Mariane Ibrahim Gallery Wins The Armory Show Booth Prize

  • Installation view of work by Zohra Opoku at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery’s booth at The Armory Show, 2017. Photo by Adam Reich for Artsy.

The inaugural Presents Booth Prize has gone to Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, The Armory Show announced Thursday. The award, a new initiative of executive director Benjamin Genocchio, recognizes “outstanding and innovative gallery presentation” within Presents, the section of the fair dedicated to younger galleries. Mariane Ibrahim will return home to Seattle with $10,000 in prize money, funded this year by Athena Art Finance.

“It comes as a great surprise, but believe me, it was a lot of hard work,” said Ibrahim on Thursday from her booth on Pier 94, which features a solo presentation of German-Ghanaian artist Zohra Opoku. The artist credited her gallerist with a touch of art fair clairvoyance: “Mariane knew it already,” said Opoku, smiling. “She manifested it.”

Since establishing her space in 2012, Ibrahim has worked to provide a global platform for artists from Africa and the diaspora. Opoku, who lives and works in Accra, reflects the gallery’s particular focus on photography—for her new series on display at The Armory Show, she has drawn on images of her siblings to create several strikingly physical pieces. By sewing together screen-printed photographs, the artist has literally woven together human stories through cloth and embroidery in what she describes as “collages of memories, image, and material.”

Alongside these large-scale cloth works, the booth features smaller framed “details” of the images and objects Opoku incorporated into the pieces. The display evolved out of months of dialogue between artist and gallerist: “We were texting and calling almost every day,” said Ibrahim, who first met Opoku in the summer of 2015. “When you do a solo presentation, it’s like entering into someone’s home.”

The care is evident in the booth, which exudes a warmth rarely found at an art fair. A series of cloth pieces hang from the rafters to form an isolated nook, allowing visitors the chance to step inside and escape the crowds for a moment. Pictures of the artist’s relatives are arranged on a wall, almost as one might find them at a family home. A small piece of Ghanian kente cloth, its bright colors and pattern instantly recognizable in an adjacent larger piece, has been framed and leans subtly against the wall. This personal exploration of Opoku’s past and heritage comes at a time when, as Ibrahim notes, many around the world are “creating more boundaries and more walls, and not learning much from history.”

  • Installation view of work by Zohra Opoku at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery’s booth at The Armory Show, 2017. Photo by Adam Reich for Artsy.

Ibrahim’s booth beat out 29 other galleries also showing in presents and hailing from 13 countries. An international, five-member jury, including Alain Servais and Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s artistic director, awarded the Booth Prize. They opted for Mariane Ibrahim Gallery over other strong presentations in the sector, including Joshua Citarella’s 12-by-8-foot photographic triptych at Carroll / Fletcher and Nevine Mahmoud’s erotic stone sculptures at M+B.

While only one gallery walks away with ten grand, effectively making its Armory presentation free, all have benefitted from the reduced cost of showing in the Presents section this year. Like the award money itself, the discounted booth price was a response to the needs of younger galleries, Genocchio said. He hoped lower financial stakes would encourage galleries “to bring work that was not only strong, but ambitious and daring.”

Beyond the award, Ibrahim was pleased with the connections she’s made thus far at the fair. “We’re very happy,” she said of business on Pier 94. And she’s already looking forward to next year’s Armory Show: “I think the prize will be put back into another application,” she said.

—Isaac Kaplan

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