Confessions of an Art Fair Newbie During Armory Week

This is what Armory Week is like for a first-time fair-goer.

The author at the Armory Show. Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.
The author at the Armory Show.
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Newly-minted members of the art world might sometimes feel lost at sea during Armory Week. As artnet News’s Sarah Cascone puts it, “the list of openings, events, and fairs at times seems never-ending.” If you can relate, rest assured: You aren’t alone.

To name a few, this year’s itinerary includes a critically acclaimed edition of the Independent Art Fair; a pleasantly diverse iteration of VOLTA; and, of course, the Armory Show, the week’s eponymous crown jewel. As a result, each fair feels like its own distinct node in a sprawling, self-perpetuating constellation, orbited by peripheral nebulae of events, talks, and parties.

General impressions aside, this is all to say that there’s a lot of ground to cover—even for a veteran. And, for a first-time fair-goer, navigating it all can definitely get a little tricky.

As the newest member of the artnet News team, I was tasked with offering some green-eared observations about the week’s events: Some elicited awe, others demanded a momentary pause, and the rest invariably left me wondering if the drinks were free.

Independent 2016.Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Independent 2016.
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

1. VIP passes get you in, but other perks might fall a little flat.
Different passes at different fairs come with different perks. While VIP cards grant admission across the board, other amenities might not always live up to expectations. In a conversation I overheard at Art on Paper’s private opening, a fair-goer, disappointed at the cash bar, asked the bartender what the VIP card gets you. His answer probably speaks for most of us: “I’m not really sure.”

Ota Fine Arts from Tokyo, Singapore at the Armory (2016).<br>Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Ota Fine Arts from Tokyo, Singapore at the Armory (2016).
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

2. International galleries bring a taste of the wider art universe.
An exciting part of navigating the sprawl involves seeing works presented by international galleries. The opportunity to peer into the art scene beyond the Western market doesn’t come every day, and the artists you’ll find, like Yeesookyung at Tokyo’s Ota Fine Arts and Ato Malinda at Nairobi’s Circle Art Gallery, can be among your personal favorite Armory Week-discoveries.

Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of Philip III (2016) at Sean Kelly. Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of Prince Tommaso of Savoy-Carignan (2015) at Roberts & Tilton.
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

3. Artists with bigger names get more real estate.
This may be an obvious observation given that blockbuster artists are likelier to move the needle, but it still deserves mention. While recognizable works by Kehinde Wiley and Alex Katz are sure to draw crowds, they can also become repetitive. What’s more, their accessible albeit enormous presence leaves less space for, and may eclipse deserving new artists.

From left: Russell Tovey, John Waters, and Neil Patrick-Harris (2016).<br>Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet.

From left: Russell Tovey, John Waters, and Neil Patrick-Harris (2016).
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet.

4. Try not to get starstruck by celebrity collectors.
That A-listers are mainstays at these events is no secret, but it’s still easy to get distracted. So if you happen to come across a celebrity, it’s worth remembering that they’re just another collector looking for a work of art to fall in love with. “I’m looking for something to ping out at me, but in the meantime, I love these fairs because you see what all the artists are up to,” actor Russell Tovey told me.

Derick Adams's curated space at Volta (2016).Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Doreen Garner’s sculpture at Derick Adams’s curated space at VOLTA (2016).
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

5. Amid a maze of booths, special sections can be a welcome change.
Derrick Adams‘s curated space at VOLTA is a big part of the fair’s charm. It’s hard to miss, with Doreen Garner‘s irresistible sculpture taking center stage. The space is further distinguished by the section’s clearly-defined wall enclosures and striking fuchsia carpet. Titled “Something I Can Feel,” the show casts a spotlight on nine emerging artists and feels intentionally-designed to stand apart—and that’s a good thing.

artnet News's Eileen Kinsella with Mike Simi's <em>-100</em> at VOLTA (2016).<br /> Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

artnet News’s Eileen Kinsella with Mike Simi’s -100 at VOLTA (2016).
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

6. You’re not going to make it to everything.
Let it be known: There really is only so much time in each day. So if you start feeling a little dazed after hours on the fair circuit, it’s probably time to head home. But don’t worry, TEFAF and Art Basel Hong Kong are just around the corner.


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