Armory Show week in New York got off to a deceptively heady start on Tuesday night with a party that Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer and art consultant Mark Fletcher threw in their assume vivid astro focus–enhanced apartment sixty-six floors above Columbus Circle. Spirits were high as guests floated through the living room like the dancers in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1930 film Madam Satan, much of which takes place at a cocktail party in a blimp drifting over Central Park. In the movie, lightning strikes, forcing everyone to parachute into the Central Park Reservoir. Painters Lisa Yuskavage and Matvey Levenstein replayed that act in slightly less dramatic fashion by bailing early, ostensibly to avoid the mesclun-and-goulash dinner—and not Yuskavage’s former dealer, Marianne Boesky, who was deep in conversation with Friedrich Petzel on the other side of the room.
In fact, the number of gallerists chowing down in such unusually friendly fashion gave the entire soiree a slightly unbecoming wholesomeness. There was Barbara Gladstone with Team’s Jose Freire, Tomasso Corvi-Mora with Cornelia Grassi, Stefania Bortolami and Javier Peres. Jeffrey Deitch came by, as did Frieze Fair codirector Amanda Sharp, who, though not a dealer, sure is helping to sell a bunch of art. After a while, though, the dealers gave way to a phalanx of night-owl artists: Slater Bradley, Adam McEwen, Terence Koh, Jessica Craig-Martin, John Currin and Rachel Feinstein, Ashley Bickerton, and of course avaf’s Eli Sudbrack, dressed up in Navajo/Carioca duds. (Don’t we love those who still bother to make an effort?) “This is the suavest crowd I’ve ever seen,” Bickerton said, following Koh into a bathroom. “Nothing but freaks!”
I found Studio Museum director Thelma Golden by the floor-to-ceiling windows looking east over midtown Manhattan, telling Francesco Vezzoli about her sudden marriage in January to London’s sustainable-fashion designer Duro Olowu. “Basically, we eloped,” she said. There was some talk of the Whitney Biennial performances at the Park Avenue Armory, and how good it felt to visit museums late at night. “Sometimes I think we should just stay open till midnight,” Golden said, sounding wistful. “Is it true Gavin Brown is opening a nightclub?” Vezzoli asked.
Left: Artist Mary Heilmann. Right: Filmmaker John Waters. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
That would be a logical next step from the owner of the soon-to-be-defunct bar Passerby. Brown certainly could have brought some pizzazz to the Armory Show’s VIP preview on Wednesday, when I spotted a number of dealers sitting in their booths, staring out at the aisles and hoping new clients would notice them. Out here on the river, hard by New Jersey, the pier felt more like a trading post than usual. Perhaps it’s assuming the personality of the enthusiastic new owner, Merchandise Mart Properties of Chicago, which also runs Art Chicago and the Volta and NEXT fairs, among other trade shows. Paul Morris, an Armory Show cofounder who is now the fair's vice president, was busy taking Dolce and Gabbana for a tour (he must sniff out a new sponsor around every corner), so I slipped into the VIP Lounge to meet Chris Kennedy, who was more or less born into the Mart (once owned by his grandfather, Joseph Kennedy) and who looks very much like his father, Robert F. Kennedy. “Art fairs are the future of retail,” he said flat out. The reason? Because they’re so social. Kennedy’s right.
An art fair isn’t just about the flow of money. It’s about schmoozing. Art fairs are the high school dances of the international set. Photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders spoke of his new HBO documentary about prominent black Americans—what timing!—and, in the VIP room, I met Peter Rosenthal, one of the founders of First Creative Bank, a new entity designed expressly to serve the “creative economy.” Still, this Armory, which once admitted only the freshest works, may be the least challenging in recent memory. I heard one artist call it a fair that “only a decorator could love.” More than one passerby compared it—unfavorably—with the current Biennial. Alienated by the hodgepodge, I longed for a little curatorial muscle, some celebrity outrage, a soupçon of sensuality. “Let me ask you something,” Kennedy said. “Why isn’t there more political art?”
A fair question. At Pier 94, you would never know that this was an election year, that there are new eruptions of violence in Iraq, that homes are being foreclosed, that the Chinese are killing Tibetans, or even that the US dollar is sinking. (Remember when art was sold in dollars?) In this context, the focus of the few single-artist booths (Jenny Holzer at Cheim & Read, Eleanor Antin at Ronald Feldman, Annette Lemieux at Paul Kasmin, Martin Creed at Hauser & Wirth), some of which wore politics on their sleeves, came as a major relief. Still, by the end of the day, the Armory aisles were veritable schmoozefests and the dealers were going home happy. “Art fairs shouldn’t run more than a day and a half,” dealer Rachel Lehmann whispered later.
In the last five minutes, I found collectors Don and Mera Rubell with Takashi Murakami, who makes no distinction between art and commerce, in Victoria Miro’s booth, admiring an unusual iron sculpture of a Japanese warrior by Grayson Perry, of all people. It came in an edition of five, with two left unsold. Strangely, Murakami seemed to be wondering whether he could afford one. The Rubells work faster. “Let’s just get it,” said Don to Mera, while speaking into a cell phone, though perhaps he was talking about something else.
Left: Armory Show executive director Katelijne De Backer. (Photo: Brian Sholis) Right: Artist Jenny Holzer with Sir Norman Rosenthal. (Photo: David Velasco)
Twenty minutes later, I found them already seated at the dinner Andrew Kreps and Anton Kern were hosting at Malatesta on Washington Street. Outside, film agent and collector Beth Swofford was re-creating for anyone who would listen the scene she had made the night before to get a last-minute room at the Mercer Hotel. “Not this story again!” moaned Gavin Brown. “Let her tell it!” hollered CCS Bard Hessel Museum director Tom Eccles, who must have flown uptown soon after to Iwan Wirth’s bubbling party for painter Mary Heilmann at the dealer’s multistory pad above Zwirner & Wirth. There I found Eccles in the stairwell, planting a kiss on Martin Creed’s cheek.
John Waters left early, but Rufus Wainwright came late, showing up with another heartthrob, Jörn Weisbrodt, Robert Wilson’s right-hand man. Wirth’s decorator, Ricky Clifton—“the Billy Baldwin of the art world,” quipped Vezzoli, for whom Heilmann is a new diva—gave personal tours of the house. “That Chinese table was Marlon Brando’s, those urns were Barbra Streisand’s, that moose head was Warren Beatty’s,” he said. Upstairs, in the bedroom, Heilmann was meeting some of her collectors for the first time. “I know you have something of mine, I’m just not sure what,” she told Omaha entrepreneur Phil Schrager. “I have three works by you,” he told her. “Oh,” she said. “You are a good man!” For this good woman, these days, they’re not so hard to find.
Left: Merchandise Mart properties President Christopher Kennedy. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Artist Robert Barry with dealer Yvon Lambert. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Dealer Javier Peres and art adviser Mark Fletcher. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Dealer Stefania Bortolami. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Dealer Jay Jopling. Right: Dealer Elizabeth Dee with Greene Naftali director Jay Sanders. (Photos: David Velasco)
Left: Gagosian director Stefan Ratibor with artist Aaron Young. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Collector Phillip Schrager. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: Collector Randy Slifka. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Foxy Production's Michael Gillespie and John Thomson. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Photographer Matthias Vriens and Sotheby's Tobias Meyer. Right: Dealer Carol Greene. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: Dealers Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine. Right: Musician Rufus Wainwright. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: Literary agent David Kuhn. Right: Watermill creative director Jorn Weisbrodt. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: Artist Wade Guyton. Right: Artist Joseph Kosuth. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: The Modern Institute's Toby Webster. Right: Collectors Amy Rosi and Peter Rosenthal. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: Collector Irving Blum. Right: Deitch Projects director Nicola Vassel. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)