New York is the international epicentre of the art market.
And it’s here, from 2 until 5 March, that The Armory Show, a fair that is emblematic of the city, takes place, assembling 210 contemporary and modern art galleries along the banks of the Hudson.
It is also the first major art market event to take place in the Trump era.
Vast numbers of artists have openly and publicly spoken out against the new president.
But what are implications for art sales in this period of uncertainty?
When the question was put to the fair’s director Benjamin Genocchio, his response was upbeat. For someone in his position, it is practically a duty. ‘The art market is strong, even more so than last year, because the economy is doing well.’
But the New York gallerist Fergus McCaffrey who is participating in this year’s Armory Show is, like other professionals here, still holding his breath:
Several dealers are in agreement that Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin is the son of one of New York’s legendary dealers, Robert Mnuchin, and even if he does not share his father’s political views, art is the family business and as such it has to be protected.
It is in this climate that The Armory show, one of two large annual fairs in New York, opens (Frieze New York happens in May on Randall’s Island, on the outskirts of the city, and focuses exclusively on contemporary art).
This year, the three giants of the market, multinationals Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth and Zwirner, are all absent.
The most fascinating and unexpected part of the Armory takes place on the first floor.
This is where you’ll find galleries presenting modern and ‘classic’ contemporary works rarely seen anywhere else.
New York gallery Jonathan Boos has organised a one-man show comprising of 17 gouaches and paintings by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), one of the legends of American modernism, who only belatedly emerged from the shadows.
Prices start from 350,000 dollars. He is best known for his depictions of everyday scenes of black life in Harlem, using simplified forms and vivid, highly contrasting colours. Moma hosted an exhibition of his work in 2015 about his Migration series.
Along the same lines as the one-man show, the London gallery Lyndsey Ingram, a specialist in prints, has 40 lithographs and other prints by the English art star David Hockney (born 1937). The works, dating from 1964 up to his most recent period, are on sale for between 4,000 and 60,000 pounds. A retrospective of his work now at Tate Modern in London will go on show at the Pompidou Centre in June.
In among the little treasures at the fair is one of the biggest names in American contemporary art, Willem de Kooning (1904-1997). His abstract painting from 1968, full of violent brush strokes in yellow hues, is on sale for 1.5 million dollars at the stand of the New York gallery Hollis Taggart.
At the Armory, former director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Eric Shiner, who a few months ago moved over to the commercial side as vice president of Sotheby’s contemporary art division, is curating Platform, a series of 13 installations of monumental art works. Among them, a work in eleven pieces, all oblong forms with red and white polka dots laid out on artificial grass, by Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama. It was sold for approximately $1 million when the fair opened.
Eric Shiner talks about his Platform programme:
To entice young and affordable artists, Armory offered to 30 ‘emerging’ galleries a 40 per cent discount on stands in a section entitled ‘Present’. Benjamin Trigano, owner of M+B from Los Angeles, for example, is showing sculptures by California’s Nevine Mahmoud (born 1988), priced at around $5,000.
The objects are at once precious, decorative and sexually suggestive. Her enormous tongue is sculpted in marble. And what she describes as an ‘effeminate form’ is in fact a giant lily in alabaster and marble.
Benjamin Trigano explains why he is enthusiastic about the content at the Armory:
New York’s Armory Show does a balancing act, bridging safe bets from the early 20th century and artists at the start of their careers. The fair offers many opportunities for those looking to purchase art outside the market’s big passing fads for which the auction houses function as sounding boards these days.
Until 5 April.www.thearmoryshow.com