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by Walter Robinson
New York City Mayor-for-Life Mike Bloomberg (as Gawker calls him) put in a star turn at the podium to kick off the 22nd edition of the Art Dealers Association of America Art Show, Mar. 3-7, 2010, at the nicely renovated Park Avenue Armory. The charismatic billionaire, clearly a fan of art and tourism both, not only mentioned by name all 12 art fairs opening here this week (even Red Dot and Fountain) but also plugged Bloomingdale’s, which is apparently having a 15-percent-off sale in honor of Armory Arts Week.

All this art business, Bloomberg went on to say, generates $44 million in economic activity and adds $1.8 million to the city tax coffers. "New York is the arts capital of the world, the fashion capital, the finance capital," he said (in so many words). "That’s why we’ve been able to weather the recession, because the city attracts talented people." Mayor Mike even closed with a plug for a big Antony Gormley project -- the British artist is installing 31 life-sized figures in Madison Square Park and on the rooftops of surrounding buildings -- that opens later this month.

But back to the art show at hand. Even as workers hurried to finish installing the sedate gray carpeting over the Armory’s weathered parquet floor, it was easy to see that the Art Show was going to be, once again, a class act. Whatever its balance between cutting-edge contemporary and classic modern -- and the show seems to include a good measure of both -- the overall impression given by booth after booth was one of sophisticated restraint. This aristocratic effect was especially pronounced when the installation included fancy modern furniture, as if to say: This is the way to live.

Solo shows by contemporary artists dominate, as has been the case in recent years, with almost 20 of the show’s 70 dealers devoting their booths to single artists. The Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe, making its inaugural Art Show appearance, features the conceptualist neo-Art Brut of Matt Johnson, while the Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s stand is filled with brightly colored, Stuart Davis-like abstractions by 86-year-old Paris-based American painter Shirley Jaffe. Jaffe’s paintings are priced between $24,000 and $70,000.

Still more solos go to James Brooks (Greenberg Van Doren), April Gornik (Danese), Alex Hay (Peter Freeman), William Kentridge (Marian Goodman), Paul Manship (Conner & Rosenkranz), Henry Moore (Lillian Heidenberg), Albert Oehlen (Luhring Augustine), Roxy Paine (James Cohan), David Rabinowitch (Peter Blum), Nancy Spero (Galerie Lelong) and Fred Wilson (PaceWildenstein).

The alternate strategy of our perhaps too-rationalized art-fair age is to devote booths to theme shows, such as "Marsden Hartley & Some Other Stieglitz Artists" at Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, and "Pop Art & the 1960s" at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. Among the works in the latter show are George Segal’s intensely humanist Girl Drying Her Knee (1973) and a kind of in-joke by Walter De Maria, a triangular stainless steel rod from 1966 etched with  "Broadway Bob Scull," a reference to the taxicab magnate and early Pop Art collector. The works are priced at around $350,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Other highlights include the wall of truncated phrases, like "Over the Rainbow" and "If. . . ," made in mirrored poured glass by Rob Wynne, on offer at the booth of Vivian Horan Fine Art for prices between $6,000 and $25,000. An untitled medallion-like bronze from 1964 by Dorothy Dehner, the wife of David Smith, is only $35,000 at Kraushaar Galleries, while Pace/MacGill has Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s 2000 portrait of a rabbi in shadows -- the image that prompted an unsuccessful lawsuit from the photo’s subject, alleging invasion of privacy -- available for $125,00 (edition of ten).

And at the booth of D’Amelio Terras, which is devoted to works on paper by gallery artists and others, are new drawings by Roland Flexner, quickly made by tracing a pattern into liquid graphite floating on the surface of a pan of water and dipping a sheet of paper into it. These evocative and detailed neo-Surrealist landscapes are $4,500 each.

Only a few dealers remain who offer classic moderns, such as Acquavella Galleries, whose booth boasts Gustave Courbet’s legendary Portrait of Countess Karoly (1865) along with a lovely view of the Tuilleries by Camille Pissarro and a subdued Georges Braque cardboard collage featuring the tenora, a folk woodwind (priced at $2.5 million and $3 million, respectively). 

Your dallying correspondent was only able to survey three of the show’s four aisles before being hustled out of the all-too-brief press preview at noon. Among the attractions I must return to see are "Art from 291" at Zabriskie Gallery and the solo show of paintings and works on paper by Charline von Heyl at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Regular admission to the fair is $20.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.