Some of the worst weather of the winter didn’t keep collectors away from the Seventh Regiment Armory building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side last night for the opening of the ADAA’s annual fair, The Art Show. Raymond Learsy, Martin Margulies, Howard Rachofsky, Agnes Gund, and other top art patrons braved the rainy, slushy night to have a first look at pieces ranging from paintings by household names like Bonnard and Matisse at Acquavella Galleries to small, delicate sculptures by Saloua Rauda Choucair, a Middle Eastern abstract artist whom CRG gallery is giving her first solo show in the U.S.
The fair, now in its 27th year, kicks off New York’s Armory Week, and in recent years it has been dominated by contemporary art, with booths featuring solo shows and, often, some daring installations. But compared to last year’s event, where artist Ann Hamilton created a pop-up photo booth in Carl Solway’s booth, this year’s is low on spectacle. The closest thing it has to that is a cleverly placed, far more subdued new piece by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. Entitled Cordoni (2015), it is a wall of mirrors with painted-on cordon ropes, the kind you might find at a line for a hot nightclub. The piece is at the booth of Luhring Augustine gallery, which faces the entrance to the fair, so that all arrivals catch a glimpse of themselves approaching Pistoletto’s velvet ropes. (“This is the best booth! The best booth!” a collector enthused.) A perhaps inadvertent metaphor for the art world’s current emphasis on event culture, the piece, priced at $1.2 million, was on reserve by the end of the night.
In general this year, galleries have tended to bring top-quality, but quieter art, like the elegant Brancusi sculptures at Paul Kasmin, and the suite of small, poetic paintings by Etel Adnan at Lelong, the latter priced around $30,000. As exclusive as its opening is, the Art Show is not a fair in which collectors seem to be in a rush to buy. Instead, the evening tends to be dominated by browsing, socializing, and lingering. In the booth of Chicago gallery Rhona Hoffman, several collectors were to be seen paging through a copy of painter Natalie Frank’s new book, hot off the presses, illustrating Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Drawings from the book go on view at New York’s Drawing Center in early April.
Besides the art, the theme of the night was the hours-long waits for Uber cars; due, apparently, to weather-related heavy traffic, the 5:30 p.m. opening, where visitors sipped from flutes of champagne and nibbled on squares of parmesan custard, was sparser than usual. But by 7:30 the aisles were packed, and artworks were spoken for. At Marianne Boesky, a group of new works by Donald Moffett, sea anemone-esque paintings on sculptural frames priced at $60,000 to $85,000, had sold out by evening’s end.
Painting is strong at the fair this year. Cheim & Read is offering abstracts by Al Held from the mid 1950s, 98 x 49 inch behemoths for $350,000 that show a strong Abstract Expressionist influence but have enough movement to compete with any of the young art being shown on the Lower East Side. Over at 303, small New England seascapes by Maureen Gallace are for sale for $47,000. These works are almost abstract, given their meaty brushstrokes. “In France we have a saying,” said the accented director Thomas Arsac, of the artist’s wet-on-wet style, “au premier coup.”
The Art Show’s booths, with low ceilings that give them the feel of a Park Avenue living room, are perhaps best suited to 2D works, like the proof edition of Lorna Simpson’s lithograph Wigs, on view at the Simpson solo show at Salon 94’s booth. Taking up an entire wall, the piece seems a steal at $200,000, especially since other editions are owned by MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago. These booths don’t lend themselves to massive sculptures, but they work well for smaller ones. Marian Goodman has Tony Cragg sculptures, in a variety of materials from treated steel to unpolished marble. These range from $173,000 to $318,000 and a number sold during the opening.
Luhring Augustine, with that show-stealing Pistoletto, wasn’t the only dealer showing Arte Povera. Michael Werner gallery had already sold one piece by Gianni Piancentino. Among the artists associated with Arte Povera, Piancentino, whose works are priced from $40,000 to $225,000 at Werner’s booth, may be less known, but he appeals to the connoisseur’s taste. “A lot of people don’t know him,” said Werner director Gordon Veneklasen, “but anyone who’s been involved in Arte Povera at all knows him.” The Prada Foundation, which opens a brand new building in Milan in May, has planned a show of Piancentino’s work. Rediscovered Italian postwar artists seemed to be having a moment at the fair, with Bortolami gallery showing sculptures in vitrines by Claudio Parmiggiani, who was also involved in the scene around Arte Povera.
Gutai, the mid-century Japanese movement, was also present. Dominique Lévy gallery, which is currently showing the work of Gutai artists Kazuo Shiraga and Satoru Hoshino at their location a few blocks from the Armory building, stocked their Art Show booth with works by Tsuyoshi Maekawa, abstract paintings that incorporate burlap, all from the 1960s, at the height of Gutai’s powers. The largest piece in the booth sold for $425,000.
The Armory Week action continues today, with the VIP preview day of The Armory show, on Piers 92 and 94.
For more Armory Week coverage, go here.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GALLERY