The Park Avenue Armory has been home to 80% of my most memorable art viewing experiences ever: Motorcycles that “draw”, indoor rain during Macbeth, an augmented reality “Last Supper”, and super-tall-swings that move giant white curtains. And now artist Martin Creed has taken over the entire space (including an area that regular visitors have never seen), with work that will make you smile, roll your eyes, and just appreciate the pointless joy of art that doesn’t need a reason.
The Armory itself was built in 1880 (or 51 years B.E.S.B. *Before Empire State Building) and features the “Wade Thompson Drill Hall”, a column-free MASSIVE 55,000 square foot room (for reference, a football field is 57,600 sq ft), plus a handful of beautiful and decaying 19th Century offices, including a “library” designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Yeah. It’s awesome.
Artist Martin Creed is British, in his late 40s and, as you will discover as you wander through this 20-year selection of his work, doesn’t seem to question the practicality, “intelligence,” or safety of any idea: he just fearlessly does whatever he wants. For example:
“Work No 2497: Half the air in a given space” is a room with hundreds of large white balloons that visitors are encouraged to enter. The first minute is pure bliss; the last minute is slightly panicked when you realize you have NO idea where you are or how to exit. The title image was shot by a professional, the above image is what it actually feels like.
“Work No: 990” is a massive black theatre curtain that continuously opens and closes at the entrance of a hallway. It makes you feel like royalty, a late night host, or a bit like Indiana Jones as you wait for the perfect time to pass.
“Work No. 569” is a piano that makes noise in a completely unexpected (and dangerous) way. It’s SO unexpected, that the materials are never described or listed as a “piano”, but instead as “wood, metal, and strings”. Every hour, the lid slams shut with a bang. Essentially it’s a really expensive clapper. I’m told it happens once an hour, but that exact moment is unlisted, so you will either be really surprised, or have to wait (I’ve missed it every time, but I hear it’s great). There is however, plenty to look at: It’s in the aforementioned Tiffany-designed room.
That massive football-field sized drill hall contains only two works: a large hanging video screen showing various women displaying the food they’ve been chewing in slow motion (more mesmerizing and humorous than it sounds), and a loading dock door in the back that automatically opens and closes between every short film, revealing the street outside. That “back door” is also the dirty-joke title of the entire exhibition.
“Work No. 798” is everywhere: diagonal stripes of black paint that vandalize every wall.
And this WHOLE time that you’re exploring the Armory, a marching band, complete with megaphone, continually roams the entire exhibition with a catchy, chaotic, and slightly-annoying-after-an-hour musical composition by the artist. I love it. In the image above, they’re marching around one of my favorites: “Work No. 142: A large piece of furniture partially obstructing a door.”
Yes the image above is blinking on purpose. It’s one of the earliest works in the exhibition “Work No. 160: The lights going on and off”, in which the lights in a room turn off and on every second. Inside that room is another work titled “Work No. 129: A door opening and closing.” Guess what that one does.
One of the most profound and beautiful (and offensive) areas of the exhibition is the video hall – A long dark storage hallway with low ceilings and exposed pipes that visitors rarely, if ever, get to access, which showcases Creed’s complete video work. One of my favorites, “Work No. 1090: Thinking / Not Thinking” is pictured above. With a couple of dogs running across a white stage to upbeat original music, it feels like a commercial without a product/brand at the end. Check it out here.
Above, in “Work No. 1249: Dawning”, a highligher traces lyrics of a song in perfect time. Enjoy the full video here. It’s about to be your favorite thing all day.
WARNING: The last three videos in the show have a strong parental advisory (and will absolutely not be pictured here). Fair warning: whether you find them shockingly offensive or funny, they will sear themselves into the back of your brain – running the risk of being the ONLY thing you remember when you exit. They include a giant nipple, an attractive woman defecating on a pristine white floor (for real), and another one vomiting. Love them or hate them, they are evidence again, that Martin Creed NEVER questions or edits ANY idea that pops into his head: he just does it. I left feeling inspired to do the same.
The joy of this show is constantly wondering what is “art”, and what isn’t. For example: is the “Caution: floor slippery when wet” sign part of the show? (It’s not). Or are the random LEGO blocks in the trophy case a sculpture? (They are). It’s a fun feeling, so I recommend NOT reading the map that they hand you when you enter until you feel like you’ve seen everything. Then going back if you missed something… or discovering that your favorite piece of art wasn’t art at all.
Finally, when you’re 100% done, I recommend exiting the building and walking around the full block to see the “back door” from the outside. As it automatically opens and closes, other pedestrians are unaware, and it’s so dark that you can’t see anything inside – but stand and wave anyway, because you’re on view, and it will be hilarious.
What: Martin Creed: The Back Door
Where: Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, NY
When: June 8 – August 7, 2016
Details: Admission is $15. Advanced Ticket Purchase recommended here.
All images courtesy Park Avenue Armory.