Best of the Armory Show

A huge weekend of international art exhibitions kicks off in New York with the 2010 Armory Show, where sales were strong at America’s premier contemporary fair. VIEW OUR GALLERY.

Celebrities and collectors poured through the doors of the 2010 Armory Show when it opened to a private reception at noon on Wednesday. While recognizable faces, such as Bjork, Michael Stipe, Kyra Sedgwick, Frances McDormand, Sofia Coppola, and Jason Schwartzman, were pursued by paparazzi, major art buyers, including the Horts, Rubells, De la Cruzes, and Zabludowiczes, rushed down the aisles to make acquisitions. Any questions about the strength of the art market were put to rest as dealers began pulling out the red dots.

Click Image to View our Gallery of the 2010 Armory Show

A day earlier, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had kicked off Armory Arts Week at the Art Dealers Association of America Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory by announcing that the week of events is “expected to draw 60,000 visitors and generate nearly $44 million in economic activity,” while adamantly proclaiming “the timing couldn’t be any better.” At the heart of this art activity is the Armory Show, which holds down two massive Midtown piers on the Hudson River.

Titled after the controversial 1913 exhibit that introduced modernism to America, the 2010 show boasts 289 galleries from 31 countries this year—a long way from its humble beginnings in 1994 as the Gramercy International Art Fair, a traveling show that, for five years, set up shop in rooms at the Gramercy Hotel in New York, Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, and the Raleigh in Miami Beach.

The 12th edition of the fair is divided into two sections: The Armory Show-Modern, which has 80 exhibitors on Pier 92, and the Armory Show, offering contemporary art from 200 exhibitors on Pier 94. This year, for the first time, the fair presents Armory Focus, which features galleries from international cultural capitals. The 2010 focus is Berlin and the special exhibition includes 22 established and emerging galleries from the city’s growing art scene.

Although somewhat ghettoized in the rear of Pier 94, Armory Focus: Berlin offers a good overview of the variety of work coming out of this Mecca for young artists. Monica Baer’s paintings of spurting breasts at Galerie Barbara Weiss are both comical and provocative, while Ida Ekblad’s accumulated, abstract brushstrokes on linen are sublime. Not all of the Berlin galleries chose to stay in this neck of the fair; other Armory Show regulars, such as Galerie Eigen + Art and Galerie Michael Janssen, have better placement and stronger showings.

Eigen + Art seizes the opportunity to present a solo show of David Schnell’s energetic landscape paintings prior to their April exhibition at the Kunstverein Hannover, while Janssen’s booth is dominated by Christof Mascher’s large canvas, capturing a fantastical realm of floating heads, buildings, and trees, and Diana Al-Hadid’s fragmented sculpture that resembles a found relic from an apocalyptic past.

Group shows outnumber solo presentations, both here and on Pier 92. One of the most entertaining group hangings is the Exquisite Corpse exhibition, which benefits the modern dance company Armitage Gone! Dance. Using the 1920s surrealist parlor game cadavre exquise as the point of departure, 185 contemporary artists, including Dana Schutz, Ryan McGinness, and Louise Bourgeois, drew parts of the body on folded paper, without the knowledge of what their colleagues had done. The results are astonishing.

There are several standout solo shows on the Armory Show side. James Nares mixes beautiful paintings of giant strokes from handmade brushes with edgy videos at Paul Kasmin Gallery. Josephine Meckseper further explores the politics of display, related to her Mall of America video in the Whitney Biennial, with a striking installation of mirrors, objects, and shelves at Elizabeth Dee Gallery. Nearby, Sean Landers makes his debut with Friedrich Petzel Gallery, exhibiting a survey of paintings from the past 20 years that includes the hilarious Dance of Life, which is based on Matisse’s The Dance.

Other notable one-person exhibits on Pier 94 include Tony Feher’s poetic, table-top arrangements of found and altered objects at Pace Wildenstein; Jeremy Blake’s haunting photos and videos that mix glamour, history, and technology at Honor Fraser; Koen van den Broek’s slapdash yet incredibly controlled cityscapes at Figge von Rosen Galerie; Adam McEwen’s yellow-and-white cultural critique, complete with a painting of a swastika, at Nicole Klagsbrun; and Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s previously unseen Polaroids of strippers and street hustlers, which were selling like hotcakes, at David Zwirner.

Over at the Armory Show-Modern, resale works outnumber primary pieces. Faurschou has a major Robert Rauschenberg painting, Mirthday Man, which the artist made in 1997 as a gift to himself on his 72nd birthday. Gana Art boasts a large, red Cecily Brown canvas from the late 1990s of distorted figures engaged in a sexual romp, aptly titled The Pajama Game. And, reviving the Warhol/Basquiat friendship and rivalry, Armand Bartos Fine Art hangs one of Andy’s charming flower paintings from 1965 next to a powerful 1982 drawing by Jean-Michel of an heroic, birdlike figure, mysteriously titled Philistines Babylonians.

Not only modern, Pier 92 also packs a punch with some works fresh out of the studio. Catherine Murphy’s solo show of paintings of knots in wood, revealing themselves through painted walls and molding, at Knoedler & Company is superb. The gallery treated it like a regular one-person exhibition by going as far as printing a fully illustrated catalogue with an insightful essay. Meanwhile, Mixografia offers a striking series of prints by John Baldessari that mix letters with things that begin with them to curiously spell out the phrase “Pack My Box With Five Dozen Liquor Jugs” and Yancey Richardson shows eight photographers that view the past in considered ways.

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A lot of bang for the buck. The Armory Show, in all of its manifestations, is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking exhibition that resonates with you long after you finally rest your eyes.

Plus: Check out Art Beast, for galleries, interviews with artists, and photos from the hottest parties.

Paul Laster is the editor of, a contributing editor at and Art Asia Pacific, and a contributing writer at Time Out New York and Art in America.