Editors Picks: Armory Show Preview

Galleries were closing, auction houses were downsizing, fairs had grown kind and gentle. A week or two ago, winter 2008–09 looked like a season to forget for the art market, dominated by frozen credit markets, sobering sales figures, and the threat of all-out financial panic. Then along came Yves Saint Laurent. On three successive days in Paris’s Grand Palais, the heavy arms of auction bidders found new buoyancy as they were thrust in the air again and again in a frenzy that recalled the boom days of yore. Once the orgy was over, the 733-lot sale had earned a staggering $484 million, nearly double its presale low estimate.

It remains to be seen whether the Yves Saint Laurent sale represents a sighting of the groundhog or a curious footnote in the continuing decline of the art market. Another question is whether the success will have any impact on the newly tepid contemporary art market; Saint Laurent, after all, collected antiquities, decorative arts, and Impressionist and modern masters — his tastes were classical, not cutting-edge. This week’s Armory Show, the market’s first big post–Saint Laurent test and New York’s most important fair of the year, will go a long way toward answering both of those questions.

This 2009 edition, which runs March 5–8 with a preview on March 4, features some 245 booths. It’s an expanded roster from years past, with the fair, housed as usual at Pier 94, having also taken over the adjacent Pier 92, where it will host Armory Modern, a show dedicated to modern art and photography. One hundred seventy-seven exhibitors will be in the main Armory Show, and 68 more in Armory Modern. Despite the big numbers, the fair has reason for cautious expectations. It had lost several prominent New York galleries in recent editions — before the recession, that is  — including Marian Goodman, Barbara Gladstone, and Larry Gagosian. And this year, for the first time, the fair will be without Matthew Marks, who co-founded it in 1994, during the last art market recession. Marks is one of several presumably economy-related dropouts.

But regardless of the sales tallies at the end of the week, one thing is certain: The Armory is one of the best art exhibits in New York. The following slide show presents 36 standout works from as many galleries that will be available in the Armory Show’s main section. It’s a chance both to scan the offerings for great buys and to preview one of the most varied, intriguing shows of new art that you’ll have a chance to see in 2009.

Click on photo gallery above for a slide show of highlights from the Armory Show. And click here for a slide show of works in the inaugural Armory Modern section.