The Armory was bathed in darkness, save the spotlights on eleven towering concrete forms, resembling smokestacks or organ pipes scaled for giants. Some ninety ticket holders for Taryn Simon’s “An Occupation of Loss” were ushered down a steep staircase and invited to explore. Each column was occupied by a single or small group of professional mourners, invited by the artist to perform their services. With some trepidation, I entered one of these concrete tubes and stood a few feet from a man wearing all black (hat, clothes, and sunglasses) and playing a mournful song on an accordion. He and the other mourners—some thirty in all—represented an array of traditions, from a person masked head to toe in a feathered African costume to a wondrous female duo from Azerbaijan whose elegies sounded ancient and passionate. An intense half hour passed quickly as the cacophonous sounds from each tube swirled together in a funereal fugue. On the way out, visitors received a booklet with documentation about the visa applications for the performers, along with interpretive texts by anthropologists and musicologists on funeral rituals. Simon brought her usual rigorous research to this project, but the subject matter and humanity of the mourners gave it a pathos and gravity that left me reeling. —Lindsay Pollock
Pictured: Installation view of Taryn Simon’s “An Occupation of Loss,” at Park Avenue Armory. Photo Naho Kubota.
“Paperwork and the Will of Capital” is another of Taryn Simon’s deeply researched, politically weighty photographic projects. Here Simon zeroes in on the floral centerpieces present at the signing of three dozen international trade agreements, treaties, and other diplomatic accords over the past 50 years. A botanist collaborator identified the exact species of flora in archival photographs, and Simon recreated the bouquets in her studio with some 4,000 blooms imported from a flower auction in the Netherlands. Each approximately 7-by-6-foot photo is encased in a mahogany frame and paired with a detailed text panel explaining the significance of the event at which the pictured bouquet was present and the types of flowers therein (e.g. anthuriums, dentrobiums, orchids, and tea roses were used in a 1994 Phnom Penh ceremony formalizing an understanding between Cambodia and Australia about the resettlement of refugees). Also on view are 12 plinthlike concrete sculptures topped with the dried, flattened flower specimens Simon used for the photos.—Leigh Anne Miller
Pictured: Taryn Simon: Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Refugees in Cambodia. Ministry of Interior, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 26, 2014, 2015, archival inkjet print in mahogany frames with text in windowed compartment on archival herbarium paper, 85 by 73¼ by 2¾ inches unframed. Courtesy Gagosian, New York.