Manhattan's armories reopen for art

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Feb. 22, 2002 at 2:44 PM
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NEW YORK, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Manhattan's two armories, reactivated by the National Guard for military use after Sept. 11, reopened this week to business as usual as venues for top art and antiques fairs for dealers across the nation and abroad.

Untold millions of dollars were lost by fair promoters, exhibiting dealers, and several social services charities that benefit from ticket sales as a result of the closing of the state-owned armories to commercial renters after the destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers.

Some of the fairs were transferred from the 7th Regiment Armory on Park Avenue and the 69th Regiment Armory on lower Lexington Avenue to the Hilton Hotel, Hudson River piers, the Javits Convention Center, and even a tent at Lincoln Center. Others were cancelled.

Business was not as good at alternate show places, exhibitors reported, and the downslide in the economy didn't help.

"It has been an enormous trial for everyone," said Sanford Smith, a national art fair organizer who moved his annual Modernism Show last November to the Hasbro toy showroom and canceled his January Decorative Arts Fair. "But we have to move on, learn to move quickly, and honor all our commitments."

Smith said he repaid all dealer deposits in full, using $200,000 of his own money, and hadn't taken a salary check in months so he could keep his staff intact.

"The private dealers have suffered the most and my sympathy is with them," Smith said. "The good news is that the Park Avenue Armory is open again and our Works on Paper Show will take place there in its original location Feb. 28-March 4."

The armory on Park Avenue reopened Thursday with the prestigious 14th annual Art Dealers Association of America's show, marking the 40th anniversary of the organization's founding. Seventy dealers from all over the country are exhibiting paintings, prints, and sculpture from the Renaissance through the Modern era through Monday.

The Lexington Avenue Armory reopened Friday with the annual Gramercy Garden Antiques Show featuring the garden furniture, fountains, gazebos, planters, and plants of 80 dealers and nurseries. This show is managed by Irene Stella who overseas 19 fairs annually across the nation.

A tour of the Park Avenue Armory fair proved that it offers something for almost any collector, except those who specialize in antiquities and Asian art, and for almost any well-lined pocketbook.

Prices start in the four figures such as the Fischbach Gallery's asking price of $7,500 for one of Argentine-American artist Victoria Gitman's recent surrealist conceits, a postcard size copy of Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra da'Benci in the National Gallery collection in Washington, D.C.

In the top range, prices are well into seven figures. Art dealer David Tunick is asking $1.7 million Rembrandt's 1653 dry point etching of Christ on the cross between two thieves, considered one of his most "modern" works because of its abstract qualities. Tunick said he paid a world auction record for a Rembrandt print of $990,000 when he bought the work in 1990.

At all art fairs, one artist rises to the surface with more works on display at various booths than any other.

At this ADAA show it is Marsden Hartley, the early 20th century Maine-born abstract expressionist, whose paintings are all over the armory. The best is a brilliantly colored orchestration titled "Mountain No. 19," a depiction of New England fall foliage painted in 1930 and offered by dealer Barbara Mathes for $1.2 million.

One of the rarest works is a previously unknown Andy Warhol sketch on paper for sale at C & M Arts. It is Warhol's drawing of Chairman Mao, not for his familiar silkscreen print of the Chinese leader but for a 1973 wallpaper design using the image. It bears a price tag of $300,000. Equally rare is a portfolio of 20 Henri Matisse prints based on collages and cut paper designs at Tunick's booth priced at $250,000.

The oddest and the most striking object at the fair is a seven-foot high, two-handled ceramic urn glazed in brilliant colors depicting several men and titled "Amphora, Men in Power Suits." It was created last year by American artist Viola Frey and is priced by dealer Nancy Hoffman at $65,000. Just the thing for the executive suite.

Other arresting exhibits include a recent Cibachrome photo diptych of barren trees standing in front of a skyscraper under construction by Stephane Couturier, $25,000, 1967 abstract oil, Yasumasa Yokimura's fantastic round portrait of himself dressed up as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in a frame of glittering metal funeral flowers, $75,000, and Alexander Archipenko's floating torso in space wrought of bronze with a wonderful green patina, $350,000.

Pace Wildenstein gallery is presenting a one-man exhibition of paintings, sculptures and works on paper by caricaturist Saul Steinberg, and Gallery Lelong is showing new portrait drawings by David Hockney illustrating his use of the Old Master's technique of camera obscura images. Surprisingly few works are related to the Twin Towers tragedy.

However, Robert Rauschenberg, the noted Pop artist, has created an image of the Statue of Liberty holding the Twin Towers by the inject paint process as a fund-raiser for the Robin Hood Relief Fund helping the families of the Sept. 11 victims. It is valued at $1.5 million.

And Yvonne Jacquette, who specializes in beautiful aerial photo views taken from airplanes and skyscrapers, is represented by "World Trade Center II, Southeast View" showing New York's Upper Harbor from one of the Twin Towers just before its destruction. It is priced at $50,000.

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