Fairs USA

“Together we are stronger”

New York turns the corner, but did the Armory Show stand out from the crowd?

Within hours of the Armory Show opening its doors, New York’s art world appeared to have got its mojo back. Big collectors strolled through the aisles, including David Teiger, Eileen Cohen, the De la Cruzs and the Scholls, while the glitterati arrived in the shape of Björk, Sofia Coppola, Michael Stipe and the Scissor Sisters, whose band member Babydaddy, real name Scott Hoffman, said: “I really like coming to the Armory, but there are galleries missing that I’d like to have seen—I think they’ve gone to the ADAA’s Art Show. We’re off to rehearsals in an hour, so we won’t get to see them.”

Other regulars on the international fair circuit including Gagosian, Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Marks, were Armory absentees yet again, allowing smaller galleries to graduate from satellites into the main fair. The remaining top-tier galleries, such as Hauser & Wirth (P94/601), Sean Kelly (P94/701) and David Zwirner (P94/1001), were packed, and tills were metaphorically ringing. White Cube (P94/901) reported sales including Damien Hirst’s Skull with Glass of Water, 2007, which went for £3.1m to a major modern master collector—proving that there is two-way traffic between the modern and contemporary piers.

“People really are looking at historical works,” said Lisson gallery director Nicholas Logsdail (P94/1701), who had sold the “seriously vintage” Two Black Squares by Art & Language, 1967, for £35,000, and Anish Kapoor’s Void, 1991, for £500,000 to US collectors. So, is this a return to the good old days? “Something very curious has happened with fairs,” said Logsdail. “You get the business, but it is slower. By the end of the fair we’ll have a good result.”

Maybe the sheer volume of art on show this week is turning collectors’ heads—not only to the 11 satellite fairs, but to gallery and museum exhibitions galore. Paul Morris, the Armory’s vice-president, was sanguine about the competition: “The confluence of our shows attracts thousands—together, we are stronger.”

New York dealer Peter Blum (P94/1033) is one of several dealers busy on many fronts: “I am actually in two places at the same time,” he joked about his other booth at the Art Show. Jack Shainman (P94/621), who had sold Nick Cave’s Birdbush, 2010, to a US collector for $75,000 and has an El Anatsui show in his Chelsea gallery, said: “It adds extra pressure to meet people at the gallery in the morning before coming here, but it is a good pressure.”

The first-timers were also working hard. Lower East Sider Lisa Cooley (P94/706) said: “You have to do the Armory because there are so many collectors in town.” Bruce Haines from London’s Ancient & Modern (P94/1151) was delighted to be at the Armory, and reported sales including Paul Johnson’s painting Slow Burner for $7,000, but said: “Everyone’s pushing for discounts and it’s difficult to decline because we need to make friends in New York.” Meanwhile, Tokyo’s Gallery Side 2 (P94/956) was in two minds about whether the financial commitment was worth it. Director Junko Shimada said: “Although there’s a nice energy here, I wasn’t that happy about the size and cost of the booth. If it’s difficult, I’ll have to think about coming back.”

Lisa Spellman of 303 Gallery (P94/1500), having already notched up sales for Maureen Gallace including Sandy Road, 2009, for $47,000, is staying loyal: “I was one of the organisers at the beginning so I am a hardcore supporter of the Armory. It’s such an important fair for New York.” Another stalwart, David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin (P94/911), having sealed Beth Rudin de Woody’s purchase of Nari Ward’s Toe, 2009, for $35,000 agreed: “I think the fair has improved. It is better organised this year, and has a renewed sense of purpose.”

Yet there were vocal detractors. One museum director coined the phrase “cash-and-carry art”, for what she deemed to be the preponderance of conservative photographs and paintings. Marc-Olivier Wahler, director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, said: “The art on show is what we in France call ‘mou’, which means flat or lifeless.” From the dealer’s perspective, Andrew Kreps (P94/900) had heard people wondering whether, “this type of fair model feels a little worn”. Yet he went on to say: “We’ve definitely seen the people we expected to see here—there is a good turnout.”

The dealer Thaddaeus Ropac (P94/919) said: “It is not difficult to sell in New York,” citing success with Antony Gormley’s 2010 sculpture, Aperture VII, for $350,000, but said that the Armory had not replaced the major New York galleries with like for like. “This year especially you feel the wounds of those who have left. The fair has such potential, but it has changed, and needs to find its identity.”

See the April edition of the main paper for detailed analysis of this week’s New York fairs

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