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Armory Show, Art Show Post Record Attendance, Robust Sales

Dealers at the latest editions of both the Armory Show and The Art Show, organized by the Art Dealers Association of America, reported an upbeat mood and increased selling activity this year, in marked contrast with last year’s cautious tone and lowered expectations.

NEW YORK—Dealers at the latest editions of both the Armory Show and The Art Show, organized by the Art Dealers Association of America, reported an upbeat mood and increased selling activity this year, in marked contrast with last year’s cautious tone and lowered expectations.

Many exhibitors at the two annual shows of modern and contemporary art—as well as at the dozen or so satellite fairs that took place simultaneously across the city during the first weekend of this month—said attendance and sales were surprisingly strong, underscoring renewed confidence in the art market, and noted the return of buyers who had largely held back over the past year amid concerns about the economy.

Organizers of the 22nd edition of the Art Show, held March 3–7 at the Park Avenue Armory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, reported attendance of 15,000 over the course of the blue-chip fair’s four-day run, up considerably from 9,500 visitors last year and 10,000 in 2008. Lucy Mitchell-Innes, codirector of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, and president of the ADAA, told ARTnewsletter that “the mood was more upbeat; sales are much better, but mainly for less expensive works, I would say under $100,000.” She added, “I would say that under $30,000 it is a feeding frenzy, and under $200,000 is pretty active. The upper levels of the market are slower unless the work is world-class, and then it sells instantly to a new group of buyers who have come into the market in the last year.” Among the gallery’s sales at the show were a lifesize sculpture by George Segal for $350,000 and two works on paper by Tom Wesselmann for $75,000 and $300,000 respectively.

Adam Sheffer, a partner in Cheim & Read, New York, confirmed to ARTnewsletter that an untitled 1958 painting by Joan Mitchell sold on opening night to a private collector for $3.5million. Sheffer said the gallery’s booth was nearly sold out of drawings by Louise Bourgeois. “Though they were hung as a single installation, they were always meant as discrete works,” he said. “In many cases, buyers acquired more than one, such as in grids of four or in a group that can be mounted horizontally,” he added. “They function well in concert with one another.” The drawings, all titled Les fleurs, were priced at $65,000 each, and a total of 30 were sold to private buyers, according to Sheffer.

In honor of its 70th anniversary, Galerie St. Etienne, which specializes in German and Austrian art, mounted a two-man show devoted to the work of Gustav Klimt, whose first U.S. show was held at the gallery in 1959, and to Egon Schiele, whose first U.S. show was held there in 1941. Director Jane Kallir told ARTnewsletter the fair was “great” and “one of the most successful ever” for the gallery. About a half-dozen of the works—mostly drawings, as oil paintings by the artists are scarce—were sold, for a total in “the low seven figures,” an unusually strong result, she noted.

Kallir praised the timing of the Art Show with the Armory Show. “Having the fair at the same time as the Armory Show made a huge difference,” she said. “I would say that at least half of our sales were to people from out of the country who would not have come had it just been the Art Show.”

Armory Show Draws Record Crowds

On the West Side of Manhattan, crowds flocked to Piers 92 and 94 for the largest edition yet of the sprawling Armory Show, now in its twelfth year. Organizers reported attendance of 60,000, up from 56,000 last year. For the second year in a row, the Chicago-based Merchandise Mart Properties, which acquired the fair last year, organized a sister fair, the Armory Show–Modern, on the upper level of an adjoining pier. Although many dealers reported they were pleased with the organization and attendance at the fledgling show dedicated to modern art, others complained that the upstairs location was less than ideal and that the fair was simply too large and unwieldy.

Gallery owner Leslie Tonkonow, who was exhibiting in the contemporary section of the show, told ARTnewsletter she sold two large paintings by Ian Davis at prices up to $32,000 each, as well as a large work by Ali Banisadr.

Although last year’s Armory Show sales were strong for the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, this year’s were even better, according to gallery owner Jack Shainman. “There was a level of energy that was really exciting,” he said. “A lot of people did very well.” Shainman reported selling four of the five Nick Cave “Soundsuits” he brought to the fair to private collectors for $75,000 each, as well as a 60-by-60-inch tree painting by Carlos Vega, made from lead, stamps and collaged elements, for $23,000.

Photography dealer Bruce Silverstein, who was participating in the Armory Show–Modern for the second time, said, “We did a substantial amount of business as opposed to the year before, and have also had a great deal of followup as people have become a little less spontaneous” and more considered in their acquisitions. Silverstein reported selling works by artists ranging from Aaron Siskind and André Kertész to Martin Denker, Arnold Newman and Dadio Murayami.

Like many other dealers, Pierre Levai, president of Marlborough Gallery, New York, noted a marked contrast between this year’s fair and last year’s. “Last year was not good at all in terms of big prices,” he told ARTnewsletter. “We practically did not sell anything. This year was completely the opposite. We not only sold well-established artists but also work by younger artists at the other end of the spectrum.” Levai said Marlborough’s sales included sculpture by Tom Otterness, realist paintings by Richard Estes, paintings by Manolo Valdes, and work by Chakai Booker at prices in the range of $15,000/500,000.

Steven Hartman, owner and president of the Contessa Gallery, Cleveland, was a first-time exhibitor at the Armory Show–Modern. The show was “fantastic,” Hartman told ARTnewsletter. “The reach of the fair was outstanding,” he added, noting a wide geographical range of collectors from Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, as well as a great many museum curators in attendance.

Hartman said Contessa sold 22 works by photographer David Drebin, whose large-scale hyperreal landscapes and staged photographs set in hotels and bars sold for prices in the range of $3,000/30,000. According to Hartman, nine prints of the photo Girl in Orange Dress, 2009, found buyers.

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