The Armory Show Focus Group

Liz Magic Laser BIO

This note first appeared in AAA's previous publication Field Notes, Issue 04. To read the "Note from the Editors" for full context, please click here.


Image: Screening of <i>The Armory Show Focus Group</i>, 2013.
Image: Screening of The Armory Show Focus Group, 2013.
Courtesy of the artist.


Various Small Fires is very pleased to announce its participation in the centennial edition of The Armory Show with a solo presentation by Liz Magic Laser (b. 1981, New York), the 2013 Commissioned Artist of the fair. Laser has become known worldwide for her videos and performances in public spaces such as banks and movie theaters, which have involved collaborations with actors, dancers, surgeons, and motorcycle gang members. She stages situations, dialogues, and monologues in the urban environment, and its population becomes both her audience and extras in the resulting videos. Her recent work appropriates the dominant performance techniques and psychological strategies used by the media and politicians to sway public opinion.

In August of 2012, The Armory Show invited Laser to serve as its commissioned artist. She accepted in October, agreeing to produce limited-edition artworks and to shape the visual identity of the fair through VIP cards, invitations, signage, Jack Spade tote bags, and employee T-shirts. A performance artist confronted with the challenge of producing marketable objects, large in number and scope, Laser enlisted the help of market research analyst Ben Allen of Labrador Agency to conduct a series of focus groups with art consumers. She had The Armory Show invite members of the arts community—a range of collectors, curators, museum professionals, art advisors, and critics—to participate in group discussions that would ultimately determine how she would lend her identity to The Armory Show.

Laser conducted a series of six focus groups, each consisting of ten participants and lasting two hours. The first sessions in early November, 2012 were devoted to "exploratory" market research in which participants were asked to characterise The Armory Show's current status and the critical value of Laser’s work. They were then prompted to suggest how she might apply her artistic strategies most effectively to the fair. Based on feedback from the first sessions, Laser developed prototypes of art editions and visual motifs, which were "tastetested" by later groups that convened in late November for what the artist deemed the "validation and refinement phase." Laser’s video, The Armory Show Focus Group (2013), assembles the most useful viewpoints, culled from over twelve hours of focus group discussion footage.

Laser's market research findings concluded that art consumers wanted her to make The Armory Show's internal data and affairs transparent. Based on this she directed The Armory Show to assume a corporate identity reminiscent of a bank and to expose its internal information via its VIP paraphernalia. For example, the Jack Spade VIP tote bag announces, "An average size booth at The Armory Show costs $24,000 . . ." and the VIP card tells its recipient that he or she is 1 out of 12,365 VIPs. The site-specific installation, Artist’s Proof (2013), extends her effort to apply the desired transparency to the art fair's fundamental building block, the booth. Treating the booth as an assisted ready-made, Laser has transformed it into the viewing room in which she and The Armory Show staff analysed consumer opinion. By installing a fourth wall with a two-way mirrored glass window, visitors will be allowed to observe and discuss the fair without being seen from the outside.

Gallery staff will prompt visitors to analyse the fair according to Laser’s guidelines while leading them through the artworks on display (all products of the focus group research): photographs; a portfolio of unrealised limited-edition prototypes; share certificates of Vornado Realty Trust (owner of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., who in turn owns The Armory Show); pastel drawings of the focus groups; a museological display of VIP paraphernalia; signed proofs of the limited-edition works she has created for The Armory Show; and the video The Armory Show Focus Group (2012–2013). The installation serves as a living document of Laser's exchange with The Armory Show, and traces the complex web of opportunity and compromise that characterises the relationship between market forces and artistic production today. Artist's Proof will be presented within the fair's Focus: USA section, curated by The Andy Warhol Museum Director Eric Shiner.


Liz Magic Laser lives and works in New York City. She is a graduate of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and Columbia University's MFA program. Her work has been exhibited internationally at venues including Diverseworks, Houston (2013), Mälmo Konsthall, Mälmo, Sweden (2012); Swiss Institute with Forever & Today, Inc., New York (2012); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2012); the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (2012); the Performa 11 Biennial, New York (2011); MoMA PS 1, New York (2010); Artisterium, Tbilisi, Georgia (2009); and the Prague Biennale 4, Czech Republic (2009). Gallery exhibitions include Derek Eller Gallery, New York (2012); Various Small Fires, Los Angeles (2012); The Pace Gallery, New York (2011); and Casey Kaplan, New York (2011). She has been a resident at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Space Program, New York (2013); Forever & Today, Inc.'s Studio On The Street artist-in-residence program, New York (2012); Smack Mellon, Brooklyn (2011); and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York (2009). Laser is the recipient of grants from the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halback Foundation (2013), the Southern Exposure Graue Foundation Public Art Award (2013), the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (2012), the Times Square Alliance, and the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art (2010). In summer 2013 she will have a solo exhibition at the Westfälische Kunstverein, Münster, Germany. Liz Magic Laser is her real name from birth.

The Armory Show Focus Group (2013), an Armory Show Commission produced in association David Guinan of Polemic Media. Featuring focus group moderator Ben Allen of Labrador Agency. Other contributors include Lew Baldwin, Editor; Geoffrey Hug, Videographer; Matthew Kessler, Videographer; Danilo Parra, Videographer; Brian Mcelroy, Production Coordinator; Reed Seifer, Graphic Designer; Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Post-production Graphic Designer; and Michael Romeo, Sound Editor. Produced with support from Various Small Fires, Los Angeles. 

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