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by Walter Robinson
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With at least a dozen art fairs in New York City opening this week, it’s hard not to feel exhausted before you even get started. One big advantage of the new fair of video art, dubbed Moving Image and opening tomorrow over at the Tunnel on 11th Avenue in Chelsea, is that you presumably get to sit down to watch the monitors.

Otherwise, it’s one long stroll. No fair is more amenable to this approach than the Art Show, Mar. 2-6, 2011, at the Park Avenue Armory, now in its 23rd year, courtesy the Art Dealers Association of America. For all you art-fair haters out there, it’s easier than you might think to have a good time: You just walk around, look at artworks, and chat with gallery staff and your friends.

Some celebrities may have shown up last night at the vernissage, but I didn’t see any, unless we’re counting Christo and Peter Max. A few other artists were on hand, not least the abstract painter David Reed, who was giving a last, dare-I-say-anxious eye to the solo show of his beautiful “Color Studies” paintings on paper at Peter Blum.

“Walter likes to embarrass me,” David said. I’m sure I don’t know what he meant. The small, framed works, which appear to be made almost magically with some kind of squeegee, and which sometimes include extensive diaristic notations, are a bargain at around $5,500 each.

It’s worth remembering that the Art Show is a charity benefiting the Henry Street Settlement, which gets the proceeds from admissions ($20) as well as the gala preview. This arrangement prompts a certain stinginess with free admission tickets, and one dealer was heard to grumble that his gallery only had three complimentary passes to hand out to its clients. “The show could be run a little bit more like a real art fair,” he complained.

The much-larger Armory Show, Mar. 3-6, 2011, with some 275 dealers from around the world, is not so restrained, as it is a purely commercial enterprise owned by Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago. Admission is $30, but the general feeling is that the city is well-papered with free tickets.

The Merch Mart brain trust also wisely set up an Armory Arts Week website, as if to bring the whole art scene under its brand. Innocent or not, the move seems part and parcel of a burgeoning fair empire in growth mode (a new one, called Art Platform - Los Angeles is being launched later this year, Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2011).

Make no mistake, though, in addition to its charitable purposes, the Art Show is a commercial fair. One development of the digital age is the quick dispersal of good news, that is, reports of sales sent via email. Pace Gallery, for instance, noted just this morning that more than a dozen small-scale ash paintings by Zhang Huan had sold for between $75,000 and $100,000, all within the first hour of the preview.

Similarly, Sperone Westwater announced in an email that the gallery had sold Otto Piene’s Nachtsonne (The Moon upon Which It Depends) from 1964-65 for $400,000. A large minimalist painting of a light circle against a dark rectangular ground, Nachtsonne could also depict a smoky moon in the night sky.

Meanwhile, for those actually present at the Park Avenue Armory gala, the event was enlivened by a performance by Colette -- officially, a Mademoiselle Lumière Apparition -- who had works at the booth of Pavel Zoubok Gallery, the Fluxus collage specialist who is a new ADAA member as well as a new Art Show exhibitor. Dressed in a ruched white satin gown complete with train, Colette posed like a statue for 30 minutes, holding an oversized white “pearl” in one hand and occasionally shifting position.

My partner in crime for the evening, the art restorer Lisa Rosen (my wife), favors figurative works of consummate skill (though her taste also has its surprises), and she noted several times her approval for the pair of oversized busts done in smooth white alabaster by Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa on view in the booth of Galerie Lelong. Dubbed Irma IV and Allegria I, both 2009, the sculptures prefigure the installation of Echo, a 44-foot-tall example from the series, in Madison Square Park, May 5-Aug. 14, 2011. Only one alabaster sculpture was available at the Art Show, for something like $275,000.

My wife also marveled at the expressive Self-Portrait in Black from 1959 by the Austrian artist Marie-Louise von Motesiczky at the booth of Galerie St. Etienne. The price is $225,000. Nicknamed Piz (peetz), von Motesiczky studied with Max Beckmann and set up her studio in Berlin in 1928, living there as a “a privileged libertine” (according to the gallery brochure) before fleeing to England in 1939. Since her death in 1996, her work has been the subject of a traveling retrospective in England and Europe, 2006-07, and a thorough exhibition at Galerie St. Etienne in 2010.

“I saw that show,” Lisa said. “I told you about it, but I don’t think you were listening.”

At the booth of Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects were several color 8 x 10s from Laurel Nakadate’s series, “365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears,” which is also currently garnering good reviews out at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City. It’s a good reprise of 1970s Body Art, made all the more interesting because the idea behind everyday life, of course, is to avoid constantly breaking down in tears. Small prints are priced at $1,500, while a complete set of all 365 photos is $40,000. The large prints out at PS1 are $15,000 each.

I’ve known Leslie at least since she ran a gallery in the East Village in the 1980s called Art City. “I read Artnet Magazine every day,” she proclaimed. “Even though I’m almost never in it.” Well, that’s something we have got to fix.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.