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Savvy Buying and Solid Sales Buoy Armory Show

The tenth-anniversary edition of The Armory Show, which ran from March 27-30 at Pier 94 on Manhattan’s West Side, was notable for steady but robust sales and a decidedly less-frenzied atmosphere than in previous years, report dealers surveyed by ARTnewsletter.

NEW YORK—The tenth-anniversary edition of The Armory Show, which ran from March 27-30 at Pier 94 on Manhattan’s West Side, was notable for steady but robust sales and a decidedly less-frenzied atmosphere than in previous years, report dealers surveyed by ARTnewsletter. Amid continued concerns about current economic fluctuations, and how or when they will affect the art market, exhibitors cited thoughtful buying by seasoned collectors—many of whom returned to this year’s edition after having opted out in recent years, dealers said.

Armory Show organizers said a preliminary attendance tally of the 2008 event is on par with last year’s figure of about 52,000. At mid-afternoon on Saturday, March 29, the long line of visitors waiting to enter the show stretched for several blocks.

“The clientele we sold to seemed much more like the collectors we sold to eight years ago,” New York gallerist Leo Koenig told ARTnewsletter. “It wasn’t great, but it was good. People were taking their time, looking around before making decisions.” He says his Leo Koenig gallery sold from 25-30 pieces, including a painting by Torben Giehler ($45,000), sculptures by Tony Matelli ($65,000 each) and approximately nine drawings by Nicole Eisenman ($2,500/5,000 each).

New York dealer Sean Kelly described the fair to ARTnewsletter as “excellent” noting that his eponymous gallery sold “strongly across the board. There was no price resistance—we’re talking about works in the range of $10,000/500,000.” Among Kelly’s sales: a Joseph Kosuth neon-light sculpture, a painting by Rebecca Horn and works by James Casebere, Callum Innes, Wolfgang Laib, artist duo Los Carpinteros and Iran do Espírito Santo.

Kelly calls the results “a pleasant surprise, given what has been happening” with the current economic situation. “I think what happens at times like this is that you tend to see a reversion to quality. . . . People want what is tried and tested, and buying becomes less speculative.”

“There was a lot of caution prior to the fair,” says James Lindon, head of sales and special projects at London’s Victoria Miro Gallery. “There were certainly some Europeans who were not there, but we saw a lot of the usual American buyers.”

Despite prevailing conditions, Lindon reports, gallery sales were “even slightly better” than at last year’s Armory Show. He attributes this to “the fact that we did presentations with considerable bodies of primary market work,” by artists the likes of Argentinian painter Varda Caivano (b. 1971) and British sculptor Grayson Perry (b.1960).

Lindon says the gallery sold out of the 12 paintings by Caivano, priced at $11,000/18,000, as well as works by Perry, including vases and plates priced from $30,000/120,000. Noting that a few of the more expensive pieces did not sell, he responds, “I think that was certainly a lesson.” He adds that while there was a discernible element of caution, the market is “alive and well.”

Becky Smith, director of Manhattan’s Bellwether Gallery, also was pleased with results, telling ARTnewsletter, “It was probably my favorite Armory show.” The gallery had one of the more eye-catching installations on view; it featured a sloped, wooden ramp that ran the entire length of the booth and a giant sculpture of a black shoe propped against the wall, both by Daphne Fitzpatrick; a photograph by Anne Hardy; and a video by Chihcheng Peng.

“People really loved it all and seemed to respond to how charming and different it was aesthetically,” says Smith. Her gallery sold “a tremendous amount of work,” she reports, including photos for $12,000 each, the wooden ramp for $18,000 and the shoe sculpture for $12,000.

London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery presented a solo exhibition by U.S.-born conceptual artist Susan Hiller, who has lived in London since the early 70s and whose work is included in “WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution,” on view at New York’s P.S.1 contemporary art center through May.

“We were very pleased with the response to our stand, which combined rare early works from the 1970s as well as works which have only been completed this year,” says the gallery’s director of exhibitions Emma Dexter. “We sold several works with prices ranging from £5,000/40,000 ($10,000/79,900).”

Some were from a group of 1970s pieces called “Addenda to ‘Dedicated to the Unknown Artists’” —works on paper composed of annotations and found postcards. Sales were made “to a combination of U.S. and European collectors and some public collections as well as private,” says Dexter.

Noting that she has not attended the show since 2004, Dexter says she was interested to see a “very strong European component at the fair. . . . In general, the quality of work on display was very high.”

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