Show Business

New York

Left: Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Armory Show. Right: Martha Stewart at the Art Show. (All photos: David Velasco)

A mere five years ago, the Art Show was a somewhat sleepy affair, offering the slowest moving of opening-night crowds a chance to gawk at the excess inventory of a clutch of modern-master dealers, some outright schlock, and occasionally the blue-chip stock of a contemporary gallery with the cash reserves to acquire prime postwar work. But around that time, the Art Dealers Association of America, whose members apply to exhibit at the fair, began inviting contemporary galleries to join, and with the election of Chelsea dealer Roland Augustine to the organization’s presidency last year, the fair now has a noticeably younger cast. As I strolled past two wall-covering grids of silver balloons (shades of Andy) flanking the fair's entrance, I remembered reading that ten galleries are exhibiting simultaneously in this fair and the Armory Show across town.

One upshot of this two-timing is that, whether to make things easy on the new audience or because they have drawn so frequently from the well of their artists’ studios that they are out of inventory, seven of those dealers opted for single-artist presentations. Cheim & Read brought a bevy of Louise Bourgeois sculptures, while CRG chose to highlight Jim Hodges’s spider webs from the early '90s. A “one-person show” in a fair booth seems a bit dubious when listed on an artist’s bio, but when the work is new or, in the case of PaceWildenstein’s strong selection of Ad Reinhardt works on paper, most from the late-’40s, just plain strong, I’m happy to focus my wandering eye.

Matthew Marks kept things simple, showing a large orange curve by Ellsworth Kelly, a suite of seven drawings by Brice Marden, three pint-size Tony Smith sculptures, and early-’60s works on paper by Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning; Peter Freeman displayed Gerhard Richter’s Nose, 1962, Marcel Broodthaers’s Chapeau blanc, 1965, and a Reinhardt black painting that nicely complemented Pace’s earlier works. D’Amelio Terras brought a lovely green-and-blue “Infinity Net” canvas by Yayoi Kusama, dated 1967, from the personal collection of the French artist Arman. And Chicago’s Rhona Hoffman showcased two late-’70s Leon Golub portraits, of d’Estaing and Kissinger. If you weren’t satisfied with the one-artist presentations on offer, it was easy enough to cobble together your own virtual blockbuster: David Zwirner, Anthony Meier, and David Nolan all brought strong early Richters.

I caught up with Augustine and asked him whether he’d encountered resistance from stalwart fair exhibitors as he attempted to change the fair’s profile. “Of course,” he answered, “but it was a fairly organic process. In essence, we’ve raised the bar.” If Fifty-seventh Street avatar Joan Washburn was in any way perturbed, she masked it well. But then again, she made the cut. Nodding toward the cluster of Pollocks she was looking to move this weekend, the doyenne said she was happy for the expanded audience. “And anyway, those who are only interested in the new don’t bother me. They just walk on by.”

Left: MoMA curator Peter Reed, MoMA president Marie-Josée Kravis, and Verona Middleton-Jeter, executive director of Henry Street Settlement. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.

As Jay Jopling, Tim Blum, and a wave of other Armory Show exhibitors rolled in after installing their Pier 94 booths, I glanced at my watch and darted downtown to catch the packed New York premiere of Eve Sussman’s new film, The Rape of the Sabine Women, the much-anticipated follow-up to her acclaimed 89 Seconds at Alcázar. It was being presented with a live score by Cremaster sound track designer Jonathan Bepler; the composer was in Berlin with his wife, who was about to deliver a baby, and unable to make it to New York, so he had conducted rehearsals by Skype. The clatter he conceived, which ranged from a chorus of coughs to percussive butcher-knife sharpening (by musicians walking the aisles!), certainly animated the proceedings. Unfortunately, the eighty-minute-long film, while not without many beautiful moments, gets stuck in the no-man’s-land between on-the-cheap artist video and big-budget Hollywood production and also ultimately drowns in its too-numerous art-historical and cinematic references.

Still, I could’ve stood almost any kind of film—or my iPod, or a book—on arrival at the Armory Show on Thursday morning: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, slated to kick off the fair’s press conference at 11:30, neglected to show up until noon and used the event as his daily briefing, which netted a prolonged series of questions about the 9/11 memorial, taxes, and Staten Island. Antsy art journalists bounced off the entrance gates like pinballs.

We were all eager to experience this year’s heavily touted upgrades. These days the big-four fairs are a bit like publicly traded companies (and dealers impatient shareholders): Fair organizers have to beat expectations. As one first-time exhibitor put it, “You’d have to be an idiot not to make a profit,” so making back the booth-rental fee is no longer enough. Despite higher sales totals than ever, last year our hometown convention seemed to lose some of its mojo, with widely discussed dealer defections and a seeming lack of support—in the form of coordinated events—from the community at large. This year, the Armory Show slid a few weeks forward on the calendar, to coincide with the Art Show, consolidated its proceedings under one roof, hired celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer to oversee the catering, and sent a full quarter of last year’s exhibitors packing, opening the doors to twenty-nine new recruits. (Spencer Brownstone, Giti Nourbakhsch, and Rodolphe Janssen are out. CANADA, Harris Lieberman, Michael Stevenson Gallery, the Armory’s first-ever exhibitor from Africa, and Istanbul’s Galerist are in; the latter, whose crates were languishing in Cologne courtesy Lufthansa, must be credited with the sparest opening-night hang. Those returning after hiatuses include Daniel Reich and Tanya Bonakdar.)

Left: Artist Vito Acconci. Right: Henry Street Settlement's Elizabeth Reid with ADAA president Roland Augustine.

All but one of the new initiatives went swimmingly. Glancing up appreciatively at the high ceiling, 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito admitted she was glad to be off the “claustrophobic” piers a few blocks south. Keeping all the exhibitors together on one pier was universally hailed. Starting the MoMA-benefit preview at 11:30 AM cut down on complaints about collectors sneaking in early. Aside from a few non-square walls and shoddy carpet jobs (one midtown dealer’s frames listed off the wall as if the pier were floating midriver), what was there to complain about? The food. Meyer wasn’t allowed on the premises Thursday, and famished exhibitors schemed to cut the hour-long queue in the VIP lounge, the only source of nourishment for the several thousand people in attendance.

Testifying to the sheer number of competing fairs (Scope, Pulse, LA Art, Red Dot, DiVA, and others, I’m sure), to the auxiliary events worth attending, and most of all to the crowds, one collector described her red-eye in from LA: “It was like an airborne opening.”

And the art? With the exception of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s mirror-lined garbage truck, which Mayor Mike commented on but few others seemed to pay attention to, there were few bold gestures on the floor. This is a tidy fair, all business: Save for a few strays like Lenny Kravitz, we weren’t even treated to celebrity sightings on the pier. The “big” excitement was work by artists in unexpected booths, whether newly landed or snatched from a competitor. Painter Edgar Bryan, who flirted briefly with 303, will show in February 2008 at Zach Feuer and has a painting on the booth. Not to be outdone, 303 has signed up Jeppe Hein, who recently exhibited at Sperone Westwater. Two Los Angeles artists, Eric Wesley and Karl Haendel, are now working with Maureen Paley and Harris Lieberman, respectively. Got it?

One ear-to-the-ground New York museum curator took all the Kapoors and Craggs and the endless midsize paintings by youngish and midcareer artists as a sign that the big fairs have jumped the shark. Glancing at his one-artist list of names to remember (congratulations, Anthony Pearson!), he lamented that these events are no longer the places to discover new talent. The buttoned-up uniformity was a little disappointing, but always up to a challenge, I offer the names of (more or less) new-to-me artists whose work I enjoyed Thursday afternoon: Charlie Hammond, who has a number of intuitive, comic, anthropomorphic abstractions and altered photographs at Sorcha Dallas, a Glasgow gallery I’m happy to see here; Adel Abdessemed, who’s well known in Europe but has had little Stateside exposure, represented by a sly installation of ten upturned airplane nose cones with Guston-like painted eyes at Kamel Mennour; and Anne Hardy, whose two unnerving photographs of jerry-built sets with Christmas trees and shooting targets are at Maureen Paley.

Left: Dealer Howard Read with Lenny Kravitz. Right: Actress Leelee Sobieski.

Painter Joanne Greenbaum summed up one of the difficulties viewers face with the presenters’ evenness: “Sure, good work looks good. But even bad work looks good.” The event’s organizers got much right this year; add only free wireless-Internet access and more readily accessible food, and this bare-bones fair (no public programs; few commissioned artist projects) will have met all the goals it sets for itself. And what of the exhibitors? I’ve been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Art-Fair Art.” But after a nine-hour tour through this year’s Armory, one can’t help but wish for a few cheeky interventions or at least some really ambitious conventional art. The strength of today’s market should give license to a little daring. If not now, when?

Left: Dealer Sorcha Dallas. Right: Studio Museum chief curator Thelma Golden with collectors Arthur Fleischer Jr. and Judith Dobrzynski.

Left: Artist Maurizio Cattelan, collector Dakis Joannou, and New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni. Right: Rivington Arms' Melissa Bent.

Left: Architect Richard Meier. Right: Art consultant Mark Fletcher with Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art.

Left: Dealer Peter Freeman. Right: Collector Neil Meltzer and dealer Rhona Hoffman.

Left: Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer with artist Eric Wesley. Right: Dealer David Zwirner.

Left: Ronald Feldman's Sarah Paulson with artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Right: Dealer Murat Pilevneli.

Left: Artist Pierre Bismuth and Desislava Dimova. Right: Collectors David Teiger, Kati Lovaas, and Harvey S. Shipley Miller.

Left: Curator Olivier Renauld Clément. Right: Indianapolis Museum of Art director Maxwell Anderson and Jacqueline Anderson.

Left: Robert Miller Gallery's Christopher Miller, Amy Young, and Betsy Wittenborn Miller. Right: Artist Marilyn Minter.

Left: Harris Lieberman's Jessie Washburne-Harris. Right: IBID Projects' Magnus Edensvard and Vita Zaman.

Left: Artist Yun-Fei Ji. Right: Artists Slater Bradley and Brad Phillips.

Left: Dealer Daniel Reich and Jeffrey Tranchell. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley.

Left: Dealer Marianne Boesky. Right: Collector Edward Lee with dealer Arne Glimcher.

Left: MIT List Visual Arts Center curator Bill Arning. Right: Henry Street Settlement's Jeffrey H. Tucker and ADAA executive director Linda Blumberg.

Left: Donna De Salvo, Whitney chief curator and associate director for programs. Right: Dealer Brent Sikkema with art advisor Sima Familant.

Left: Collector Alvin Hall and Doug Carroll. Right: Matthew Marks's Jeffrey Peabody.

Left: Hotel's Darren Flook and Christobel Stewart. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone.

Left: CRG Gallery's Richard Desroche. Right: Dealer Chantal Crousel.

Left: Photographers Matthu Placek and Abbey Drucker. Right: Dicksmith's Tom Hanbury.

Left: Dealer Lucien Terras. Right: Courtney Plummer and dealer David Maupin.

Left: Artist Satoshi Ohno and dealer Tomio Koyama. Right: Victoria Miro's Glenn Scott-Wright.

Left: Dealer Riva Yares. Right: Dealer Kamel Mennour.

Left: Dealer Barbara Weiss and LA MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel. Right: Bellwether's Becky Smith.

Left: Artists Futoshi Miyagi and Jessica Alonso. Right: Dealer Alison Jacques.

Brian Sholis