Steppin’ Up

Left: Dealer Roland Augustine with collector Ann Tenenbaum. Right: Dealer James Cohan. (All photo: Linda Yablonsky)

MARK TUESDAY, MARCH 5, AS A RARE ONE. On that evening, the gala preview of the Art Dealers Association of America’s fiftieth anniversary Art Show achieved a heretofore unimagined peak by delighting everyone present, be they one of the Tisches, Lauders, Rockefellers, Mugrabis, or DeWoodys swarming the Park Avenue Armory; a museum personage (Glenn Lowry, Adam Weinberg, Richard Armstrong, Arnold Lehman); or an actual artist (Kiki Smith, Jannis Kounellis, John Newman, Pat Steir).

Not one of the seventy-two intimate booths was a dud. From the Mitchell-Innes & Nash display of museum-worthy Jean Arp bronzes at the jump to David Zwirner’s surprise showing of 1930s Milton Avery paintings, from P.P.O.W.’s resuscitation of Martin Wong to Tanya Bonakdar’s spotlight on a buoyant Martin Boyce, the fair that caters to uptown tastes turned in its most downtown edition yet.

Left: Dealer Anton Kern. Right: Dealer David Zwirner with Christie's John Good.

In recent years, as desirable early- and late-modern material has dried up or gone to auction, the ADAA has given itself a transfusion of younger blood by bringing an increasing number of contemporary dealers into the fold. Rather than slap a lot of different, dining room–ready pictures all over the walls, salon style (as Acquavella did), forty members at this fair went with single-artist displays, effectively branding their galleries in an artist’s image rather than the other way around. Add the preview’s plentiful food and drink to the visually stimulating and emotionally affecting experience of a fair that did not feel like a pet store, and you had an elegant, if not insouciant, kickoff to Armory Arts Week.

“I like something different,” Zwirner said, in response to the many raised eyebrows regarding Avery’s oddly fresh stripper and circus paintings, none of which have appeared in an American exhibition before. “Isn’t it nice to look back?” he added, as dealer Philippe Ségalot sat himself down for a long look and MoMA curator Laura Hoptman took collector A. C. Hudgins on down the aisle, as if they were going to see the wizard.

Left: National Arts Club curator Stacy Engman with dealer David Maupin. Right: Dealer Tim Blum and consultant Alex Marshall.

At Leslie Tonkonow, a densely plotted landscape painting by Dean Byington was rather wizardly, as was the freestanding Brie Ruais sculpture at Nicole Klagsbrun, one of the few dealers introducing an artist barely out of grad school. At the opposite end of the generational spectrum, Kounellis blocked entrance to the Cheim & Read booth with a wall of steel, coal, and cobblestones embedded with an assemblage of old sewing machines. “My father came from Estonia with a Singer like that,” said Jerry Saltz, as Kiki Smith—the focus of the Pace Gallery booth—announced that the old Arte Poverist’s arrival was imminent.

For anyone needing more philosophical depth, Jorinde Voigt was already at David Nolan, explicating a suite of immense gold- and silver-enhanced drawings she based on a letter from Epicurus to Pythocles. For novelty, Tim Blum and Jeff Poe brought canvases by the Chinese avant-gardist Zhu Jinshi, whose swelling slabs of paint were so thick that, Poe said, “You have to lean them against the wall for five years—that’s a condition of sale.”

For theater, one only had to stop by the bar and hors d’oeuvres tables in the back. There Lisa Spellman had immersed the 303 Gallery booth in all things Karen Kilimnik, including a rented prop-shop table and chairs. “People are confused,” Spellman reported. “They keep saying, ‘You mean the artist made all this just for this?’ ”

Left: Dealer Eva Presenhuber. Right: Whitney Chadwick and artist Robert Bechtle with Rosalie Benitez.

But there wasn’t just that. Nonparticipating galleries uptown were flying their colors that night as well. Hauser & Wirth—or rather, the “old” Hauser & Wirth on East Sixty-Ninth Street—opened a show of Rita Ackermann paintings. And Gagosian attracted hordes of other youngish people to the Madison Avenue gallery’s “Ed Ruscha Books & Co.” exhibition.

In Harlem, Gavin Brown showed a group of Steven Shearer paintings to colleagues from the Independent Fair, fresh from installing their borderless booths. Back in midtown, Nolan showed Voigt and friends to the banquettes and steaks at old-school Post House. And before I knew it, Wednesday had arrived and with it, the 2013 Armory Show.

Under director Noah Horowitz, the fair was leaner this year, but with more than two hundred booths it still offered too much of some not very good things. That allowed dealers who went the extra mile to rise above the fray with trapeze ease. The result were robust sales, smart presentations (Eva Presenhuber and Victoria Miro), and collectors crowding stellar new works by Roberto Cuoghi, Piotr Uklanski, Rudolf Stingel, and Kaari Upson in Massimo De Carlo’s booth. With Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner doing the inviting, the Focus section—generally small, independent shops showing emerging or under-the-radar artists—was a genuine hot spot too.

Left: Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner. Right: Dealer Massimo De Carlo.

Zwirner went home early, after dispensing two of his three ultracool video works by Diana Thater, the sole subject of the booth. Susanne Vielmetter, meanwhile, had to keep separating collectors vying for the same Patrick Wilson paintings. “I sold three on the way over here,” the Culver City–based dealer said, flipping the pages of her invoice book as fast as she could. At Kavi Gupta, every wall had red dots.

Three other dealers set themselves apart with allover presentations that settled somewhere between astonishing and laugh-out-loud. Francis Naumann had a thirty-artist homage to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. It included a slinky on wall-mounted steps and a unique Duchamp from around 1963, a readymade pull-toy that the still-reigning Conceptualist signed. Morgan Lehman attracted lots of admiring stares with Kysa Johnson’s grisaille parlor, complete with matching trompe l’oeil walls. And at Rod Bianco Gallery, the never-restrained Bjarne Melgaard collaborated with Sverre Bjertnes on a booth-enveloping, down-and-dirty anti-homage to Mary Boone that included a life-size effigy. Until now, Boone has never done an Armory Show, even without her knowledge.

That evening, at the Armory Party benefiting the Museum of Modern Art, what looked like a thousand people paid $250 each to withstand the earsplitting, distorted sound of recorded music filling the MoMA lobby while they waited for Solange, the evening’s live entertainment. I recognized the faces of three art people—artist Rashaad Newsome, curator Tim Goossens, and Shiner—among the milling crowd of young investors. On the stage, Rodin’s leaning tower of Balzac seemed braced for a siege.

Left: Artist Jorinde Voigt. Right: Collectors Phil Arons, Shelley Fox Aarons, and Andy Stillpass.

A few minutes before the singer’s 10:15 PM entrance, I enjoyed the preshow amusement of Nicky Spielberg, a young socialite with a degree in child psychology. “Rich young girls today don’t serve on charity boards,” she informed me. “They open galleries and sell art to Saudis.” A lover of art fairs and biennials who goes with her friends to every single one, everywhere, the photogenic Spielberg seems atypical of her social set. She has no desire to collect, only wants to be free to move around to look at art without the burdens of children, pets, belongings, or a mortgage. “Why spend money on art when you can see the best of it, anytime, in museums everywhere?” she asked, as if it found its way there, magically, by itself.

People are buying this year, that’s for sure. Where the art will end up is anyone’s guess. But as long as the path it takes goes through New York, London, Basel, Beijing, Miami, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Venice, Istanbul, São Paulo, Paris, or Rome, we can all be happy campers, whether lighting fires or putting them out.

Left: Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer with artist manager Tim Smith. Right: Solange.

Left: Gagosian Gallery curator Louise Neri. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs, curator Sarah McCrory, and dealer Stuart Shave.

Left: Artist David Lamelas with dealer Tanya Leighton. Right: Dealer David Nolan.

Left: Steve Tisch and Alice Tisch. Right: Nicky Spielberg.

Left: Dealers Kathryn Erdman and Cristian Alexa. Right: Dealer Jeff Poe with New York Times critic Roberta Smith.

Left: Collectors Jill and Peter Kraus. Right: Dealer Nicole Klagsbrun.

Left: Dealer Ales Ortuzar. Right: Dealer Martin Klosterfelde.

Left: Bard CCS director Tom Eccles. Right: Jumex Collection director Patrick Charpenel.