Hidden Gems at Armory Show Modern

NEW YORK — The sixth edition of The Armory Show-Modern at Pier 92 opened to the general public on Thursday with a select roster of 59 galleries from eight countries and representing the calmer and quieter side of art fair viewing.


Compared to the frothier and noisier Contemporary section on Pier 94 that boasts 146 galleries from 27 countries, including Hungary and Saudi Arabia, the Modern pier is a kind of hidden gem for those hunting more unusual fare of primarily 20th-century works.

For the first time, fair organizers initiated a selection committee to vet the Modern section in an effort to weed out lesser contenders.

Generally, it seemed to work, as evidenced by the high quality of material at New York/Berlin’s Moeller Fine Art, including “La Danse de l’ours (Barque a voile),” a rare Italian Futurist pastel on paper, from 1914, by Gino Severini priced at $1.35 million.

“I do Art Basel in Basel, Art Cologne, and the ADAA Art Show since 1989,” said Achim Moeller, “and this is our first time here because it’s so much livelier.”

Moeller said he harvested considerable interest on a number of important works on the stand, including an early Paris painting by Lionel Feininger and a rare combination of a copper plate and etching on woven paper by David Smith, from 1941. “But I don’t want to talk about a sale until the money is in the kitty.”

A little later, the Smith duo, “Women in War,” was no longer on display so it seemed as if the Moeller kitty was satisfied in the region of the $60,000 asking price.

Though most of the works on view would be considered contemporary, Marlborough Gallery racked up a number of early sales, including a sold out edition of nine small scaled, 11 ½-inch high bronzes by Tom Otterness, “Kissing Couple,” from 2013, that sold in the $50,000 a piece range.

“Sad Sphere,” a unique Otterness stainless steel sculpture on an irregular shaped limestone block from 2014, depicting one of his figurative characters bent over with his hands cupped over his eyes, sold for around $140,000

The gallery also sold Spanish master Juan Genoves’s “Arida,” from 2013, comprised of multiple figures in motion captured in blobs of acrylic paint and sawdust in excess of $100,000.

At New York’s Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art, just a stone’s throw from the Severini, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s fiercely rendered “Untitled” head, drawn in a blood red hue on sketchpad paper, from 1982-83, sold for $300,000 to a New York-based Basquiat collector. The gallery also sold a small-scale Helen Frankenthaler oil on canvas, from 1963, in the $100,000 range. “There was a very good crowd of serous collectors yesterday,” opined the dealer, “not the sort of window dressing and shopping crowd.”

Pace Prints also made a number of early sales, led by Chuck Close’s iconic “Self-Portrait,” from 2014, an 84 color woodcut at an asking price of $30,000; Pat Steir’s abstract “Panther” silkscreen, from 2013, at $17,500; Will Cotton’s figurative, 60- by 40-inch “Dessert Skirt,” a hand colored mono-print for $16,500; and Louise Nevelson’s “Dawnscape,” from 1975, a handsome, all-white relief in handmade paper for $15,000.

“It’s fascinating,” said Richard Solomon, president of Pace Prints, “how many New Yorkers we see here who don’t come to the gallery and we’re just 10 blocks away… It’s one of the biggest ironies in life, traveling 10 blocks in order to do business, considering the rents we’re paying on 57th Street.”

Solomon described his preference for Pier 92. “We do it up here because I personally like the calm atmosphere of Pier 92 and we have more space than we would at Pier 94. It’s a much quieter mood up here, more look and see than just running by.”

There was plenty to take in at New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, including a major and early John Mason ceramic sculpture from 1960 and significant examples of still lesser known American masters, including Beauford Delaney and Ruth Asawa, as well as a prime work by Alfonso Ossorio from 1958 and several oil on canvas examples by Richard Pousette-Dart.

Rosenfeld sold a beautiful Theodoros Stamos abstract landscape painting, “Listening Hills,” from 1949, executed in oil on Masonite and measuring 24- by 30-inches in the region of the $165,000 asking price.

“It’s a real masterpiece, “ said Michael Rosenfeld. “It’s the best Stamos I’ve ever had.” 

As Rosenfeld observed, “We have a lot of things here nobody else has at the fair.”

Abstract works were also in evidence at Munich’s Galerie Thomas Modern as the pristine and stunning Imi Knoebel diptych, “Anima Mundi 302,” from 2013, in acrylic on aluminum, each panel measuring 14 ½- by 11 3/7-inches, sold to an American collector in the $50,000 range.

Zao Wou-Ki untitled watercolor from 1972 sold for just under $100,000 to a collector from Beijing and a Gerhard Richter multiple, “Schwarz, Rot, Gold,” representing the German flag, sold for $23,500.

“So far, we’ve sold smaller things,” said dealer Silke Thomas, “and a number of bigger things are pending. It seems we never have clients who make up their minds on the big things,” she joked. “Let’s see what happens during the rest of the week.”

Even with relatively light traffic, the Modern section offered a non-commercial amenity, the crisply curated, salon-like exhibition “Venus Drawn Out: 20th Century Works by Great Women Artists,” with some 40 works on paper plus several commissioned special projects, organized by independent New York curator Susan Harris.

Dominating purple painted walls by a lounge area on Pier 92, the collage-like scope of work, ranging from Georgia O’Keeffe and Alice Neel to Lee Bontecu and Elaine de Kooning, was a kind of connoisseur’s respite from price points and hard bargaining.