In Review: The Armory Show, Future Fair and the NY Art Fair Week
Armory Art Fair week has come back in full force (with certain precautions of course), despite the surge in Delta variant cases. Several fairs took place this past week around Manhattan including: the Armory Show at Javits Center, Independent Art Fair at the old Maritime building next to Battery Park, Art on Paper at Pier 36, Spring Break Art Show in an empty office space in Midtown, and Future Fair in Chelsea.
While some artists seem to not want to view a lot of work by other people, for better or worse, I took the time out from my studio practice this week to make the rounds. Thursday was by far the most jam-packed day. My first stop was to the Armory Show at 2 PM. The fair was last held during the dawn of the pandemic in February 2020 on Piers 90 & 94 on the west side. Now it has a new location and time: taking place at the start of the New York fall art season and held in the massive and airy Javits center. It seemed like the Armory had gotten an upgrade. However with so many exhibitors spread out in a larger singular space, it’s easy to get lost and accidentally end up retracing your steps and missing large chunks of the fair. Perhaps even some IKEA-like arrows could be useful. Even though I used the paper map available, I was left feeling a little lost in the mall.
This year the Armory Show consisted of 212 exhibitors from 37 countries — 157 exhibitors in person at Javits Center and 55 exhibitors who could not participate physically due to covid travel restrictions were showcased on the new Armory Online. It is always a little bit overwhelming, but fun to people-watch as well as notice emerging trends.
After the visit to Javits, I walked a couple blocks East to Hudson Yards and then strolled south to Chelsea via the scenic highline—the beautiful landscaped park that once functioned as an elevated railway. On 27th street, I dropped into the Future Fair. With only 17 exhibitors and 34 viewable online, this smaller boutique fair was refreshingly manageable after the abyssal sea of Armory. I was excited to see some familiar artists represented here.
Stepping out of the Future Fair, I found myself in the flow of people attending Chelsea’s Thursday night gallery openings. There were some power houses of figurative art on display — colorful and painterly.
After Chelsea gallery hopping, I grabbed a citibike for a chill ride crosstown and down the East River waterfront to Pier 36 to the Art on Paper for opening night. With 70 exhibitors it was the second largest of the fairs and seemed the most festive as it was opening night. There were even flamenco dancers that promenaded down the center aisle to embellish Nicholas Sanchez’s work of that subject at the Sugarlift gallery booth.
I’ve always felt that Art on Paper is the most digestible of the fair experiences. Limiting the theme to the materiality of works on paper helps make the experience more cohesive and it's easier to compare talent and innovation across booths.
Finally on Friday, I biked down to the southernmost part of Battery Park. It was a little spooky on the day before 9-11 to be in southern Manhattan with the weather again classified as “severe clear.”
For its new location the Independent fair booked the historic Maritime building which was recently restored and had not been open to the general public in several decades. With an interior just as ornate as the exterior, I was curious to see how an art fair which usually occurs in blank slate type spaces would work. To be honest, I was a little distracted by the swirly hotel carpets that the fair organizers tried to cover up with sisal carpets in each of the booths. Strange choice on part of the building's renovators, but the high ceilings, natural light from skylights, and Beaux Arts architecture did impress. Hung high along the walls and staircase often overlapping and covering the dark mouldings, the fair featured several huge Julian Schnabel paintings that he created in his outdoor Hampton studio.
And last but certainly not least, I stopped by Astor Place to check out the Adventure Painters — a group formed by artists Aaron Zuplo and Johnny DeFeo. I had seen their exhibition at 1969 Gallery in the Bowery before the pandemic. I was intrigued then to see plein air painting, a genre often demoted as a hobbyist activity, being embraced by a respectable gallery. It was to my even greater excitement and surprise to see the Adventure Painters listed prominently as an Armory Off-site feature in the fair’s newsletter emails. Way to go guys!
Standing in the middle of Astor Place stood an airstream with one side winged open like the Delorian from Back to the Future. Nestled inside was a wall that served as a salon exhibition space for the group. About half of the paintings on display had been made during other painting sessions at various locations while others still wet had been painted days prior on location at Astor place. I learned from Aaron that the airstream had been purchased from Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign and refurbished as a mobile gallery. As part of the installation/performance, Zuplo and DeFeo invited other painters to join them in the creation of new paintings at Astor place. They even invited me after learning that I make landscape works, but instead I spent my weekend at the US Open and penning this article.
All in all, as exhausting and time consuming as attending the fairs can be, it's a great overview of what is trending especially as we enter into the fall season of exhibitions. And to see how artists whose work you have been following are evolving. —David Molesky