In the face of art fair fatigue, there were more than a few savvy arbiters who wondered if New York might cease to be a must-go destination in March on the art world calendar. Happily, the organisers of the some 10 fairs and scores of attendant events have cast such thoughts to the wind. Stepping up the game, curators and gallerists continue to find new ways to showcase blue chip, established, and emerging practitioners that puts the art first. ‘It was really important for us to reinforce and reinvigorate,’ says Deborah Harris, managing director of the Armory Show, which lends its name to the moniker used as shorthand for the plethora of events on offer. As this overview of six of the fairs of Armory Arts Week attests, the pulse of New York in March is strong, indeed.
The Art Show
With the distinction as America’s longest running exposition of visual art, the Art Show turns 27 at the Park Avenue Armory this week with a stellar lineup of solo and thematic booth presentations for which this fair is now well known. ‘It’s something we’re enormously proud of initiating,’ says executive director Linda Blumberg of the format that has now been adopted by many others. ‘Viewers get both a solid sense of the artist’s work as well as the direction of the gallery program.’
Organised by the Art Dealers Association of America, the not-for-profit Art Show —unlike any of its fair counterparts — champions the gallery system with a challenge to its 180-venue membership to propose booth displays worthy of its 72 coveted spots. ‘Participants are chosen by the membership, which rewards proposals with a sharpened point of view,’ says Blumberg.
This year that includes a presentation by Galerie Lelong of rising Lebanese painter Etel Adnan, the 90-year-old whose low-key abstractions compelled in last year’s Whitney Biennial (see above). Graphic compositions by Imagist Christina Ramberg at David Nolan Gallery (below) will be a complement to works by other artists of the movement from the collection of Ruth Horwich to be offered at the First Open sale at Christie’s March 6. An avid fan of Tracey Emin, her longtime dealer, David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin Gallery unveils the artist’s new bronze, The Heart Has Its Reasons, on the heels of her Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made (1996) realising £722,500 ($1,100,368) at Christie’s London last month.
Of the themed displays, fair first-timer Thomas Colville Fine Art presents James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Artists Influenced by Him, while Adler & Conkright Fine Art showcases Jesús Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, and Lygia Clark as Latin American artists who broadened their world view by traversing the Atlantic in the 1960s. Homage to the New York School will be paid with a special exhibition honouring the recently passed Jane Freilicher, whose expressionistic landscapes are also slated to be seen at the Parrish Museum in Southampton, New York, next October. ‘The range of material is quite extraordinary,’ says Blumberg. ‘But there’s an intimacy to the Art Show that makes people find it one of the most pleasurable fairs to see.’
The Armory Show
As excitement for the art practice of the Middle East continues to percolate, the Armory Show, along with education partner Art Jameel and cultural partner Edge of Arabia, shines the spotlight on that global region devoting its annual Focus program to art of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean (MENAM). Organised by Whitechapel Gallery curator Omar Kholeif, the offerings of 15 area galleries will be enhanced by a two-day symposium and site-specific projects, including A Convention of Tiny Movements by the fair’s commissioned artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, whose conceptual work — his piece for the Armory distributes potato chips to viewers — is also included in the New Museum Triennial.
Azra Aksamija and Stephen Stapleton’s Cultrunners, a cultural exchange between American and Middle Eastern artists will be manifested in a tricked-out RV that has been on the road for several months. ‘We are constantly looking for platforms that can give us direct access to a diverse and wide group of audiences that are curious to learn more about artists and art communities across the region,’ says Edge of Arabia director Stephen Stapleton. The Focus program ‘will be one of the historical moments for [MENAM] arts within the US.’
A sprawling event of 199 participants, the Armory Show will once again straddle two piers with Contemporary and Modern offerings. ‘This is really the first year we’ve been able to integrate both piers in terms of interest,’ says managing director Deborah Harris who oversees the Modern wing. Harris credits Kholeif with directing her to New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and its impressive holding of Iranian Modernism. As a result Parviz Tanavoli: Selections from the NYU Art Collection will greet visitors as they cross over from the contemporary section.
Harris also promises mini showcases of Bridget Riley (above), Mardsen Hartley, and the Zero group of mid-20th-century German artists. ‘It just feels kind of seamless,’ she says. ‘People want to see the connection, and we’ve never been able to pull it off so well.’
This year, Volta, solidifies its relationship to the Armory Show by moving from SoHo to Pier 90 — directly adjacent to its larger, more celebrated sibling. Originating in 2008, Volta has kept its focus on single artist booths. ‘We didn’t want to be just another fair catching the overflow,’ says director Amanda Coulson. ‘We always wanted the platform to be professional even if the art was emerging.’
Instead of featuring booths bulging with a seemingly random assortment of grouped hit makers, Volta has embraced the solo exhibition format. ‘We try to let the artists get the attention, and not the galleries,’ says the director. In this uninhibited space, younger, practitioners are able to meld with mid-careerists. ‘I always say, “Age isn’t a talent”,’ she continues.
When the news hit about the thaw between the US and Cuba, Coulson saw an opportunity. She teamed up with Artnet for a forum series dedicated to the Caribbean island nation. ‘It’s going to be interesting to see, if Cuba opens, what happens, and how it effects the market, and the art being produced,’ she says. ‘Will the artists supply the demand?’
Art on Paper
When someone decides to add a fair to the very well populated landscape, one can assume it’s something special. ‘It was charmed notion,’ confirms Max Fishko, director of Art on Paper, the latest venture by Art Market Productions, which offered the buzzed about Miami Project last December and will debut the Seattle Art Fair in July. ‘I was keen on doing something in New York as were many of the galleries with whom I work,’ says the director. ‘But we knew we’d have to distinguish ourselves if we were going to launch another fair.’
Enter artistic director Sasha Wolf, who landed on the idea of pushing the notion of works on paper beyond its conventional definition. ‘Previous fairs have a rather limited idea of what a work on paper can be,’ says Fishko. After testing the idea with potential exhibitors and collectors, ‘it was amazing how quickly we got reactions,’ he says. ‘We knew we had something because the response was very emotional.’
Joshua Liner Gallery offers large-scale cardboard constructions by Wayne White while Mia Pearlman’s suspended cloudscape Maelstrom, 2008, will be delivered by JHB Gallery. Traditional notions of the form will also be present with Richard Levy Gallery’s presentation of John Baldessari’s National City, 1996/2009 (see top), a series of eight photographs of the artist's hometown, and Catharine Clark Gallery’s solo presentation of large-scale drawings from Sandow Birk (above). With 55 participants, ‘it’s large enough to feel substantial, but not so big as to overwhelm,’ says Fishko.
Five years ago, gallerists Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook came up with an innovative idea to bypass the typical art fair trappings. In the former Dia Art Foundation space in Chelsea, it ditched booths for an open plan, and Independent was born quickly outshining the rest of the jewels in the Armory Arts Week crown.
‘Our main challenge is to keep it fresh and relevant,’ says director Laura Mitterrand. A large part of that vibrancy is created by relinquishing what Mitterand refers to as the ‘mini-mall’ concept that can be found in art fairs from New York to Hong Kong. ‘This passiveness and order should not be the rule or default when art is involved — art should be the opposite of that,’ she says.
This year, 15 new galleries add their names to the roster, including Galleris Labor in Mexico, and Supportico Lopez in Berlin, who are curating presentations around the work of Berlin-based artist Jan Peter Hammer. These offerings will ‘create a subliminal sexual environment,’ Mitterrand says.
David Kordansky Gallery will host a solo presentation of Andrea Büttner (see above), and Galerie Micky Schubert offers a solo exhibition of Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili’s work. ‘We are always listening and finding ways to make this experience more supportive in the context that art is made and discussed,’ she says. ‘This can be done in a collaboration with an art fair venue and market, not in opposition to it.’
Dedicated to emerging artists and galleries, Scope celebrates its 15th anniversary with two big changes: a move and a design intervention. In the past few years, Scope has had an active presence in Miami and New York, where it formerly offered its wares in the James A. Farley Post Office near Penn Station (currently the site of the Spring/Break Art Show). This year, the fair takes the leap to the big time by moving a few blocks away from the Armory Show piers, at Metropolitan Pavilion West.
With the move comes another sea change: Booths have been vanquished. Instead, galleries will flow ‘into one another, creating curatorial narratives that encompasses the entire show,’ as described in early announcements for the fair. ‘When you first walk in, you can see to the back of the fair, which is a nice break from the typical,’ says founder Alexis Hubshman.
For this edition, Juxtapose Magazine curates a selection of street artists, and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation highlights the work of 20 artists of colour, who are tackling social justice issues, from Sanford Biggers, to Nicky Enright. ‘New York is really our first attempt to reconsider the experience of the viewer,’ says Hubshman. In this way, Scope may be taking a cue from Independent, attempting to shake the viewer out of complacency. As Hubshman says, laughing, ‘We’re going to light this thing like it’s Aïda!’
Main image at top of page: Jan Peter Hammer, Sad Smiley, 2012. Neon light tubes. 31.5 x 31.5 in. (80 x 80 cm.) Image courtesy of the artist and LABOR
Check out our guide to the events, openings, panel discussions and parties at Armory Arts Week