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This week I visited the Art Show, the fair (now 30 years old) produced by the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) and organized to benefit the Henry Street Settlement, and unexpectedly, I learned a few things.
There were the usual blue-chip suspects in attendance, but separating this fair from others — particularly some that will open during the mercantile blitzkrieg coming to New York next week — there was little sense of desperation to sell, sell, sell. I spoke with one gallerist who runs a street-level, large-windowed enterprise in Chelsea and he told me that he appreciated this fair more than others (such as the Armory Show), because the Art Show is more intimate and allows him to see clients who don’t often venture down to his district but who nevertheless are interested in contemporary art.
I spoke to another gallery professional who said that of all the fairs that take place in the city, this is the one that feels to her most like it draws a truly New York crowd. Perhaps because many of the patrons have a comfortable familiarity with the city they know (as opposed to being on holiday in some foreign port), there is something unhurried about the Art Show. This state of grace is reflected in many of the booth layouts, where the gallery focuses on one artist, with just a few select works on display.
But regarding what I learned: stopping by the booth of Howard Greenberg gallery, I was struck by the combination of painting and photography by an artist, Saul Leiter, whom I had known nothing about. The photos caught my eye first because they are blurry, vague images of street life that position the photographer in that penumbra space between voyeur and documentarian. At the same time, the images conveyed that Leiter was comfortable viewing the lives of passersby through the scrim of a window heavy with condensation, intuiting that the fogged glass could conceal his attentive presence and also lend a hazy quality to the glimpsed scenes. His paintings were quite good too — small, brightly-colored, washy abstractions that convey a sincere attraction to vivid tints and tones — but they were not as memorable as the photographs.
Then, in the booth of Krakow Witkin Gallery (which is located in Boston), I discovered Liliana Porter, whose work “Untitled (Ship)” (2011), being hung at an odd angle, provoked me to ask the gallery director how it was balanced to the artists’s specifications. I got the answer to that question (two precisely placed brackets in the back of the piece) and then was told that Porter often, as she did with this piece, creates minuscule dioramas that read as the aftermath of an incident the work hints at but does not explicate. In this piece, a sea-going vessel is tilted at an odd angle relative to the canvas it’s affixed to, while underneath it, a black slick that could be crude oil spreads out like blood from a wound. The assemblage makes me think that everything in the piece is wounded: the sea, the ship, and the rotating Earth that underpins them both.
Other than these highlights I was happy to see some work that I am now quite familiar with: Kehinde Wiley, who has been in the news quite a bit lately. I glimpsed a set of photographs by Richard Avedon that I know from his book In the American West, still one of the most moving collections of portraits I’ve ever seen. I finally saw a Josef Albers painting I liked, perhaps because it broke out of the insufferable square. I also ran upon a Louise Nevelson assemblage, and I find these always reward the time I spend with them. All in all, the experience of the Art Show is one I would like to have more often when I visit art fairs.
The Art Show continues through March 4 at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan).