At The Armory Show, a Fresh-Faced Vernissage with Accessible Price Points
Even on a gray, slushy day, art lovers trekked to Piers 92 and 94 on Manhattan’s west side for the VIP opening of The Armory Show 2015. Inside, however, the feeling was anything but gray—in fact, it was the brightest the fair has been in years, with a thoughtfully-curated group of galleries and works that had collectors of all income levels quickly inquiring, and acquiring.
Comprising 199 galleries, it’s the Armory’s smallest edition in many years (a considered decision by Armory Show director Noah Horowitz). Galleries included the usual suspects—like blue-chip heavy-hitters David Zwirner, Victoria Miro, and Lisson and New York favorites like Jack Shainman and Lehmann Maupin—to galleries who had never before participated in the fair, or who had returned after a long hiatus. Spirits were high, both from dealers and visitors, with a thread emerging that harkened back to the fair’s beginnings, when a cool young set of galleries set up booths in the hotel rooms of the pre-Schrager Gramercy Park Hotel: accessibility, both in content and price. Whether this is a preemptive reaction to a rumbling that the art market bubble may burst again or a subconscious return to The Armory Show’s early younger, cooler status, setting it apart from its fair counterpoint ADAA: The Art Show, I don’t know, but in any case, it was a welcome surprise.
An unexpected surge in accessible price points—namely under $15,000—meant that sales were booming. Works on paper and ceramics were among the hunted. At Marianne Boesky, a beautiful presentation beckoned collectors: William J. O’Brien’s ceramic works (prices from $12,000–16,000) opposite three new two-dimensional works by Jessica Jackson Hutchins (who opens a solo show at the gallery in May), a delicately alluring suite of watercolors by Barnaby Furnas, and a monumental wall piece by the talented Diana Al-Hadid. And aside from a Pier Paolo Calzolari quadriptych (priced at $300,000) all the works carried price tags under $100,000. Many were under $30,000.
At Leila Heller Gallery, which featured a presentation of four contemporary Iranian artists, works by Reza Aramesh sold within hours of the fair’s opening, with a series of unique collages priced at $5,000 each a particularly hot item. Next door at London’s Carl Freedman Gallery, another series of anthropomorphic ceramics by German artist Sebastian Stoehrer were a surprising $5,500–6,500 each.
And at Galeria Nara Roesler, two delicate and intricate drawings by Marco Maggi were priced at a pleasant $10,000. Even at blue-chip Lisson Gallery, there were works that provided an accessible entry point to collectors not willing to shell out the price of a house for an artwork. Wael Shawky’s drawings could be had for under $16,000 each.
Other nice surprises amongst the main exhibitors—with prices that made me want to get out my own checkbook—were a series of Christian Holstad cutouts ($2,500) and stunning mixed-media-on-paper works by Michael Wutz at Aurel Scheibler (individual works under €7,000); a series of large-scale textural prints at Two Palms by artists’ artist Terry Winters in an edition of 20 and at a mouth-dropping $6,000 each ($72,000 for the entire suite of 12); a hand-colored and textured Rina Banerjee print at Pace Prints ($3,500); and a visceral set of monotypes by artist Shahar Yahalom ($4,000 each) and ballpoint pen drawings by Keren Cytter (priced at $15,000 each), both at nonprofit Artis’s booth.
Armory Presents, a section devoted to solo and dual presentations by galleries under ten years old, hosts the usual suspects for this type of section—James Fuentes LLC, CLEARING, Nicelle Beauchene, Various Small Fires—but also some surprising newcomers: Soy Capitán, KOW, and Bischoff Projects. Anat Ebgi’s Luke Diiorio presentation was a hot spot for collectors, as was Nicelle Beauchene’s booth of “splats” and paintings by Chris Wiley, which had already nearly sold out (including one museum acquisition) only a couple hours into the fair.
Of course not every work could accommodate my bank account. Others beckoned balances more like those of the celebrities who were meandering the fair—Tobey Maguire, Michael Stipe, Neil Patrick Harris, and apparently Marion Cotillard (or at least that’s who one eager Tweeter thought I was) were all present, as were art-world stars from artist Maurizio Cattelan (who spent some time at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill’s booth, looking at works by Kiki Smith and Eddie Peake) to MoMA’s Glenn Lowry, and to the regular Armory cohort of collectors (the Rubells, the Horts, Shores, and Howard Rachofsky, amongst others). Standout works included a delicate sculpture by Karla Black, which sold quickly at David Zwirner and painting along with a sculpture by Carol Bove. (The gallery also noted “strong reserves” on works by Wolfgang Tillmans and Thomas Ruff.)
Lehmann Maupin’s booth features a brilliant presentation of Nari Ward, including the evocative “LiquorSoul” series neon work and a never-before-seen sculpture titled Oprama (2014), made from a cut-out from a shipping container and shoelaces, priced at $55,000-65,000. Jack Shainman Gallery’s stellar stand features works by Hayv Kahraman (whose solo show on view at the gallery’s 20th Street location ranges in prices from $70,000–100,000) and Kerry James Marshall (both which sold within an hour of opening) as well as crowd-pleasers like an El Anatsui wall piece (one of his earliest metal works) and a Nick Cave soundsuit, both of which had reserves.
As the fair closed, plebs like myself who didn’t have a car waiting post-vernissage trekked along 52nd street, past the smell of horse manure (the Central Park horses and carriages live in a stable just across the street from the Piers), to the subway, but this year, instead of dragging my feet all the way to Eighth Avenue, I had a bounce in my step, an unheard-of post-fair energy born from the uplifting, all-inclusive spirit of this year’s Armory Show.