If New York remains the capital of the art world, and if art fairs can be said to yield the bulk of the world’s gallery sales (at 40 percent, according to the TEFAF Art Market Report), then it’s safe to say that the cornucopia of art souks that blossom across Manhattan in the spring are an unmissable opportunity for collectors. Indeed, such was the case this March, when an array of the deepest-pocketed international buyers streamed into the city for the fairs, taking the occasion as a time to hoover up work, socialize with their well-heeled peers, and let off steam in a way that only the art world affords.
As usual, the main market draw was the reliably fast-selling Armory Show, which this year benefited from a series of mini masterstrokes on the part of its director, Noah Horowitz. For one thing, the piers were free of the clutter that too often in the past made the fair a steeplechase of flashy “fair art,” instead edited down this year to a clean and easy thoroughfare through booths that were refreshingly filled not by the market’s big-box retailers (you know who they are) but by adventurous middle-tier galleries, many of them from Europe. The focus section—curated by Omar Kholeif to spotlight art from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean—was a bit of a snooze despite its timeliness, with exceptions coming in the form of provocative high-concept efforts by the fair’s commissioned artist, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and extraordinary abstract paintings by Lebanon’s famed artist and ‘60s icon Huguette Caland.
Outside the Armory Show, the scrum of the week included two relative newcomers, Spring/Break (which took place in a former postal facility near Penn Station this year, rather than its accustomed SoHo schoolhouse) and UnScene, a scrappy entrant to the week that took a purportedly curatorial approach to the more emerging sectors of the market. They were more than adequate destinations for collectors working with on a tight budget—and who have a relatively charitable demeanor when it comes to quality—but the true connoisseurs saved their powder for Independent and the Art Show.
By far the edgier of the two fairs, Independent held its fifth edition spread across four floors of the former Dia Art Foundation building in Chelsea—a historical edifice it must sadly vacate this year—and featured its typically exceptional mix of deep cuts (like Marjorie Strider’s extraordinary and deeply sexy 3-D Pop painting from 1963 at Broadway 1602 and Diane Simpson’s likewise Pop sculpture at Corbett vs Dempsey) and work by rising stars like Anna-Lise Coste, Jeff Sonhouse, Joel Kyack, Becky Kolsrud, Julie Beaufils, and Jory Rabinovitz.
The Art Show, meanwhile, held it’s typical tony show of solo displays at the Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side, and its emphasis on solo presentations of work by historical artists was both an important corrective to lacunae in the art cannon and also a bit, to be frank, boring. Art-market commentator Josh Baer pointed out that the way the ADAA has “turned into ‘theme’ shows and one-person booths… to the overall detriment to the fair,” and this assessment is largely on-target. Luckily, there were a few bright standouts this year, including extraordinary drawings by Chicago icon Christina Ramberg and some uncanny black-and-white works on paper by the ‘70s East Village chronicler Anton van Dalen. As a final course for a sprightly week of fairs, the Art Show served as a sweetly soporific brew, perfect to lull collectors into a pleasant doze in time for their flights homeward.
Andrew Goldstein is the Co-Founder and CEO of Artspace