Surveying (and Surviving) the ADAA and Armory Shows

What is there to say about February in New York? Certainly nothing in the weather to recommend it. Hmmm… Let me think… What Art Fair? What about...two Art Fairs? Or three Art Fairs! What about... five Art Fairs? Still not enough? Well, gluttony is a cardinal sin, nevertheless, there were ten Art Fairs to attend in February in New York… and two giant auctions.

And speaking of gluttony, the food at the Numero Uno Art Fair, the ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) benefit for the Henry Street Settlement, was… (how can I say this without using a superlative?) scrumptillyicious! It rained foie gras, triple crème Explorateur, Veuve Cliquot, and Belvedere. It was like the loaves and the fishes and the Wedding at Cana rolled into one, and you didn't even have to listen to some old sermon to receive these blessings. You didn't even have to buy the fancy $2,000 ticket; you got all this for the chintzy $150 one too! You couldn't get out of Le Bernardin for that.

Unfortunately, the food was the best thing about this particular fair. The problem is this: dealers can't buy anything. Most of the good stuff is already in museums or private collections. What's left is either too expensive or goes to auction.

What was there of interest at the ADAA Show? There was a very nice (though pale) yellow Diebenkorn Ocean Park on paper (it even had a teeny bit of red in it) for $800,000. This actually looked like a pretty good deal to me. An excellent later Rauschenberg that sold for about $550,000. And I'll bet had either of these been in an auction they would have sold for 15-20% higher. There were also a couple very nice Wesselmans, one from the '70s, and a small '60s Smoker that was priced at $280,000. A little high, but rare, and I'm sure there was room for negotiation.

There were two nice Joseph Cornells: one a deliquescent collage (1958) for $75,000 and one a Box Construction (either late '50s or '60s) for $675,000. Oddly, I saw another one of these with more color in the $200,000 range not too long ago. Curious. There was also a collection of small color Lichtenstein drawings from the '60s, and a mid-size de Kooning on paper for $1.2 million from the '70s. And an interesting, but not compelling, Baldessari Intersection piece for $225,000, which was on the market six months ago for $150,000. There was also a small black Rothko for about $5 million, and two 12" x 10" Warhol "Maos" for $1.75 million each. What a difference a couple years makes.

R. Crumb Movin’ On Up

One dealer had an excellent H.C. Westerman wood piece, and a number of drawings, and another dealer had a good Peter Saul. I have said in the past and will say again, that I think these outsider works, including Robert Crumb, have a long way to go price-wise. Keep watching. The problem with some of these markets – Westerman and Crumb in particular – is that the works are concentrated in a few hands, and the hands are not interested in selling. I heard one estimate that 89% of Westermans are controlled by three private collectors, and about the same for Crumb. So, good luck. Watch the obituaries.

One fancy dealer had his entire booth filled with offbeat very colorful Ad Reinhardt drawings, from $150,000 to $350,000. And he said they had all sold. I would've thought these would be about $50,000, max. What do I know? I do know I wouldn't have bought one.

Some were crazy about the newish black-and-white Sigmar Polkes on paper at $220,000; not my cup of cream, but they were completely sold out within minutes of the opening bell.

On the quirky side, there was a weird really early de Kooning, like from the '30s or something, never seen anything like it; it looked like Jean Arp meets Burgoyne Diller.

And there were these interesting little photographs by modernist painter Konrad Cramer, really inexpensive, under $10,000, and the same dealer had some cool photographs by Ralston Crawford, who made assemblages of some sort and these had something to do with them.

The next day, it was onto the Armory, a different Armory, at 55th Street and Twelfth Avenue. I'll tell you, I wasn't ready for this. Even for my jaded eyes, this was really too much. Who's buying all this stuff? There were actually 436 galleries (107 of them from Chelsea alone) exhibiting at one art fair or another last week. At this fair, you had to be alive to be exhibiting. No, smarty-pants, the artist, not the dealer.

While I was able to focus pretty easily at the ADAA show, this one completely over-whelmed me. So what does the Art Advisor do when she's overwhelmed? She takes a page from the Wall Street Journal stock-picker pundit brethren and gets out her darts!

The Art Advisor Dart Picks

1) Raqib Shaw: Using London industrial car paint and jewels, you'll be writing your charitable remainder trust by the time you get one of these, about $50,000;

2) Jenny Scobel: Draftsman-like portraits meet Jenny Saville, but no breasts, get in line

3) Deborah Kass: Pop redux, but most importantly Vincent Fremont of the Warhol Foundation is her agent, and if you don't think that means anything you should go back to collecting Majolica;

4) Bill Viola: I'm not a big video nut, but this teeny thing was like a punk Mary Magdalene and some other lady pulling a Christ-like figure out of a bath of some kind, and it really was stirring and beautiful, and I'm no sentimentalist;

5) Jonathan Monk: I liked his re-dos of Ruscha and Rothko (among others) two years ago, and I still like them;

6) Florian Sussmeyer: There was a great vertical painting of a Richteresque turntable, but with colors;

7) Christian Marclay: Really pop, small limited pieces, primary colors;

8) Candice Breitz: She takes photographs of the hotels where she stays (she's also a fellow singer) then superimposes them somehow on mirror with the words to songs etched in;

9) Linder: I'll never live this one down, but I liked them (and they were $2,000,); girlie magazine covers with petaled flowers collaged in strategic places and sometimes this was on the head;

10) Bahkti Baxter: I liked one eerie off-color portrait of a classy-looking matron with pearls;

11) Tom Sanford: Cartoon-y paintings, apparently self-portraits, Alfred E. Newmanesque, but less offensive;

12) Burt Johnson: Again, cartoon-y, I really think this cartoon-y thing is going to happen, and I see more and more evidence at these art fairs;

13) Andreas Siekman: Big yellow and red paintings, look like they have Chinese influence;

14) R. Crumb: He now has one of the biggest dealers in New York who had half his booth filled with Crumb, and who took out a full-page ad in Artforum announcing same for the February Art Show Issue;

15) Marcel Dzamas: More outsider art

Oh, and what about the twelve-ton, 28-foot-long garbage truck with the mirrors on the outside by artist Mierle Ukeles? Its thesis is: we are our garbage. Now I'm going to get in a lot of trouble if I riff on this, and I want to keep my job. Let's leave it at this: it was not for sale, but I'll bet apples to oranges if you cozy up to Mayor Bloomberg you could buy it. And just think about it, you could throw out those annoying golf clubs and develop a new hobby in the helping field.

Nothing For Something

Later, I ran over to Christie's where Jennifer Vorbach made an impressive coup by convincing Swiss dealer Pierre Huber to put his conceptual collection up for sale. The auction was 91% sold and collected $16.8M for Christie's and Mssr. Huber. And this sale included one piece by thirty-nine-year-old Martin Creed, called "Half Air of Given Space." Now you really have to have a sense of humor to appreciate that someone paid $90,000 for nothing. And I mean nothing. The "piece" came with instructions to buy 90 or so white balloons (they had to be white,) then to blow them up, and put them in an empty room.

I'm at the wrong end of this business.

In other auction news, February's London Contemporary sales totaled $297.3 million. At Christie's, $173 million of art was 98% sold to: 32% US, 63% Europe, and 5% other; at Sotheby's, $122 million of art was 81% sold to: 24% US, 60% Europe, and 11% other.