Art Market

What Sold during Armory Week

Nate Freeman
Mar 11, 2019 4:25PM

Installation view of Pascale Marthine Tayou, Plastic Bags, 2019, at The Armory Show, 2019. Photo by Teddy Wolff. Courtesy of The Armory Show.

The global art-fair circuit is many-limbed, exhausting, and seemingly ever-expanding. Just last month, dealers and collectors welcomed Frieze Los Angeles to the list of must-attend contemporary art expos, ensuring that collectors, curators, and dealers from Asia and Europe will have to book long flights every February for years to come.

Compared to booking a trip to sunny Southern California in the dead of winter, the tradition of coming to New York in March for The Armory Show, whose 25th edition closed on Sunday, might seem a bit tired. And yet, the sales at The Armory Show and the concurrent fairs that run during the now-two-week sales period, including Independent and the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA)’s Art Show, illustrate that one should not count out New York as an art-fair town. It is, after all, the center of the art world in North America, and home to 103 billionaires, more than any other city in the world.

“New York deserves to have a really fantastic fair, and that’s our goal—to make sure that this fair does the city proud,” said Nicole Berry, the director of The Armory Show. “We’re showing everybody that we’re a fair that deserves to be on that calendar.”

Installation view of 303’s gallery featuring work by Rodney Graham and Alicja Kwade at The Armory Show, 2019. Photo by Samantha Deitch, Courtesy of The Armory Show.


The international glut of fairs has no doubt caused fatigue among the dealers who shuttle from coast to coast and continent to continent. Even for those who can afford to participate, there are logistical snafus: Several dealers said that there is not enough time for their artists to make enough new work for the number of major fairs that now dot the globe. Several of the market’s top galleries that showed at Frieze Los Angeles—many of which will also show at Frieze’s New York edition in May—opted out of The Armory Show this year, including Gagosian, Lévy Gorvy, Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, Marian Goodman, and White Cube. (Hauser & Wirth, Marian Goodman, and David Zwirner participated in this run of fairs by showing at the ADAA Art Show, which opened a week prior to The Armory Show.)

Another, more pressing logistical snafu came for The Armory Show when, just two weeks before it was set to open, Pier 92 was declared unstable, and the galleries set to open in that part of the fair—which include those in the Focus and Insights sections and several Platform projects—had to go to Pier 90, kicking out that pier’s usual inhabitant, the Volta satellite fair. Many Volta exhibitors found refuge at one of David Zwirner’s Chelsea spaces and a rented space, but the whole ordeal forced some frenzied, last-minute shuffling.

“Everyone just jumped in—because of the short period of time we were given to pull everything off, we knew we had to get it done,” Berry said. “We had 63 exhibitors we had to relocate.”

Installation view of Pace Gallery’s booth at The Armory Show, New York, 2019. © Leo Villareal. Photo by Rich Lee. Courtesy of Pace Gallery.

And yet, despite an entire pier getting put out of commission, and the fact that The Armory Show lacked that top echelon of mega-galleries, the sales were strong, many dealers reported, and collectors were picking up works in the low- to mid-six-figure range—not far off from sales at Frieze Los Angeles.

“People showed up and bought,” Berry said. “The exhibitors, I’ve heard many tell me they’re pleasantly surprised with the way things turned out, despite the craziness of the situation.”

Some of the notable sales at The Armory Show included:

Antony Gormley, Small Wait III, 2016. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

And works priced in lower ranges often sold like hotcakes. Pace Gallery sold out its solo booth of Leo Villareal’s series “Instance” (2018), which consists of 12 LED-lit panels, for $48,000 each. Shulamit Nazarian, the Los Angeles gallery, sold all of the work it was showing by 29-year-old painter Naudline Pierre; the biggest piece, priced at $30,000, was purchased by Kasseem Dean, the influential collector and rap producer better known as Swizz Beatz, who maintains the Dean Collection. Nino Mier Gallery sold out its booth of paintings by Louise Bonnet, priced between $45,000 and $60,000. Mier said: “All the work has been placed with great collections and institutionally.”

Speaking of institutions, while The Armory Show may not have the frenzied South American money of Art Basel in Miami Beach or the newly emergent Chinese collecting class of the West Bund Art & Design fair in Shanghai, it does tend to draw acquisitions teams from a number of museums—and this year, museums and their supporters were buying. Kohn Gallery sold works by Jonathan Lyndon Chase to the ICA Miami and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Trustees of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim Museum each bought two photographs by Paul Mpagi Sepuya, priced at $14,000 for a pair, from the Chicago-based Document Gallery. (The artist also saw his first solo show at Team Gallery, in SoHo, open this week.) Susan Sheehan Gallery sold a Helen Frankenthaler woodcut print to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Installation view of Gillian Wearing, Me as Madame and Monsieur Duchamp, at Independent, 2019. Photo by Etienne Frossard. Courtesy of Independent.

“The institutional presence is very important to The Armory Show,” Berry said. “People know that institutions will be here, museum directors will be here. I’m running from event to event to welcome all the museum patrons from almost 160 institutions as the week goes on—hence me losing my voice.”

Collectors were also on the scene at The Armory Show’s opening day, including Howard Rachofsky, Glenn Fuhrman, David Mugrabi, and Don and Mera Rubell. Many also attended the week’s other important fair, Independent, which was staging its 10th edition at Spring Studios in Tribeca. Independent was started in 2009 by dealers Elizabeth Dee, Darren Flook, Matthew Higgs, and Laura Mitterrand, who intended for it not to be a conventional art fair—there were no gallery booths then, and there still aren’t any a decade later. The first editions were held at the former Dia Art Foundation space in Chelsea, and the DNA of that project lives on in its current digs, which Independent has occupied since 2016.

In its opening hours on Thursday, Independent notched a sale that, even had it occurred at The Armory Show, would have been among the highest recorded: Ortuzar Projects, the Tribeca gallery opened last year by former Zwirner partner Ales Ortuzar, sold Rhinoceros, a large 1972 painting of the titular animal by the late French painter Gilles Aillaud, to a major American collector for $380,000.

“It went to a great collector who didn’t know about the artist beforehand,” Ortuzar said.

Other sales at Independent included:

Installation view of Gilles Aillaud, Rhinoceros, 1972, at the Ortuzar Projects booth at Independent, 2019. Courtesy of Independent.

  • Wolfgang Tillmans’s Eclipse Rainbow (1999), which was sold by London-based dealer Maureen Paley for $100,000.
  • Gillian Wearing’s Me as Madame and Monsieur Duchamp (2018), also sold at Maureen Paley, for £48,000 ($62,800).
  • Four works by Franklin Williams sold by L.A.’s Parker Gallery, for $25,000 to $55,000.
  • A large work by the Mexican artist Eduardo Terrazas at Timothy Taylor for $48,000.
  • All of the Markus Amm works at David Kordansky Gallery, each of which were going for prices between $25,000 and $40,000.
  • Over 60 portraits that the dealer-slash-artist Joel Mesler was making in the White Columns stand for $250 a pop, dutifully sitting at an easel throughout the duration of the fair.
Eduardo Terrazas
2.20, 2019
Timothy Taylor
Eduardo Terrazas
2.118, 2019
Timothy Taylor

In an interview, Dee attributed the strong sales to New York’s ability to host both the main fair and a smaller satellite, with collectors buying at both.

“I’ve always said, New York, it’s a museum town, it’s a gallery town—but it’s also an art-fair town,” Dee said. “There’s no dominant art fair in New York that claims New York as its own for contemporary art and design. There’s so much going on. Even though we have all these developing territories in the contemporary art market, New York is still the global economic capital of the art world.”

One thing Independent has going for it is its location. The Armory Show is notoriously hard to get to, taking place a long walk from the closest subway stop on a slice of the West Side Highway, which was clogged with traffic on the opening day of the fair. (Not to mention the fact that one of the two piers it typically occupies was found to be structurally unstable; Berry said she’s not sure if Pier 92 will be able host the fair in 2020.) Independent, meanwhile, is centrally set in downtown’s Tribeca neighborhood, amidst a burgeoning gallery landscape. New arrivals in the area include Bortolami, Andrew Kreps Gallery, and Alexander and Bonin, with James Cohan, The Journal Gallery, and others joining them soon.

Joel Mesler painting in the White Columns booth. Courtesy of Etienne Frossard.

Ortuzar said that after having done so many fairs with Zwirner over the years, he’s been hesitant to make them a cornerstone of his business. But with Independent, he said, “we happen to have a gallery a block away, and this is part of the art world of the area.”

Dee said that in addition to a spate of programming at Spring Studios, Independent organized a neighborhood gallery walk, and she was struck by how concentrated the fair’s network of New York galleries has become.

“We were just going up and down Walker Street, and within 30 seconds, you can see five galleries, and that is so special,” Dee said. “That’s what New York is great for in terms of gallery neighborhoods—the fact that you can cover so many exhibitions in just a few hours. We were able, in an hour and a half, to go to 12 spaces. If I were in London, it would take me six hours to do that.”

Nate Freeman

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to The Armory Show’s Platform sector as the “Projects” sector. Additionally, works by Paul Mpagi Sepuya were sold to trustees of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim Museum, not the museums themselves, and the works were not $14,000 a piece, but as a pair. The text has been updated to reflect these changes.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019