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Outside the Armory Show 2003 at Pier 90

The booth of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, with works (from left) by Balkenhol, Baselitz and Katz

Martin Kippenberger
Gitana, die nicht Gudrun heissen
at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Birgit Dieker's Beasty Girl at Volker Diehl, Berlin

Chris Ofili's kissing couple at Victoria Miro, London

Torben Giehler
at Leo Koenig, New York

Rosalie Knox at Kenny Schachter Contemporary, New York

Thomas Hirschhorn
Drift Topography
at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

Sergey Shutov
Sky. . . Sky. . .
at Aidan Gallery, Moscow

Patricia Piccinini
at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
and LUVR 99 (both 2002)
Armory Show Report
by Walter Robinson

By and large, the 170 dealers were quite satisfied with the business they did at the 2003 Armory Show in New York, mounted on Piers 88 & 90 at the Hudson River, Mar. 7-10, 2002. European dealers especially came to the fair with low expectations, considering the economic doldrums -- as it happened, on Mar. 10 the NASDAQ celebrated the third anniversary of its long downward slide (from 5,048 to 1,035) -- and the threat of war in the Middle East. But business was surprisingly strong, according to most reports. Could art be a good investment after all?

"I have one word for the fair -- brilliant," said Thaddaeus Ropac, the dealer whose galleries in Salzburg and Paris specialize in top contemporary artists on the international circuit. "New York is great, the fair is really working, we sold really well," he said, gesturing to art in his booth by Stephan Balkenhol, Georg Baselitz, Antony Gormley and Alex Katz. The mural-sized Katz painting, Beach I (2002), sold for $150,000 to a European collector, though most of his clients were from the U.S., Ropac said. "We were worried when we came, because we didn't expect anything. We expected to lose money. But the opposite was true. We did as well as last year."

"We did business and we are happy," agreed Max Hetzler, the veteran German dealer who now operates his gallery in Berlin. "But first of all we wanted to show these works." On the occasion of the 50th birthday of the late and much-admired German artist Martin Kippenberger, Hetzler mounted an impressive installation of paintings that he originally exhibited more than 20 years ago in Stuttgart. On the fair's last day, the artist Joe Andoe was in the booth admiring the works. "He was having fun," Andoe said. One suite of nine smallish paintings displayed in a grid, called Gitana, die nicht Gudrun heissen (1981), was priced at $550,000.

Other hot properties from Germany included the photographer Thomas Ruff and the East German figurative expressionist Neo Rauch, whose quote is said to have soared from $60,000 to $100,000. Berlin dealer Volker Diehl sold a lifesize sculpture of a Beasty Girl covered with human hair by the 32-year-old Berlin artist Birgit Dieker for $13,000 to a San Francisco collector. "It's the unbikini wax," said Tim Hunt of the Warhol Foundation, eyeing the small Warhol hammer and sickle painting on offer at $135,000.

"It's been a great fair, because we had no expectations," noted Glenn Scott Wright, a director at Victoria Miro Gallery in London. In all, the gallery sold 41 works, largely for prices under $10,000 or over $100,000. Works on paper by Chris Ofili -- striking gouaches of exotic birds for $4,000 and passionate ebony kissing couples for $6,000 -- proved "enormously popular," he said.

The smash hit at the London gallery Interim Art was Gillian Wearing's evocative, large black-and-white Self Portrait as My Mother Jean Gregory, which went for $17,000 to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. The edition of six, with two artist's proofs, is pretty much spoken for, said dealer Maureen Paley (one print was also on display in the booth of Gorney Bravin + Lee). Paley also found buyers for two sexy photo-based paintings -- at $3,500 and $4,000 -- by Kaye Donachie, an RA grad who studied with Peter Doig and who has her second solo show at the gallery coming up in the spring.

"The fair is fantastic," said Chelsea dealer Sean Kelly. "We did extremely well." The booth included what Kelly called Robert Mapplethorpe's earliest and most important self-portrait, a 1975 gelatin silver print that is on reserve at $120,000. The Mapplethorpe estate has just come to the gallery, which plans a show in September.

Other sales by U.S. dealers included a comic Tony Oursler projection of a talking, noseless face (projected on a squashed frog-like plaster shape) for $40,000 at Metro Pictures, and a large color photograph from 2000 of a formidable curly-haired blonde in a bright blue gown by Cindy Sherman for $50,000 (in an edition of six), also at Metro Pictures.

Little Italy dealer Leo Koenig sold several works, including a colorful seven-foot-square abstraction of a geometricized landscape by Torben Giehlen, Nocturama (2003), for $16,000.

"Black is cool, pink is hot," said Sandra Gering, who reported reserves on all three of Leo Villareal's Blossom, a large tondo of glowing pink and blue LCDs priced at $20,000. Also sold out were her selection of delicate and elaborate "pop-up" books by the Seoul-born New York artist Sang-ah Choi for $500 apiece.

Down the aisle at Kenny Schachter Contemporary, whose booth was converted into a looping aluminum and mesh cave by Vito Acconci's architectural office, sales were also good -- including all three party photographs by Rosalie Knox, which went to another dealer for $1,000 each.

One notable sale by a U.S. gallery was Inka Essenhigh's large new painting, Fantasy (2002), which was bought from 303 Gallery by supercollector S.I. Newhouse for $35,000, the first time her work entered his collection. But not all of the action at the fair was happy -- Chelsea dealer Leslie Tonkonow had someone walk off in the middle of the night with the flat-screen monitor of a video work by Peter Campus. So much for all the security.

The Viennese artist Thomas Hirschhorn crafted one of the fair's showpieces, a formidable, 9 x 15 foot cardboard cityscape of tombstone-like books and packing-tape buildings, surrounded by a wall of cardboard cutouts of a U.S. soldier, which filled the booth of Barbara Gladstone Gallery. Obviously very much engaged with current events -- the work came straight to the fair from the artist's studio -- Drift Topography (2002) is priced at $120,000, with two institutions considering a purchase.

Another work that comments on the political moment was at Moscow's Aidan Gallery, a bright and graphic image of soaring F-14 fighters by the Venice Biennial veteran Sergey Shutov, which was still available for $25,000. Shutov has similar works -- featuring Russian planes -- on view at Aidan's Moscow gallery. The Russian dealer also noted much interest from collectors and museums in Rauf Mamedov's lifesize Adam & Eve photographs, which are made using inmates of a mental hospital as models. "Come to Art Moscow, opening Apr. 22," said Aidan, The five-day fair is held in the Central Palace of Artists by Gorky Park.

Among the new works at the fair were several by Patricia Piccinini at the booth of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, which are concerned "with a certain melding of human and machine," said Australian dealer Tony Oxley. Piccinini, who was born in Sierra Leone and has an Italian father, makes sculptures and wall reliefs that combine the painting techniques of hot rod styling with a 21st-century notion of the cyborg. Hot HSV, for instance, features airbrush images of cruising Australian teens on a streamlined, high-gloss enamel "car nugget." The price is a bargain at $6,000, especially considering that Piccinini is slated to be in the Australian pavilion at Venice this summer. "She's the most popular artist in Australia right now," said Roslyn Oxley.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.