The largest and most prestigious art fair in the country took place this past weekend(March 5-8) here in NYC. There is nothing like a brush of VIPness in the whole experience and a sassy and classy attitude to make The Armory Show an exquisite place to be at. Immediately greeted with the sprawling Pommery Champagne Bar, I was sure I was up for quite a show that day. As Veblen says, “In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence”(24). At The Armory Show, many people were on a mission to prove their wealth by consuming conspicuously and this being a guide of their taste and norm of consumption. Take for example, Nari Ward‘s collection of slightly-used shoelaces tied to a shipping barrel; it is definitely not for everyone since you must be fine with investing $65,000 for this. Located at Manhattan’s west side Piers 92&94, The Armory Show encompasses a selection of the worlds leading galleries and is divided into the contemporary and the modern section, located in each Pier. The event itself reminded me that there are people with so much money who don’t know what to do with it. I walked by a lot of art pieces, which I would not even think of art, but that were priced for more than $100k. In the past it was all about discovering rare and fresh talent but today I was part of a whole spectacle of interactive art, networking and a big array of fashion statements from the spectators. There is a tendency to overthink and place emphasis on dress in such cultural events and I am wary of how far this transformationwill go. The people at the show ranged from the classic art connoisseurs to students, families attending as a weekend activity and to unknown viewers who consciously wanted to be seen. Being seen and recognized is a big part of fashion and the role it has among people. Some may use dress and fashion as a means to express part of their individuality while others may choose to conform to the status quo. Both were noticed at The Armory Show. The latter, I could define as individuals suffering from “chromophobia”. I would think that the people visiting an art fair have vibrant personalities and are eager to see what is new in the market. However, what I partially observed were thousands of people whose individuality was lost, this being even more evident in the surrounding of the bustling colors the art pieces had. The people I saw were most likely wearing only the so-called fifty shades of grey, and were “chromophobic” in that context. Everything in fashion has to do with the context and situation one is in, and dressing in mundane colors was the solution for some. Simmel, an author of the American Journal of Sociology would attribute this chromophobic behavior to the ongoing fear of not fitting in. Many prefer to play it safe with their fashion, rather than standing out and making a statement. Simmels says, “Imitation gives to the individual the satisfaction of not standing alone in his actions.”(Simmel:542) and “Fashion on the one hand signifies union with those in the same class, the uniformity of a circle characterized by it, and uno actu, the exclusion of all other groups.”(544) and these quotes could explain the nature of fashion uniting and segregating at the same time. The thousands of people I saw walking around the art fair, wearing grey, black, white and brown colors unify as a mass of people not expressing something pungent about their identity while also classifying the rest of the people who are not conforming with their style. Both these tendencies of fashion are interconnected and “should one of these be absent, fashion will not be formed”(546). To the other extreme, I noticed an impressive amount of effort put into the looks of certain higher-classed individuals. I don’t know if they were actually of a higher class, but that is the image they wanted to convey. As Wilson says, “In all societies the body is ‘dressed’ and everywhere dress and adornment play symbolic, communicative and aesthetic roles. Dress is always ‘unspeakably meaningful”(Wilson:3). Dress helps integrate bodies into social structures and encapsulates ideas and emotions and can act as an extension of oneself. The people at the art show that chose to use dress in the more extravagant looks and participate in what Hebdige says are “obviously fabricated”(Hebdige:101). Style is used to signify a difference and shows the effort put by the person who carefully thought about what that style would say about them. Hebdige says “they go against a mainstream culture whose principal defining characteristic, according to Barthes, is a tendency to masquerade as nature, to substitute normalized for historical forms..”(102) and these people genuinely want to stand out from the crowd. At the art show, I noticed some going against the mainstream by the way they dressed their bodies but also by paying attention to the extricate hairstyles and colors.
Since style and fashion come out of a context and are a product of different forces of society, the way people chose to dress for the Armory Show highly depends on the “cultural capital” they possess. It is obvious for some to stand out and for others to express their “chromophobia” according to the way they want to express a part of their identity. The Armory Show sure was a great place to be looked at while also a great place to comfort many toned down individuals.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture, the Meaning of Style. NY: Routledge, 1998. Print-NatKar
Simmel, Georg. “Fashion.” American Journal of Sociology 62.6 (1957)
Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934. Print.
Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: U of California, 1987
all images taken by Natalia Karavasili