Armory Week sees a dozen fairs pop up all across New York, and it always kicks off with a bang: the ADAA Art Show’s opening gala. It’s a tony, booze-soaked, evening-wear affair at the Park Avenue Armory that sees besuited men carrying silver platters of damn fine canapés, right next to work at the booths of some of the country’s most respected, established galleries.
That’s long been the prevailing idea, anyway—that the Art Show, which is organized by the Art Dealers Association of America, is the stodgier part of the week’s proceedings, giving way to the edgier contemporary fairs that come later in the week. Not so much in recent years. Though the ancient environs of the wooden Armory remain, dealers have started to bring work not just by living artists, but young living ones.
For the 2017 edition, Bortolami brought work by the 35-year-old painter Caitlin Keogh, and the three canvases in the booth had all sold in the opening minutes for $25,000, $25,000, and $32,000. Luhring Augustine had sold a number of works by Josh Smith: small paintings, sometimes of fish, for $18,000 a pop. And Lower East Side stalwart James Fuentes—a new ADAA board member, showing at the fair for the first time—was showing Noam Rappoport alongside the late, great Tamuna Sirbiladze, who died last year at the age of 45.
(Which isn’t to say that the older artists weren’t selling, too—Peter Freeman unloaded two Richard Serra drawings, for $195,000 each, in its booth, which focused on pairings—diptychs or related works by various artists.)
While Betty Tompkins is a veteran of the Downtown scene, she’s probably new to the Upper East Side types who tend to come to this fair’s opening gala. P.P.O.W. has a show of her work, “Virgins,” that opens at its Chelsea gallery on March 30, and decided to devote the booth to her work.
Which meant the older ladies and gentlemen stalking the booths would look down the hall and see one of Tompkins’s very large photorealist depictions of a male member forcefully penetrating a vagina—the appropriately titled Fuck Painting #4 (1972).
“We haven’t shown her before, so it seems like a nice way to introduce her,” said P.P.O.W. co-founder Penny Pilkington, standing in front of the the 84-by-60 inch painting.
It paid off: on sale for $650,000, Fuck Painting #4 was already sold, a few minutes into the opening.
Some galleries crowded their booths with spreads of tasty, but unrelated works. A David Hammons basketball drawing, a big Agnes Martin painting, and a classic, large-scale photograph by Cindy Sherman from 1981 at Mnuchin—lovely and desirable pieces all—sparked no conversation between them. Still, wonderful things could be found in these cabinets of wonders: A Niki de Saint Phalle painted marble Nana at J. Loria, a divine Leonora Carrington painting from 1954 at Mary Ann Martin, accompanied by a strange, small sculpture of four people on a sofa by Carrington’s friend and fellow Surrealist Remedios Varo, a big, complicated John Baldessari at Brook Alexander, and a nickel-plated Richard Rezac wall relief at Rhona Hoffman, looking good with drawings by Mel Bochner and Sol LeWitt.
Other galleries elected to present focused group shows or solo exhibitions. Among the former was an absorbing show devoted to the photogram at Hans P. Kraus Jr., which ran the gamut from cyanotypes by the great Victorian-era artist Anna Atkins to contemporary daguerreotypes by Adam Fuss.
Among the latter, David Zwirner’s booth featured new works by Trinidad–based British artist Chris Ofili. Combining dense patterning with simplified women’s forms, they seemed to reference, albeit in abstract fashion, African studio photography of the last century.
A number of solo booths were devoted to woman artists, past to present. At Hosfelt, Argentinian-born Lilliana Porter, who’s been tapped for this year’s Venice Biennale, showed examples of her set-up photographs of found figurines in conversation (including one of the White Rabbit with Fidel Castro) but also earlier minimalist works that called to mind pieces by Lygia Clark. Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects presented a fine retrospective of Michelle Stuart’s photography and Land Art, which will also be seen at the Venice Biennale, as well as in an upcoming show at Dia Beacon.
Because it’s such a frenzied opening—with cocktails and smoked salmon and stop-and-chats all proving to be equally distracting from the task spending money on art—the ADAA doesn’t always see booths sell out in the opening minutes. A glorious Francis Picabia work on paper, Scene mythologique (1929–30) was on sale at the Michael Werner booth for $475,000, and still up for grabs about 45 minutes into the proceedings. And one of the pricier and more impressive works at the fair had yet to find a buyer: Larry Bell’s glass sculpture Unititled (Wedge) (1981–84) which was commissioned by General Electric to sit outside its headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut. It sat there for over three decades, until the building was closed, and now it’s being sold for the first time. Its price tag is $1.2 million.
Perhaps it helps to have the artist present to successfully hawk the wares. Among the prominent faces tonight—actor and collector Steve Martin, tennis star and collector John McEnroe, patron Agnes Gund, MoMA Director Glenn Lowrey, and Studio Museum Director Thelma Golden—was the artist John Smith, watching his gallery sell his work. In addition to the small paintings, Smith had made a series sculptures, and placed them on really old stools and stands that he found in antique stores in Pennsylvania and personally restored. (Lawrence Luhring, the co-founder of Smith’s gallery, said it was a sort of winking commentary on the Park Avenue Armory’s reputation as a host of antique fairs.)
And yet, it’s a little strange for an artist to be present at a fair—especially this fair, when some of the artists with work on view are no longer with us. And while some artists claim to avoid fairs to shield themselves from seeing how the art market sausage is made, Smith insisted that he loved it.
“It’s so cool to meet all these people, they’re awesome, these collectors,” he said. “And the work is good, so I don’t feel guilty.”
But as the young Luhring Augustine dealers whipped around giving price quotes to prospective buyers, Smith said that he wasn’t really sure how it all worked.
“I’m probably going to leave really soon,” he said.