Armory Week 2019 Market News

When Life Gives You Lemons: Mark Dion on Running a Lemonade Stand at the Armory Show

Mark Dion, Lemonade Stand, 1996.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE COLIN DE LAND COLLECTION, 1968-2008. ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

As curators were recently preparing a survey of Mark Dion’s “architectural follies” for the Storm King Art Center in upstate Mountainville, New York, they presented the artist with quite a surprise. Among the works they said they were considering for the show, which opens in May, was one that Dion had not seen in many, many years, titled Lemonade Stand (1996). “I didn’t even know the piece still existed, to be honest,” said Dion.

It turned out that Dion’s New York gallery, Tanya Bonakdar, had been holding the piece in what the artist termed “deep, deep, deep, deep storage.” But now it is coming out. At the Armory Show, which opens in New York on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Berlin and Cologne’s Galerie Nagel Draxler will be showing the early work, which is precisely what it sounds like: an old-fashioned wooden lemonade stand from which Dion peddles $2 glasses of lemonade.

Lemonade Stand’s appearance at the Armory Show represents a remarkable homecoming. The piece debuted at the first edition of the event, in 1994, when it was called the Gramercy International Art Fair and took place at the Gramercy Park Hotel. “It was done as a way of kind of making fun of the junior entrepreneurial endeavor that that fair was,” Dion said of his creation, speaking by phone from Portland, Maine, after a week upstate at Colby College. “It’s kind of ironic now that it’s going to be shown at the juggernaut that the Armory has become.”

The first Gramercy art fair was, by all accounts, a scrappy, plucky endeavor. “The vast majority of the attendance was from young artists,” Dion said. “It wasn’t something where you had a tremendous number of collectors coming through. It was closer to the kinds of parties that happened in the East Village than to what the Armory has become.”

Behind the effort were four dealers: Matthew Marks and Paul Morris along with Pat Hearn and her husband Colin de Land, who represented Dion in New York. (Hearn died in 2000, and de Land passed in 2003.) Marking its 25th edition this year, the Armory Show is paying tribute to Hearn and de Land in a special section organized with Nagel Draxler that will host Dion’s piece, along with works by artistic compatriots Andrea Fraser and Renee Green. (The presentation follows an exhibition on those two late dealers that ran at CCS Bard in Annandale-on-Hudson last year.)

De Land and Nagel with Lemonade Stand.

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GALERIE NAGEL DRAXLER

Dion himself will be on hand at the fair trying to make sales beginning at 2 p.m.during the fair. “It is just a really fun piece,” Dion said. “It has embedded within it all of the sort of humor and the institutional critique of people of my generation who in some way had a certain kind of ambivalence to our own art-world success, or to joining the fray.”

But the stand has further personal resonance for Dion. When the artist, who is now 57 and based in Copake, New York, was growing up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he opened a similarly makeshift storefront with the help of his mother, and hawked lemonade, beach glass, and seashells. Lemonade Stand sells shells too, for $1 apiece. And, perhaps more crucially, it also offers informational materials about Dion’s work, which often takes the form of the kind of meticulously conceived installation that is not so easy to show at fairs.

Asked about the lemonade recipe he used at the inaugural Gramercy fair, Dion recalled mixing powdered Country Time lemonade, that classic delight, with juice from fresh lemons. But then he suggested, “I think the actual lemons might just have been for show.” The key, in any case, is that “the lemonade was always offered with or without vodka,” he said.

Virgin lemonade was the same price as the boozed-up version, and as news of this affordable treat spread across the first Gramercy art fair, the booth became “extremely popular,” Dion added.

Adjusting for inflation, the original, very generous $2 price for a glass would be well above $3 today, but the artist balked at the suggestion of raising the price. “It’s the same piece,” he said. “It’s got to be the same.”

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