The Armory Show pulled off its latest edition with strong sales in spite of coronavirus COVID-19. However, the challenges faced by the fair has little to do with public health and more to do with its global relevance and infrastructure.
REPORTED by Cheryl Chan with additional coverage by Reena Devi
EDITED by CoBo Editorial
IMAGES courtesy of The Armory Show
The New York art world proved resilient in the face of the inevitably spreading coronavirus COVID-19. The Armory Show, a mainstay event on the city’s art calendar, saw strong attendance and brisk sales, at least on VIP day on 4 March.
According to Nicole Berry, Armory Show Executive Director, “Despite concerns regarding global travel and the coronavirus, the atmosphere at the Piers was notably energetic; it was clear that appreciation of the arts abounded. The reception to our enhanced curatorial program, an insightful selection of exhibitors, and an expanded diversity of artists and galleries from around the world was extremely positive.”
The 2020 edition of The Armory Show, which ran from 5 to 8 March at Piers 90 and 94 on the Hudson River, featured 183 galleries from 32 countries, with 33 first-time exhibitors including Carbon 12 (Dubai) and Voloshyn Gallery (Kyiv). VIP Attendance hovered around the same as the previous edition at 65,000 visitors. A number of booths reported being sold-out such as Bologna-based gallery P420 and Brussels-based gallery Sorry We’re Closed. Significant sales at the art fair included two major works by established American artist Mary Corse at US$280,000 each by leading Los Angeles gallery Kayne Griffin Corcoran.
“As always, the fair delivered both in terms of sales and engagement with top-tier collectors and curators. We were delighted to place works by Mary Corse and Mika Tajima within prominent collections and also use the fair as a platform to debut new work by one of our LA-based emerging artists, Rosha Yaghmai,” said Maggie Kayne, partner of Kayne Griffin Corcoran.
Reportedly, there had been concerns in the lead-up to the fair regarding turnout in the face of COVID-19. While organizers released a statement a week before the fair confirming that it was going ahead, notable contemporary art collectors Barbara and Howard Morse called off the VIP tour of their home collection, which was part of The Armory Show programming, due to concerns about the virus.
However, since then, the fair and its various stakeholders rallied. Major art collectors from across the country such as Don and Mera Rubell and Jorge Perez were spotted at the event, along with Hollywood celebrities such as James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
This year’s The Armory Show chose to focus more on curated presentations, for the first time dedicating all of Pier 90 to two thematic sections—the new Perspectives section, curated by Nora Burnett Abrams, director at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, exploring recontextualization of 20th century artworks; and Focus, curated by Jamillah James, curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, centered on the theme of “Another time, another place” featuring solo and dual artist presentations.
The Perspectives showcase stood out for its works from Modern and Postwar icons such as Max Ernst, Helen Frankenthaler, Gerhard Richter, and Ed Ruscha, alongside more experimental presentations such as works by early 20th century crime photographer Weegee and Nan Goldin’s intimate photographs from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Across both Piers 90 and 94, Platform, curated by Anne Ellegood, executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, allowed galleries to showcase larger installations and site-specific works.
However, the outdoor walk from Pier 94 to Pier 90 under a covered walkway seemed to deter fairgoers and perhaps contributed to fewer crowds in the Focus and Perspectives sections. “Having piers that aren’t next to each other has been challenging,” Berry acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times.
Although the walk itself took a few minutes, fair organizers also arranged a complimentary shuttle service, which few attendees appeared to make use of, despite the VIP lounge being located on Pier 90. As a result, the action was largely centered around the Pommery Champagne Lounge in the core Galleries section, immediately adjacent to the entrance of Pier 94.
With glasses of champagne in hand, fairgoers flocked to Marnie Weber’s Log Lady & Dirty Bunny and Pig Host sculpture (2009), which flanked the lounge area. Presented by Simon Lee Gallery (London/New York/Hong Kong) as part of Platform, Los Angeles-based Weber’s anthropomorphic, hybrid sculptures are at once fantastical and grotesque, mesmerizing and repulsive.
At Pier 90, the most popular booth was Berlin’s Galerie Kornfeld, which presented an installation by Georgian artist Tezi Gabunia. Composed of a scale model of the Louvre’s Galerie Médicis and a video projection of the gallery being flooded by water, which the artist created by flooding the model, the work exposes the perils of climate change and exemplifies the section’s thematic focus on the interplay between fiction and reality.
However, it is worth noting that even though Gagosian was the sole mega-gallery at The Armory Show—although the city is home to a handful of big boys including both David Zwirner and Pace who elected to participate in the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) Art Show in New York last month—their booth stood surprisingly empty, despite its prime location and high footfall.
There has been talk about the fair’s relevance in the packed global art fair calendar, especially since it is typically held between major international art fairs Frieze Los Angeles and Art Basel Hong Kong. However, it has proven its mettle, at least this year, that as a regional fair, it can still hold its own, even with an encroaching public health crisis.
Looking ahead, next year’s edition of The Armory Show has been rescheduled to coincide with the reopening of galleries after summer break, in addition to a relocation—this might bring a whole new set of challenges for the fair.