NYC's Busiest Art Week Begins With John McEnroe at the Art Show Gala Preview

Paul Porter/

The art-world elite got a jump on this week's deluge of NYC fairs and openings (including the latest Whitney Biennial) at a preview gala for the Art Dealers Association of America's "The Art Show."

The NYC art world is in overdrive this week with the bow of both the 2014 Whitney Biennial (exploring some of the more rarefied corners of the contemporary-art scene) and the city's annual cluster of commerce-minded fairs known as Armory Week. Last night, March 4, the latter kicked off with a gala preview of the Art Dealers Association of America's "The Art Show" at the Park Avenue Armory. Attendees of the Tuesday benefit paid steeply for early access -- a $2,000 ticket bought a two-hour head start over those paying $175 -- and viewers in a buying mood made use of the time: Plenty of work by high-profile artists (a pair of Donald Judd wall sculptures, for instance) sold before the $175 rabble got in the door.

The 1913 ancestor of these fests, the International Exhibition of Modern Art, was held in an armory on Lexington Avenue. While the fair calling itself "The Armory Show" has been held on sprawling West Side piers for over a decade, this concurrent one (organized by the Art Dealers Association of America) is actually in an armory, the stately Park Avenue building that has lately hosted large-scale installations and avant-garde performances. Its lovingly restored 19th century entrance halls made a fine backdrop for the high-toned event.

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Art lovers who might have been self-conscious about being underdressed needn't have worried much: John McEnroe, wearing a backward ball cap whose size tags hadn't been removed, set the fashion bar low. More in their element were uber connectors like Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry, Guggenheim chief curator Nancy Spector and philanthropist Eli Broad.

Christo, Martha Wilson, and other artists wandered among those buying and selling their work, but few were as busy as Ann Hamilton, who had set up a photo studio on-site and was photographing attendees through a semi-opaque scrim. Small prints of each portrait will soon be mailed for free to all who participated, with each recipient getting someone else's photo.

Other single-artist booths included Sean Kelly's presentation of gilded, icon-like pieces by Kehinde Wiley and the Pace Gallery's exhibition of eight enigmatic holograms by James Turrell. Most dealers, though, brought an assortment of greatest hits. Visitors with the means could have made off with a Magritte for $3.6 million or a small Rothko on paper for $2.8 million. The James Goodman Gallery offered a handful of collages and boxes by Joseph Cornell, including a hauntingly simple one that, at $225,000, was a steal compared to the $750,000 Cornell box over at the Mnuchin Gallery.

The mood was lively and sociable, with strangers trading notes on assorted hors d'oeuvres and partaking of an efficiently run open bar. But there, if not in the gallery booths, moderation reigned: This show was just the start of a very long weekend of art and parties, with the "The Armory Show" up next.