Parked outside the Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan yesterday afternoon was a glitzy, soft gold-colored Rolls-Royce car of the latest model. The chauffeur was sitting alone in the car, patiently waiting for his passenger, who was inside the center for the VIP preview of the 2022 Armory Show. The license plate indicated a Florida denizen and spelled out the word “Imagine,” as if to say: Imagine if you were as filthy rich as I am.
Inside, after passing by some godawful works at the booths of Ben Brown Fine Arts and Simon Lee Gallery, I hear a man telling a dealer, “Most of my friends are still in Ibiza and Southern France.” That man was Robert Lowinger, an investment firm owner and art collector of 10 years, who made a one-day stop in New York for the fair on way his way back from Frieze Seoul. Where is he based? Miami, Florida.
Lowinger neither confirmed nor denied any connection to the Rolls-Royce outside, but he agreed to share some thoughts on what gets the juices of a collector like him flowing. Well, he’s interested in both blue-chip and emerging artists, and he goes to fairs with an open mind and an equally open wallet.
“You feel a certain vindication when an artwork you bought goes up in value,” Lowinger said, admitting that he’s not into collecting just out of pure love of art, but also for cold-minded investment purposes. “Affluent people who say they buy art just for pleasure are not telling the whole truth. No one likes to just throw money away. There are financial motives for collecting. It’s also a matter of status, decorating the house, and showing off to friends when they visit.”
What’s good about fine art, according to Lowinger, is that it doesn’t abide by the traditional rules of finance. “Everything else — real estate, stock market, etc. — is affected by interest rates. The art market isn’t. It has only gone up since COVID,” he said.
So, the Armory is back for a second year at the Javits Center with more than 260 exhibitors, signifying a return to business as usual after last year’s scaled-down, COVID-affected edition. Compared to equivalents like Frieze New York, the Armory Show strikes me as classier, and slightly more elegant and confident. It depends less on gimmicks and fads, and the art is better overall. It might have to do with the difference between old money and new money collectors, I’m not sure. The Armory Show is the Rolls-Royce of New York’s art fairs.
A good word must also be said about the decision to relocate the fair from the Hudson River piers to the cavernous and more accessible Javits Center. Here you can actually breathe, and there are enough lounge areas with cushioned seats and benches for you to take a break and absorb the sheer amount of work on display.
Two curated sections this year highlight Latinx and Latin American art. Focus, curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates, is concerned with environmental issues. Platform, curated by Tobias Ostrander, reimagines public monuments through large-scale installations. I wasn’t so impressed by these as their placement in a trade show between two champagne bars does nothing but cancel out whatever social change message they’re trying to amplify.
Another section called Presents is dedicated to galleries under the age of 10, which is fine. The new Armory Spotlight program gives a free booth to a New York nonprofit. The inaugural recipient is the experimental art and performance space The Kitchen, which wallpapered a corner with archival footage and added an unappealing jukebox playing audio recordings. Not much to see there, really.
Among the highlights I encountered across the different sections, I can name Mexico City-based artist Aurora Pellizzi’s tapestries, made of used plastic bags or dyed wool woven into agave fiber nets (Istle). Pellizzi’s works are featured at the booth of Instituto de Visión, a women-led gallery in Bogotá, Colombia and New York City.
Also worth noting is Tijuana-based artist Hugo Crosthwaite’s Caravan series at Pierogi Gallery’s booth. Crosthwaite showed me a sketchbook he always carries with him, in which he draws portraits of migrants at the Tijuana-San Diego border. In this series, he transferred these portraits from the sketchbook to small ceramic figures, which he also animated in a stop motion video that depicts the migrants’ everyday hardships.
Zimbabwean artist Wallen Mapondera’s hanging cardboard sculptures with the South African Smac Gallery are also not to miss. They surface questions of identity, government corruption, and the lingering shadow of colonialism. But mostly, Mapondera shows what wonders can be made with discarded cardboard.
Cameroonian artist Marc Padeu’s (Jack Bell Gallery) large-scale paintings, which contemporize and localize Christian tropes like the Last Supper and the baptism of Jesus, are impressive. It’s also hard to dislike Jake Longstreth’s Los Angeles Pines series at Nino Mier Gallery, with works that carry that breezy Californian spirit.
By contrast, here are some less-than-good works in the show:
What the average person might not know is that selling art is really hard, despite all the talk about big money in the art market. I caught Emanuela Campoli, co-owner of the Parisian gallery Campoli Presti, sitting alone on a bench made by the artist Kianja Strobert. Her hair and astronaut silver shoes matched the color of the bench. Campoli, who has been in the business for 20 years, was unconventionally candid about her sales at the fair.
“It’s been a slow day. I sold some works but not enough,” she confessed, adding that she had better luck at the recent Art Basel Paris fair. Usually, dealers tell the press that sales are great, whether it’s true or not.
After a moment of silence, I asked Campoli: “Aren’t you tired of this old game?” She nodded yes.
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