Armory Week 2013 Ben Austin’s Exclusive Diary – Part 1
New York City – Mega metropolis, where anything is possible. Where everything and everyone goes at a hundred miles an hour. This is a city where innovation in its’ very name and ambition soars like the formidable skyline.
So it was exactly a hundred years ago, when the Association of American Painters and Sculptors organised the first large scale exhibition of modern art in America – The 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art at 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Street. Where astonished Americans got to see at first hand the experimental style of the European avant-garde. Here mixed in with traditional American figuration and representational art were works that from the new modernist movements – Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism. The cause célèbre of the show was Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’, a masterpiece, where movement is created by a succession of superimposed images, similar to a motion picture. The reaction to this painting was fierce, the art critic Julian Street wrote that the work resembled “an explosion in a shingle factory” and there were numerous parodies and cartoons satirising the work.
Art history had been made and so for this centenary celebration of the 1913 Armory show, certain exhibitors have curated their booths accordingly. On Pier 94 the Focus section sees each booth staging a solo presentation of an artist whose brief was to look at what it means to be an American. A broad subject with the Gagosian Gallery oddly enough showcasing a Warhol installation. It is interesting that the über dealer was not showing his useful high-end wares in the fair and likewise White Cube was absent, perhaps they are saving themselves for Frieze here in May, who knows.
After the press conference where there was a lot of economy, I went straight to Pier 92, everyone else rushed to see the newest and hottest at Pier 94. It was wonderful to wander round with only a handful of visitors and was given the opportunity to chat with some of the dealers, one of the most engaging was Ezra Chowaiki, his booth summed up the spirit of the 1913 Armory, he had small works by Duchamp as well as a Monet next to a Lichenstein edition ($8,500 edition 25) and in the wake of the Tate retrospective, there were many Lichenstein’s prints to be found here. Ezra was very enthusiastic about the relationship between the old and the new, producing a copy of the 1913 poster of the Armory fair, saying ‘pretty cool, huh!’
We moved on, as he started chatting to some collectors who were like me impressed by his thoughtfully curated booth. I liked the Italian gallery – Mazzoleni Galleria D’Arte from Turin, who had some decent Fontanas’ and Boettis’. At Andrew Edlin they had a solo presentation of the Scottish born artist Tom Duncan, a weirdly wonderful yet somewhat sinister sculptural piece, incorporating Coney Island rides and plastic toys.
I spotted a Hirst maquette of the charity Polio girl, with the broken into moneybox at Alan Koppel, it is an edition of 12 and priced at $350K. At Driscoll Babcock, they had also entered into the 1913 theme showing some of the traditional American artists who were in that show as well as a few young contemporaries, I was taken by the beautiful pastel pieces by Margaret Bowland, priced at a reasonable $28K and a couple of strong figurative painting by Jenny Morgan, again affordable at $18,500. At the other end of the market at Galerie Michael Schultz, there was an impressive Richter on the wall at $11.5M and huge Baselitz on at $1.6M. Pace Prints had a good showing, with some lovely Wangechi Mutu pieces on at $25K, a Leonardo Drew edition of four priced at $20K and stunning Ryan McGinness at $15K and for those whose pockets don’t run that deep, there was a very cute ‘Doggy Radio’ by Nara priced at $2,500.
On our way out and down to Pier 94, I stopped by Hackelbury Fine Art to admire the photography of William Klein, these smoking women with light were of an edition of 30 and priced at $17,500 inside the storage area of the booth, they had an image of the famous Piazza di Spagna ladies on a zebra crossing, this was an open edition priced at $7,500.
So, onto Pier 94, where it was heaving, I noticed people carrying Warhol Brillo boxes and soon found the source, a tower of boxes whereby visitors were encouraged to take one, as Andy would of wanted, there is nothing quite like free art and people flocked to it like proverbial flies to shit. Of course we got a pair, before they were all gone.
As this was the first day, the dealers were now in full sales mode and in no mood to talk to a member of the press, so the prices of certain pieces will remain a mystery. I stopped by the ever inventive Paradise Row, where Nick Hackworth was as charming as ever, showing a fine Chapman Brother totem piece (approx. £120K) and was very proud of his the Detusche Börse photography awarding winning pair Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.
Over at Rokeby, the very nice Beth and Edward Greenacre had a strong solo presentation by Matthew Sawyer. Over at Hannah Barry, there was a series of sculptural pieces by James Capper. I was really taken by these peculiar objects, strange cutting blades and ploughs, as if these mechanical forms were about to carve out their own marks. Arresting stuff.
Francis M. Naumann had taken the iconic ‘Nude Descending the Staircase’ head on. He had commissioned many contemporary artists to lend their own interpretation, as well as showing small Duchamp pieces. I really enjoyed this crowded booth, it was wonderful to see a Larry Rivers next to work created in the last few months. It is a real pleasure to see a booth that is both insightful and intelligent not merely a shop window for the gallery.
Another booth to catch my eye was Ingleby Gallery, who had a fine Harland Miller painting and a series by Jonathan Owen. Josh Lilly had a beautiful painting by Vicky Wright, sold at $29K and Honor Fraser had some fine work by Kaz Oshiro and a show stopping bronze arrow piece by Glenn Kaino priced at $65K. Hales Gallery had a couple of wonderful sculpture by Tom Price ($36,200/$26,400 edition of 3) and a work on paper piece by Adam Dant ($30,000).
Internationally I spotted a new Marina Abramovic photograph, depicting the artist typically holding her finger over a burning candle, this was on at $90K at Luciana Brito Galeria. At Jack Shainman there was a strong Lynette Yiadom-Boakye painting (also showing at Corvi-Mora -$33,700) and a whole installation by Nick Cave.
That was about all I could take in for the day, as the jet lag was starting to kick in. I would like to revisit the fair and have another look at the Focus section, which looked very interesting indeed. On my way out I stopped to admire the LED work of Jim Campbell showing at Bryce Wolkowitz, really poetic stuff priced at $90K edition of three.
Tomorrow I will be visiting the Uptown Armory on Park Ave and then down to Soho to see Volta in their next location.