Gold Standard

Peter Plagens at the opening of the ADAA's “The Art Show”

New York

Left: John Van Doren and Adam Weinberg. Middle: Margo Leavin. Right: Michael Hort, André Schlechtriem, Harvey Shipley Miller, and Susan Hort.

Wine, wine, everywhere, but not a drop to drink—such was the case Wednesday night at the benefit opening (for the Henry Street Settlement) of the ADAA’s seventeenth annual edition of the Art Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan. I was standing parched in a long line at one of the “main bars,” hoping to score a glass of San Pellegrino, when MoMA director Glenn Lowry passed by. He was wearing a bright red scarf with his sport jacket. I gave him a coy little Oliver Hardy finger wave by way of greeting and said, “You're not going to avoid anybody wearing that thing.”

“I forgot to take it off,” he said.

If true, Lowry was probably the only one in the joint trying to travel incognito. As motives for attending the Art Show opening go, being seen is probably in a dead heat with seeing who else is there. (Seeing art and buying art likely rank third and fourth. Where you think raising $1 million for Henry Street comes in depends on your view of humanity.) The venerable minifair has more quality art, at least on the high end, than hipper get-togethers such as Art Basel Miami Beach, but it isn’t as adventurous; TAS is about goods and quiet restaurant dinners afterward, where ABMB is all about trendiness and late-night parties. The seventy dealers at TAS were all ADAA members in good standing (sorry, Williamsburg), ranging from the hushed, red-velvet, early modernist ambience of Achim Moeller (leavened by a 1964 Christo-wrapped lantern), through the bankable semi-contemporaneousness of Knoedler, to the comparatively edgy Friedrich Petzel and David Zwirner.

I remarked cheerfully to Lowry that the occasion had the feeling of “a ball game.” After a couple of pleasantries he toddled off, perhaps wondering what the hell I meant. What I meant is that the Art Show gave me a bit of that feeling I get in the tunnel at the Garden, on the way into a basketball game. The buzz of anticipation, starting right at the coat check, surprised this usually wary skeptic. I realize modern art has been having it both ways for some time—peeing in fireplaces while trying to sell pictures to hang over the mantle. But I've never seen it all go down quite so smoothly and comfortably before. On the peeing side, the edgiest work in the Armory had to be a canvas by Christopher Wool stenciled with the words IF YOU CAN'T TAKE A JOKE GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE, meaning (according to most people I talked to) if you can't have fun in art then you ought to get out of it. And on the selling side there was Jim Hodges’s gold-leaf-covered New York Times, perhaps the showiest piece on view. Who knows what to make of it, but, as the white-gloved Glenn McMillan of CRG gallery reported, it sold almost immediately. Speaking of the Gray Lady, I personally liked Allan Ruppersberg’s very witty “study for a bookmark”—a drawing consisting of a lot of blank space topped off by the New York Times's headline announcing the death of Willem de Kooning.

The crowd looked good, too: healthy, well-dressed and moderately upbeat. (Those last two words were also used by some dealers I talked to, offering their commercial prognoses for the Art Show.) Even the plastic-surgery queens looked less grotesque than usual. And their semibored grown kids seemed semiattentive to the art. Toward the end of the evening, I noticed that the real richies who paid up to $2,000 a ticket to get first crack at the goods had repaired to their idling town cars and a younger, black-clad (yes, still black-clad) art-world set had flooded in. At precisely 9:30 PM, however, the lights went off, and the security staff rather abruptly began herding folks toward the door. Too bad; I was having a good time. Just getting comfortable, in fact.