Art Market

What Sold during Armory Week 2021

Benjamin Sutton
Sep 13, 2021 7:21PM

The first full week of September was a busy one in New York City. There were the solemn ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks; the start of the school year for many students; the U.S. Open tennis tournament; the return of Fashion Week; and, for the first time, a late-summer deluge of art fairs.

By all accounts, Armory Week’s new time slot, coinciding with the art world’s return from summer break and the openings of fall exhibitions at galleries across the city, is a winner. At the half-dozen fairs happening around town—from the anchor expo The Armory Show and longtime satellites like Independent and Art on Paper, to the inimitable curatorial smorgasbord of the Spring/Break Art Show and relative newcomer Future Fair—there was renewed energy and enthusiasm for seeing art (and fellow art lovers) in person. Between that hunger to engage with new work, and fairs’ staggered visitor access required by capacity restrictions and timed entry systems, collectors and gallerists were really putting in the time to discuss artists’ practices, themes, and ideas even during typically hectic VIP previews.

Joy Labinjo
'Playing' the race card, 2021
Tiwani Contemporary
Ha Chong-hyun
Conjunction 20-49, 2020
Tina Kim Gallery

“Sometimes on a VIP day, people are waiting for an hour and a half just to talk to somebody about a work, and then they’re getting angry because it’s sold or they’re on a waitlist, but Thursday was not like that at all,” Phillip Barcio, an associate director at the Chicago gallery Kavi Gupta, said of The Armory Show’s VIP day. “It felt very ‘Kumbaya’—we’re here to learn about art and we’re here to have deep conversations. I’ve never gone to an Armory fair and had that experience of long, deep conversations with serious collectors about paintings that they can’t even buy. You don’t always get to feel that way in a commercial environment.” To be sure, Kavi Gupta was doing plenty of commercial activity at the VIP preview, too, selling a new mixed-media work by Jeffrey Gibson and a dazzling new shaped canvas by the rising Japanese artist Tomokazu Matsuyama, a recent addition to the gallery’s roster.

“The word people are using a lot is that it’s a more humane way to be at a fair,” said Nicole Berry, The Armory Show’s executive director. “There’s a nice flow throughout the day, a nice energy, and there’s not that frenetic feeling, which people are enjoying.”

George Rickey
Nebula IV, 1993

The toned-down frenzy was owed to a few other factors, too. For one, The Armory Show switched venues from its longtime home on the creaky, leaky West Side piers to the Javits Center, the sleek Midtown West convention complex, giving it a much bigger footprint with ample room for social distancing and socializing, including large open areas and airier booths. Also, due to the challenges of pandemic-times travel, 55 galleries opted to forgo physical presentations and participated solely in the fair’s virtual edition, leaving the total number of booths at a more manageable 157 compared to the usual total of around 200.

The complications that kept some international galleries from attending likely also hampered collectors’ ability to travel from abroad for Armory Week. There was a typically robust showing from collectors based in New York City at The Armory Show’s VIP preview—including philanthropist and Museum of Modern Art board president emerita Agnes Gund, collector and Latin American art scholar Estrellita Brodsky, trendsetting collectors Susan and Michael Hort, and champion of emerging artists Bernard Lumpkin—with smaller contingents from other parts of the United States and fewer travelling internationally.

Nate Lowman
Night Watch, 2021
David Zwirner

“The collectors this year are mostly from New York, but I have also connected with some from California; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Florida; and Paris. I also saw some people from Mexico City,” said San Francisco–based gallerist Jessica Silverman, whose namesake gallery sold 18 works on the fair’s first day, including a large abstract canvas by Clare Rojas for $75,000. “The quality of collectors has been very high, which is exciting for us.”

And those collectors were making high-quality purchases throughout the fair. Notable sales from The Armory Show include the following:

Park Seo-bo
Ecriture No. 981206, 1998
Tina Kim Gallery
Marie Watt
Skywalker/Skyscraper (Sunrise), 2021
Marc Straus
Dominic Chambers
Blue DayDream (Shikeith in Blue), 2021
Roberts Projects
  • Roberts Projects sold Jeffrey Gibson’s printed canvas, acrylic, and rice paper work WOULD I LIE TO YOU (2021) for $95,000; Betye Saar’s assemblage sculpture Justice (2011) for $90,000; Dominic Chambers’s painting Blue DayDream (Shikeith in Blue) (2021) for $50,000; and a 2020 Amoako Boafo portrait, White Bucket Hat, for an undisclosed price.
  • Galeria Nara Roesler sold a work by the Argentine modernist Julio Le Parc, Serie 22 n° 3 (1971/2020), for €62,000 ($73,000), and a new work by the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, Surfaces: Harlequin, after Pablo Picasso (2021), for $60,000.
  • A Chinese museum acquired Jammie Holmes’s painting Furs and Concrete (2021) from Marianne Boesky Gallery and Library Street Collective for $65,000.
  • Fridman Gallery sold two works by textile artist Dindga McCannon for $50,000 and $60,000, the latter of which, the quilt The Wedding Party #2, The History of Our Nations is Really the Stories of Our Families (2000), is destined for a museum collection.

Dindga McCannon, The Wedding Party #2, The History of Our Nations is the Stories of Our Families, 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery.

  • London’s Tiwani Contemporary sold five works from its solo booth of paintings by Joy Labinjo, each priced at £50,000 ($69,000).
  • Los Angeles’s Kohn Gallery sold two textile works by Sophia Narrett (priced at $17,500 and $40,000) to an important institution on the East Coast of the U.S. and a major museum in China.
  • Half Gallery sold eight paintings from its solo presentation of works by Andrea Joyce Heimer for prices between $22,000 and $32,000 apiece.
  • L.A.’s Rele sold six paintings from its solo booth of works by Nigerian artist Chidinma Nnoli, each for prices between $20,000 and $25,000.
Mark Ryden
The Hospital (drawing), 2016

“The fair provided such an important platform to see many of our collectors in person outside of Los Angeles, in some cases for the first time in almost two years,” said Joshua Friedman, a partner at Kohn Gallery. “We have felt that it has been primarily U.S. collectors who have attended the fair; however, the gallery works with a number of advisors and collection managers who have attended on behalf of their clients abroad—allowing artwork to be placed outside of the U.S.”

The sensation of reconnecting—or connecting for the first time—was a recurring theme last week. “There are collectors we’ve started relationships with during COVID, whether over email or social media, who we’re finally getting to meet and show the work to in person,” said Isaac Lyles, a director of New York’s Lyles & King, which sold out its theatrical solo booth of paintings and sculptural seats by Jessie Makinson, for prices ranging from $8,000 to $36,000.

Joy Labinjo
We came to a country we helped to build, 2021
Tiwani Contemporary

Jessie Makinson, Sleepy maidens, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Lyles & King.

Gallerists and collectors were establishing or rekindling relationships further downtown as well, at the Independent fair, which also changed venues this year, opting for the cushy confines of the Battery Maritime Building, a historic and still operational ferry terminal that also houses an event space operated by luxe eatery Casa Cipriani. With 43 exhibitors, more than half of them based in or with locations in New York, the fair had a decidedly local flavor, all the while allowing collectors to catch up with galleries from further afield.

“Some of the energy of travel is lost, but it’s been fantastic to connect with New York collectors we haven’t seen since 2020,” said Mary Grace Wright, a director at Standard (Oslo), whose booth paired works by the Swedish painter Mikael Lo Presti with weavings by the Norwegian textile artist Ann Cathrin November Høibo. “Being a European gallery, we’re just delighted to even be able to be here, to see people, show the work in person, give away books, and have an embodied, tactile experience after so much virtual interaction.”

Much like at The Armory Show, exhibitors at Independent reported a strong showing from local New York collectors, as well as attendees from further afield, who were happy to have more engaged conversations and discover new works.

“People are really liking the timed entry because it gives them more time and room to have deeper conversations,” said Sara Maria Salamone, a co-founder of Queens-based Mrs. Gallery. “We’ve met some collectors we haven’t had access to before, so it’s been very beneficial. And we haven’t gotten any basic questions; the collectors coming here are really informed and serious.” That seriousness translated to sales for the gallery, whose solo booth of four paintings by Los Angeles–based artist Hana Ward sold out, with two pieces priced at $8,000, one at $9,500, and the largest—priced at $18,000—going to Beijing’s X Museum. Waitlisted collectors will have another chance when Ward opens her first solo show with the gallery in November.

Other notable sales at Independent included the following:

  • Various Small Fires sold out its solo booth of paintings by Che Lovelace, with all four works priced at $28,000.
  • Chicago’s Monique Meloche sold all six works in its solo presentation of Chase Hall’s coffee paintings, priced between $16,000 and $30,000.
  • Berlin gallery Peres Projects sold all four of the Stanislava Kovalcikova paintings in its booth, for prices between $25,000 and $35,000.
  • New York’s Fortnight Institute sold out its entire presentation, including four paintings by Sally J. Han for $60,000 each.
  • Oakland’s Creative Growth sold two paintings by William Scott for $35,000 each, one of which was bought by KAWS.

The full impact of Armory Week’s schedule shift—and its ripples across the currently anarchic global art fair calendar—won’t be clear for another year at least. But this inaugural September outing seems to portend good things. There’s now more distance between it and New York’s other big fair week, anchored by Frieze New York in early May, and assuming Art Basel in Basel returns to its usual June time slot after a rescheduled 2021 edition opening in just eight days, a mass art world migration to New York in early September could become an annual tradition. And, in the end, one of the few silver linings for gallerists of the seemingly endless COVID crisis may be that next time around, there will be time for in-depth conversations and intense competition among VIPs lined up at the door on opening day.

“There wasn’t this sort of mad rush to get in at the beginning like you might have seen before,” Berry said. “But immediately, I had many collectors tell me, ‘I got here at 10 a.m. and the things I wanted were already gone, I had just missed them by two minutes.’ So even though it wasn’t frenetic, people were still very active.”

Benjamin Sutton

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the incorrect price for a large Ian Davenport painting sold by Kasmin.