show’s 2020 edition of Persepctives was Nora Burnett Abrams.

Pier 94

Gallery Booths 

With 183 galleries exhibited, each booth unveiled the vast range of creativity present in the art world. From self-portraits through an art historical lens to indoor sculpture gardens, below are some of our favourite displays. 

Kehinde Wiley, Roberts Projects Booth. California, United States.

Otis Quaicoe, Roberts Projects Booth. California, United States.

Florine Demosthene, Mariane Ibrahim Booth. Chicago, United States.

Our team particulary appreciated the Mariane Ibrahim booth.  At The Armory Show, Mariane Ibrahim's booth was a culmination of her booths from the 2016 -2019 editions of The Amory Show. For each exhibiting year, the gallery championed the work of Black women artists in a solo exhibition. This year, the gallery brought back the works of ruby onyinyechi amanze, Florine Démosthène, Zohra Opoku and Lina Iris Viktor.


Presents highlighted galleries less than 10 years old and promoted the works of their represented emerging artists. The section of the art fairgave solo and dual exhibitions of their selected artists and provided insight into the next generation of work. 

Merikokeb Berhanu, Addis Fine Art Booth. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Mehdi Ghadyanloo, Dastan’s Basement Booth. Tehran, Iran. 

Tafeta Gallery Booth. London, United Kingdom.

The Amory Show unveiled a new digital initiative: Armory Access. This digital platform dedicated to exhibiting galleries that have recently closed exhibition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tafeta Gallery (pictured above) is an art gallery in London centered on presenting art from African perspectives that is one of the galleries participating in this initiative. 

The Armory Live

Throughout the year, The Armory Live hosts dicussions between world-renowned members of the art community. Our team were able to attend the live talk In Conversation: Truth, Fiction, and Memory between artist Howardena Pindell and curator and writer Kimberly Drew (@museummammy). Pindell is a mixed media artist focused on protraying the intersects between politics, feminism, salvery and exploitation. Drew was prevoiusly the social media manager at the Metropolitian Museum of Art and intern at the Studio Museum Harlem. She started a blog on Tumblr titled “Black Contemporary Art” in 2011. 

In this talk, Pindell discussed finding herself through her work, her past experiences being ostracized within the feminist movement, and the importance of archival work in the preservation of a collective memory. Watch the full discussion here.


Kimberly Drew and Howardena Pindell. The Armory Live, The Armory Show 2020.

The Amory Show is one the essential fairs to visit on the art world calendar. With sightings of art advisors, collectors and popular figures, it provides a great insight into the variety of available art and the artists and galleries pioneering change in the industry. 

April 29, 2020

 Images used on this page were taken by the team at the event. ISE-DA does not own the rights to the artworks.