East End in the City: Art Fairs Scrambled, Not Broken

Some setbacks and pullouts did not dampen enthusiasm
An attendee at the Eric Firestone booth at the Armory Show’s Pier 90 grabbed a quick photo of a Miriam Schapiro painting. Jennifer Landes

This year there were setbacks, cancellations, new locations, and restructurings, but the shows still went on during the 2019 New York Armory Art Week.

The week’s shows were heralded by the previous week’s Art Dealers Association of America’s Art Show, which has been running a week early for the past couple of years because of a scheduling change initiated by the Armory Show. Several artists with East End connections were in evidence at the Art Show, for instance at Hirschl & Adler Modern’s booth, which featured work by Louisa Chase. Chase, who died in 2016, has a solo gallery show at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill.

The Armory Show, which previewed its 25th edition on March 6, actually occupied the Lexington Avenue armory for a couple of its early years, but since 2001 it has been at the West Side Piers, most recently at Piers 92 and 94. It found out only a few weeks ago that Pier 92 was unstable and could not be used this year. Volta, the organizer’s sister fair, which has been showing at Pier 90, was scrapped to accommodate the Armory Show’s galleries, booths, and installations displaced from Pier 92.

The crowds on both piers at the preview showed that the slight change of venue did not dampen enthusiasm. It was a cold walk from Pier 94 to Pier 90, but a shuttle was provided. Those who walked saw Leo Villareal’s “Star Ceiling” installation in the covered passageway just outside Pier 94.

In response to its members, the New Art Dealers Alliance, or NADA, decided to cancel its fair this year in order to focus on actual exhibition spaces instead. Rather than renting out booths at high prices, the New York Gallery Open initiative sponsored talks, tours, dinners, and other activities to bring those visiting for the fairs and local art lovers to the brick-and-mortar galleries that are part of the New York scene year round.

On March 5, the Spring/Break Art Show previewed its fair in a new location at 866 United Nations Plaza. For the past few years, the fair had been at the old offices of Conde Nast in the 4 Times Square building. Anyone missing that warren of intimate spaces could find comfort in the Suites section of the new exhibition area, which was on one floor and more concise. Most of the floor was devoted to unfinished and open-plan space much more akin to a typical art fair. The location on the East River echoed the Armory’s Hudson River piers. Although there was a glitch with the electricity in the days before the booths were installed, a system of cables somewhat discretely snaking through the overhead space provided enough light.

It was there that Kelcey Edwards, who has been showing art in a series of pop-up spaces for her roving Iron Gate East gallery in Southampton, had a booth addressing the show’s theme of Fact and Fiction. “The Hidden World of Objects” included the work of the painter Richard Pasquarelli and the sibling filmmakers Elan and Jonathan Bogarín. Ideas of self-presentation, family history, and the operation of individual memory or perception in creating truth and fiction were all operative.

Mr. Pascarelli’s paintings of individual objects activated videos on a phone app that provided a murky back story and meaning to his work. The Bogaríns focused on their grandmother’s house, turning the sad and exhaustive chore of cleaning out the effects of the deceased into an anthropological and archaeological dig. They used her house as both physical object and symbol in their magical-realist trek through family and personal history.

Two East Hampton galleries, Eric Firestone and Halsey McKay, had booths at the Armory Show, which closed on Sunday. Halsey McKay’s Ryan Wallace, who returned for a second year, had a prime space in the open section around the Butterfield Market cafe area in Pier 94’s Armory Presents section. The area was broken down into slightly smaller booths with a friendlier price point for emerging galleries and their artists.

In a packed and bustling booth on March 6, he was showing Matt Kenny’s realist oil paintings of Secaucus, N.J. Set in the shadow of downtown Manhattan, they depicted a landscape dominated by One World Trade Center and what it represents, even when only in partial view. And work by Graham Collins applied the classical method of casting bronze sculpture to everyday experience and mundane objects such as moldy bread, electrical cords, and toothbrushes. 

Mr. Firestone was in the Armory’s Focus section on Pier 90 with a booth devoted to Miriam Schapiro. The paintings included “Lady Gengi’s Maze” from 1972 and “Fan of Spring” from 1979. He, too, had a number of people in his booth asking questions about the art and artist on Tuesday.

The 303 Gallery of Lisa Spellman, a part-time Montauk resident, had a conspicuously large floor sculpture by Alicja Kwade and a similarly sized multi-paneled Rodney Graham light box piece, “Vacuuming the Gallery, 1949,” from last year. Also on view was work by Jeppe Hein, Kim Gordon, Matt Johnson, and Karen Kilimnik.

Taking up the “meme chose” in the “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” aphorism, Independent, a smaller fair of about 40 exhibitors, was staying put at Spring Studios on Varick Street in Tribeca, its exhibition space since 2016. Independent is tightly organized to highlight curatorial affinities across a wide range of exhibitors, from established to emerging, nonprofit, commercial, and experimental.

 There is typically not much of an East End connection in these fairs, but they are always worth attending to see relevant contemporary art in an international context. This year, however, Joel Mesler, an artist and owner of the Rental Gallery in East Hampton, was painting portraits of fairgoers for $250 each in the White Columns space.