Pier Pressure

Pier Pressure
One of the first artworks you see when you enter the tenth edition of the Armory Show, New York’s annual fair for the newest and edgiest global art from a bevy of international dealers, is what appears to be a furry creature made from pelts of various animals wearing, around its neck, a thick gold chain in the style of rappers. A sculpture by Edward Lipski at the booth of Bob van Orsouw, it is, I'm told, a comment on luxury. Another of the artworks one first encounters is a small drawing by wry cartoonist R Crumb that depicts a buxom young lady emitting the speech bubble "I look well-rested today, don't ya think so?" The two pieces seem appropriate to the somewhat schizophrenic mood in New York at the moment. In the aftermath of the Bear Stearns debacle, dealers are wondering what the future holds—and trying to put an attractive face on things. Meanwhile a certain bling quotient is still with us.   

Maybe such worries are unnecessary, however. Barely had the noon VIP preview begun than a collector snapped up a large 2002 painting by Daniel Richter at the booth of Berlin dealer Contemporary Fine Arts for a cool €450,000 ($712,000). In Chelsea, some blocks south of the Armory, a show of new work by Richter has just opened at David Zwirner Gallery. Meanwhile over at PaceWildensteins booth, brisk business was being done in works by Tara Donovan, Michal Rovner, and Richard Tuttle; the latter’s diminutive sculpture on one wall had been swapped in for two others that had already sold.

And the art world was out in full force. Strolling down the aisles were Miami collectors Mera and Donald Rubell, New York collectors Susan and Michael Hort, and many more. Todd Levin, curator for hedge fund honcho Adam Sender, chatted with dealer Mirabelle Marden of Rivington Arms gallery. Curator Philippe Vergne of the Walker Art Center checked out the Grayson Perry ceramics at Victoria Miro. Artist Joseph Kosuth stood next to his work at Sean Kellys booth. Sothebys Lisa Dennison scribbled notes near the lobby. John Waters, who along with Mary Heilman designed the visual identity for the fair, greeted friends in the VIP lounge. Collector and art publisher Peter Brant talked up Easy Rider Dennis Hopper. Artist Annette Lemieux's installation at Paul Kasmin featured the serving of fresh pieces, and collector Steve Shane was one of the many to indulge.

Mixed in with the sales and celebrity sightings was some breaking news. Hanging in front of Lehmann Maupins booth like a trophy is a large new painting by Hernan Bas, announcing that the wunderkind Miami artist has indeed, as had been rumored in the art world, left his longtime New York dealer Daniel Reich. According to Rachel Lehmann, Bas will have his first solo show with the gallery in 2009, and the painting is on reserve to a museum, in the range of $90,000-120,000.

There were bigger ticket items, too. Over at White Cube's booth, a diorama from Jake and Dinos Chapmans series “Hell” was on reserve at £650,000.

Not everyone at the preview came to buy, but all had plenty to gawk at. At Hauser & Wirth, prankster Martin Creed has installed a concert pianist at an upright piano and asked her to play scales, note by note, for the duration of the fair. You'd think the artist had been hired for his expertise in interrogation techniques.

Also at Hauser & Wirth, Christoph Buchel is still getting his kicks out of the court ruling against him in the Mass Moca lawsuit. He installed a recording of a child reading the judge’s decision on a continuously playing iPod, which was placed inside a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll with moving jaw. That’ll show ’em! It’s $50,000.

Thomas Hirschhorns massive installation at Arndt & Partner is a platform out of which jut mannequin hands clutching books and tools (a saw and hammer). The recently deceased Norman Mailer gets a nod—one of the hands grips his book Prisoner of Sex. Speaking of which, let it be said that the Armory, though tamer this year than in past editions, is never without its share of raunchiness. Several dealers seemed to get a kick out of having their racier material face the aisles, whether it was a painting of an orgy by Richard Phillips at Friedrich Petzel or a photograph of a woman’s all but bare behind by Thomas Ruff at Galerie Mai 36.

Despite sales and reserves rolling in and the mood of excitement, dealers were realistic. “How is this year different from last?” I asked Zach Feuer, who had already closed deals on works by Anton Henning and Justin Lieberman. "More nervous," he conceded.

Stay tuned.