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by Walter Robinson
There’s a new Acura MDX on the floor at Art(212), the first art fair of the New York fall season, with 70-plus exhibitors set up at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 26th Street, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2006. With 253-HP V6 and all-wheel drive, the sleek black SUV -- actually, it’s an "RDX," the MDX comes out in October -- has a base sticker price of $37,125 and sells fully loaded in the mid-$40s. In comparison to top contemporary art prices, the wheels are a deal.

"I’d love to have the car," said artist Christoph Draeger, the photographer and filmmaker who was recently in Birmingham, England shooting a video inspired by the nightclub scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). "I’m willing to trade my art for the car, a small piece," he said. Draeger expects to show his new work next year at Roebling Hall in New York.

New York artist Joe Lewis was also eyeing the auto. "It’s a black thing," he said dryly, when asked for a comment. Lewis had several new digital prints in the nearby booth of Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, exotically decorative goblets constructed Rorschach-style from fashion imagery. They’re $3,000 each, in editions of five.

Black is always a fashionable color for artists. Dominating the booth of Magnus Müller from Berlin is Minnesota artist Chris Larson’s rocking sculpture of a Black Piano (2006), made in rough-hewn timber painted flat black. It’s hollow -- a wooden façade. The object can be yours for $18,000. Müller himself was missing in action -- he’s at Berlin Art Forum, which opens this week -- but his Art(212) booth was manned by dealer-for-hire Richard Stewart.

Gallerist Rebecca Ibel from Columbus, Ohio, whose booth was at the other side of the room, hadn’t yet seen the Acura, but she knows all about black. "Art dealers wear black to let the art have all the color and sex appeal," she said. Her booth featured works by two New York artists, neo-Impressionist water lily paintings by Robert Harms, who lives on a pond in Southampton (priced in the $9,000-$14,000 range), and blown-glass sculptures in the shape of mushrooms by Rob Wynne (starting at $4,000). One of his glass teardrops can be yours for $1,500.

Near the front door, artist Nigel Poor was doing her thing with black, too, taking fingerprints from volunteers for her growing image bank of 5,000 prints. "My goal is to create an ever-increasing archive of tiny markings," she writes of her project, which is titled Do You Have 30 Seconds and Can You Get Your Finger Dirty? Poor makes unique prints from the prints, which are $2,500 framed at the booth of Cheryl Haines Gallery from San Francisco. Haines has a soft spot for Poor’s project -- she and her husband got married five years ago in Cambodia, where you seal the deal with a thumbprint on the marriage license.

Art(212) director Helen Allen was on hand, dressed in red leather knee-high boots with three-inch heels and a colorful wrap dress. The only thing black about her was the walkie-talkie she carried, putting out fires for her exhibitors. "There’s a huge crowd at the door waiting to get in," squawked the walkie-talkie. "Gotta go," said Helen.

Actress Kira Sedgwick was spotted wandering around unescorted at the vernissage, which was a benefit for the New York Foundation for the Arts. She looks even younger in person than she does on TV.

Back in the mid-1980s, my tenure as art editor at the East Village Eye ended when the publisher rejected an article I had done on Linus Corraggio, a maker of welded "3D graffiti" who went on to become a leading member of the "Rivington School." So it was with some delight that I spotted Corraggio’s sculpture in the booth of New York dealer Michael Steinberg, paired with high-key floral abstractions by Jeremy Stenger. Corraggio, whose works can be had for less than $10,000, is slated for a show at the gallery in April.

At the booth of Pan American Art Gallery in Dallas were some Silver Clouds by William Cannings, clearly based on the ones Andy Warhol made in 1966. Instead of being filled with helium, Cannings’ clouds are made of metal and hang on wires. Gallery director Cris Worley explained that Cannings, an Englishman who now lives in Lubbock, makes the things out of "inflated aluminum" -- welding together sheets of metal, heating the resulting object in a kiln and then inflating it. The clouds are $750 each.

The Australian artist Peter Hennessey was visiting at the booth of his dealer, Greenaway Art Gallery from Kent Town in South Australia. Hennessey’s video diptych, My Moonwalk (2004), was playing on a pair of small wall monitors, showing the artist in his studio, wearing a finely made wooden contraption that is in fact a replica of actual astronaut gear. He was bouncing about suspended with large elastics, as if he were walking in moon gravity. Hennessey has made full-scale plywood models of the Voyager space craft, the four-wheeled Lunar Module, NASA missile control and more. Sculptures go for as much as $30,000, while the My Moonwalk DVDs are $4,400.

Hennessey is currently living in New York with his wife, the sculptor Patricia Piccinini, who is doing a residency at P.S.1. Gallery director Paul Greenaway had had a 35-hour flight to New York City, but he was unfazed. "Art(212) is our sixth fair in 2006," he said. "You have to get out, that’s what it’s all about."

Most people won’t have to travel quite so far. And if you do visit the fair, take time to stop by the Gramercy Park Hotel and have a glass of wine at the hotel bar, which has been famously decorated by Julian Schnabel. "It’s gorgeous," said art restorer Lisa Rosen. "All red velvet, stucco walls and checkerboard tiles à la Vermeer. It’s like entering a Renaissance painting. And the waitresses are more beautiful than models."

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine. He can be reached at Send Email