Armory Week 2016

Unpleasant Interactions I Had During Armory Week 2016

COURTESY FLICKR

COURTESY FLICKR

The Armory Show is an art fair that occupies two large, ugly piers on the Hudson River in March each year. The only prominent regional markers near the piers are the traffic on the West Side Highway and the Hustler Club, which features “100+” strippers nightly, according to its website, and takes up a good portion of a city block. This part of Manhattan feels like the edge of the world, a depressing absence of a neighborhood.

Every year at the fair, there are a lot of exposed wires, poor lighting, and the temperature throughout is either too hot or too cold. The gray carpeting that covers the floors quickly becomes wrinkled and sad. Art seems to go here to receive a slow and pitiful demise, with artists I like being squashed by the sheer volume of the space. Many more, crap artists simply die on the wall. A decent metaphor for the Armory Show is the horrifying stairwell that connects Pier 94 (the contemporary section) to Pier 92 (the modern section). A dashed together mass of creaky steel that is somehow both cramped and too big, the stairwell offers a brief suggestion that it might actually kill you, before becoming ultimately forgettable in its almost overwhelming mediocrity.

At the fair’s opening on Wednesday, I asked the dealer Andrew Edlin how much he was selling a large Henry Darger painting for. This is one of a string of obligatory questions reporters ask at art fairs: What are you selling? How much are you selling it for? Has it sold yet? Edlin said to me, “Having my prices printed by publications doesn’t help me.” I wonder if he realized that my asking for them doesn’t really help me, either.

***

Early on Tuesday, on my way to the opening of the new Metropolitan Museum branch at the Breuer building, an old woman rushed past me purposefully on Madison Avenue. She turned and, upon looking at me, muttered, “Fuck,” making a gesture of disgust with her hand by waving it aggressively in my face. Then she went inside the museum. This was an odd, if not entirely unremarkable, way of beginning the morning.

I never saw the old woman again, so I tried to convince myself that she was some kind of octogenarian vision, sent here to tell me—well, to tell me to go fuck myself, I imagine. She stuck in my head, but I felt confident that—so long as I hadn’t hallucinated the woman, and barring any variety of extraneous circumstances—I would most likely outlive her. As I looked at a painting by J. M. W. Turner, I felt a flood of guilt about the pleasure this thought gave me.

“It’s a great moment!” Thomas P. Campbell, the Met’s director, would say a little later at the morning’s press conference.

***

The ADAA Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory is generally considered the classiest of all the art fairs in the United States, an event where men and women dress in elegant evening wear and appreciate some of the finest modern and contemporary art the market has to offer while drinking champagne. During the VIP preview for the fair Tuesday evening, I reached out at a tray of tiny meatballs with toothpicks sticking out of them. A well-dressed woman behind me clasped her hand around my arm, guided it away from the tray, and wordlessly grabbed a tiny meatball for herself.  I felt profound respect for her.

***

I had dinner with a colleague at Fanelli’s in SoHo Thursday night and a man sitting next to us said, “Even if you like Trump’s ideas, they’re going to take so much money to make a reality.” The woman sitting with the man said, “I know!”

***

At Independent, which takes up multiple floors of an event space in Tribeca, I got in an elevator with two young European men. This was Thursday afternoon, a sunny and cold day. The two men both proceeded to stand in front of the door, so that it wouldn’t close. After a while, I said, “So, we’re not going down?” They looked at me with studied impatience. “We’re just waiting for our friend,” one of them said, curtly. We stood there a little longer. An employee of the building walked over and said, “There are other elevators your friend could use,” and one of the men said, “We’re just going to wait.” The masochist in me wanted to see how this played out, so I stayed in the elevator. Finally, one of them shouted, “Marcel!” and waved a third man over. But the doors, by now, seemed to have grown impatient with this charade, and started to close, despite the continuing presence of the two men blocking them. Marcel said, “I’ll just take the next one,” as if that was the plan all along. I pressed the buttons for some of the other floors on the way down, even though there was nothing on them. This was meant to prove some point that has, sadly, been lost to memory as of this writing.

***

Saturday night, I accompanied a friend to a party for a Toronto gallery at the home of economist Nouriel Roubini. A makeshift bar in the apartment was serving a specialty cocktail that shared Roubini’s nickname, Dr. Doom, an alias he earned through his prescient prediction of the subprime mortgage crash that led to the most recent recession. This made me think of comments that billionaire collector Eli Broad made to Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina earlier in the week: “It’s time for a correction” in the inflated art market, he said. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

Roubini’s apartment took up three floors of a condo building in the East Village. The walls, counters, and furniture were all a sterile white. There was a white grand piano nearby a long white couch. The attendees were mostly attractive women, and on the couch, a balding man was talking to five of them at the same time. He looked very impressed with himself. The women all looked bored.

Later, while standing in the spacious living room, a guest walked unevenly down the stairs and came up to me and my friend. “How do I get out of here?” she asked. We directed her back up the stairs, to the elevator she must have taken on her way in.

About a half an hour later, I found myself standing in the exact same spot, and the woman walked up to me again. “No, but seriously,” she said. “How the hell do I get out of here?” It was a good question, and I found I could apply it to a number of circumstances beyond the current setting in which it was being asked.

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