Anderson Cooper, Steve Martin Hit Armory as Black Artists Dazzle

  • `There's money out here,' New York fair's new director says
  • Event provides market test amid signs of a potential decline

Dana Lixenberg's portraits of residents of the Imperial Courts housing project in Los Angeles at the Armory Show.

Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

A pair of 7-foot-tall collages depicting room interiors and a pensive-looking black woman in a yellow sleeveless dress caught the attention of Armory Show visitors such as CNN anchor Anderson Cooper on Wednesday afternoon.

The 2016 diptych by Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, the centerpiece of Victoria Miro gallery’s booth at the New York show, was priced at $75,000 and sold to a museum.

Anderson Cooper

Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

Art was moving briskly during the VIP opening of the Armory Show, the annual trade event featuring about 200 international galleries spread over two Hudson River piers. The crowd of collectors, curators, celebrities and industry executives included billionaire Eli Broad, longtime art buyers Mera and Don Rubell, entertainer Steve Martin and Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art.

“There’s money out here,” said Benjamin Genocchio, the fair’s new director, as collectors poured into the VIP lounge. “The reason why the Armory Show has survived is because it’s the largest fair in the world’s biggest art market. That’s why the sales have been strong and consistent.”

The buoyant start followed a muted opening across town for the annual Art Show organized by the Art Dealers Association of America on March 1. The stakes are high: Armory Arts Week -- with at least eight fairs anchored by the Armory Show’s 22nd edition -- is 2016’s first big test of sales on the fair circuit, an expanding business in recent years. Auction sales have fallen this year amid roiling financial markets and declining oil prices, spurring concerns that the art market may be weakening.

Flowing River

On Wednesday, buyers shrugged off those issues and went shopping.

“Contemporary art is like a river,” Mera Rubell said. “It always flows. It doesn’t stop for anything. If you want to check out, it’s at your own risk.”

Equestrian Portrait of Philip III by Kehinde Wiley

Source: Max Yawney via Sean Kelly, New York

Works by black artists and of black subjects were popular with collectors, highlighted by this year’s special section devoted to Africa and the African diaspora.

Billowing piles of white fiber used for carpet weaving in Tanzania, sculpted by the Armory-commissioned artist Kapwani Kiwanga, were shown in the Focus section by Galerie Poggi from Paris and Galerie Tanja Wagner from Berlin. One piece, priced at $10,000, sold on the first day.

At Victoria Miro’s booth, the show-stopper was Crosby’s diptych occupying almost 120 square feet of wall space. The work was “a vivid and cunning conflation of drawing, collage, photography and painting that fuses memory, history, reflection and desire,” said Matthew Armstrong, curator of financier Don Marron’s collection.

James Cohan Gallery quickly sold a large mixed-media painting, accented with black-and-white striped fake fur, by American artist Trenton Doyle Hancock for $80,000. Ethiopian Elias Sime’s collage made with electronic waste -- braided wires and motherboards -- sold for $90,000.

Pink Suit

Nearby, Jack Shainman Gallery sold a small 1991 painting of a black face with golden halo by Kerry James Marshall, who will have a solo exhibition at the new Met Breuer building later this year, for $250,000. Barkley Hendricks’s Pop-inspired painting “Photo Bloke,” depicting a sleek black man in pink suit on pink background, sold for $200,000.

Photo Bloke by Barkley Hendricks

Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

“I could have sold it a 100 times,” Shainman said.

Amsterdam’s Grimm Gallery sold three photographs by Dana Lixenberg of black residents of the Imperial Courts housing project in Los Angeles, each priced at 6,000 euros ($6,600). Zurich’s Galerie Eva Presenhuber placed two paintings by Los Angeles-based Henry Taylor for $60,000 and $35,000. New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery sold Kehinde Wiley’s 9.5-by-10-foot painting “Equestrian Portrait of Philip III,” depicting a black man on a white horse, for $300,000.

The Stevenson Gallery from Cape Town and Johannesburg had success with Zanele Muholi’s black-and-white photograph of a black woman with ropes around her neck and a stool on her head, selling out an edition of eight with each piece priced at $6,500.

“It’s been very busy,” said director Joost Bosland.

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