Long the most impressive interior space in New York, the Park Avenue Armory—in the midst of a sensitive rehab by Herzog & de Meuron, allowing us to see anew some of the best woodwork in town—is now even greater. But the Armory is more than a lovely set of rooms. It has been playing host to excellent performances, exhibitions, lectures, and all-out art installations. Hard to believe that as recently as 2000 this proud giant was on the list of the world’s 100 most endangered structures.
The centerpiece of any Armory visit is the epic, column-free 55,000-square-foot drill hall. This redone magnificence joins an Upper East Side that already has the Asia Society and several new galleries. Improbably, the area is becoming yet another great art destination. Lately at the Armory, in addition to a number of super-spiffy art and antique fairs—they alone would be the envy of any art city, and I say that as an art-fair grump—we’ve seen artists carry out their ultimate dreams and nightmares of ambition. This season, Paul McCarthy’s hall-filling installation included a giant artificial forest, multiple stage sets, and videos featuring actors playing Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs, and Walt Disney—all in various stages of utter debauchery. Before that, in the opposite psychic direction, Ann Hamilton’s beautifully spare installation of billowing fabric and swings returned us all to our inner playground. Shows like these remind us that being in a space so sumptuous and perfectly restored with virtually anything is a fantastic experience—as close to Rome as many of us might get, and by subway.