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New York: The Art Show 2021

By: Claus Mueller, Senior Editor

Founded by the Arts Dealers Association of America, ADAA, the annual Art Show at New York’s Armory has developed into a respected and long running art fair that continued its 33 year partnership with New York’s Henry Street Settlement, having raised at the fair’s benefit preview opening $1 million in 2020 and more than $1.2 million in 2021. Participation in the 2021 benefit on November 3 grew by 20 percent and over the last 33 years more than $30 million was raised for the settlement supporting a wide range of social, educational, and health services. With a membership of 190 US based galleries, the ADAA requests from its members proposals for participation which are in turn vetted by an ADAA selection committee narrowing them down to 72 participants in the 2021 art show. Given the annual art show’s appeal as a contact and sales platform with a faithful promising audience, more applications were again received than could be accommodated, restricted this year to 72. Using data from ADAA and the 72 participating galleries, it appears that most of the galleries at the show were founded before 2005 with 46 based in New York and seven in San Francisco. Of the 22 new members admitted to the ADAA in 2020 and 2021, twelve are based in New York. Eight from this group of new members were chosen for the 2021 show. The ADAA Art Show attracted an audience from November 4-7 as big as those in prior years.

As reflected in the brief catalog description, galleries offered traditional and contemporary art dealj in virtually all media with photography on the lower end of the pricing scale. Well displayed work, including sculptures and artwork from past centuries by established artists were on the higher end. Understanding the digital universe, the 2021 fair established a new website and hub,, attracting viewers from China, Australia, Canada, and Western Europe.

Most of the galleries have adapted to internet based media to market their artists. Special seminars covered the link in contemporary art between digital and traditional art making approaches, a study of an artist and a collector trying to get his work known, an investigation of the pioneering Korean artist Wook-yung hoi, and an upper east side walk visiting 30 galleries operated by ADAA members. Though the mood at the show seemed to be upbeat judging from comments made by gallery managers and show visitors, there were some concerns about the direction of the art market. Studies by UBS and Art Basel before the pandemic showed that the upper and lower levels of the art market were expanding and the middle levels contracting.

This development has been borne out by the most recent October Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales, scoring more than $2.3 billion during a recent two week auction period with significant record bidding by Asian buyers. This mirrors the new close working relation between the dominant super galleries and top auction houses. Another indicator is this year's mid november marketing of a new art piece Balloon Dog (Blue) designed by Jeff Koons in a limited edition of 799. Manufactured in porcelain by Bernadaud and made in France it is sold globally for $30.000 each. A recent empirical study by ADAA of leading galleries in the USA released in July 2021 reveals related results, probably due to most of these galleries serving the middle and upper middle class art market. If a gallery is part of the niche market with a highly specialized portfolio no one else shares it is more likely to stay in business. For example, Erik Thomsen’s superbly crafted Japanese art works like his Japanese golden lacquer boxes can be successful in a declining market place. 70% of the ADAA sample had lower revenues in 2020 and most of the galleries took advantage of federal assistance and were able to minimize layoffs in 2020. Prospects for 2021 reflected a somewhat positive outlook, including expanding the artists roster, embracing virtual business opportunism, and coping with their galleries overhead and legislative challenges.

Reviewing the established 2021 ADAA art show with 72 exhibitors is problematic unless there are some booths evoking a strong interest. This year I have come across three challenging galleries which all focused on contemporary and cross over art outside the confines of traditional representations. They all reported sales of the work exhibited. The New York Yancey Richardson gallery displayed the photographic work of Tseng Kwong Chi, from Hong Kong, who after being raised in Vancouver settled in New York and died there of AIDS at the age of 39. He focused much of his work on his personalized experience with encountering the West, translated into thematic concerns of the “East Meets West”. His 1983 image 80”x 48 “ inch image of Bill T. Jones executed in a gelatin silver print of 5 editions was priced at $8.000.

The Jessica Silverman contemporary art gallery from San Francisco presented, among three artists at the booth is Coreen Simpson. Simpson started out as a photojournalist covering political and cultural events in the USA, Europe, and the Middle East, followed by the design of jewelry, including her well received Black Cameo signature pieces. Her 28” by 25, 3/8 “ framed gelatin silver print Ntozake Shange, named for an African poet, in an edition of 7 sold each for $8,000.

A welcome surprise at the 2021 Art Show was the presence of a gallery which focused on artists who have no formal art school or similar training, the New York based Ricco Maresca Gallery. Another indicator of the broadening of the art show was the admission of the Andrew Edlin Gallery to ADAA membership this year. Edlin provides an annual platform for-nontraditional artists also with his popular Outsider Art Fair. Frank Maresca’s gallery was identified again this year at the Art Show as the best in show booth. He is also known for having one of the superior private collections of art works in the outsider art tradition. The primary focus of the Ricco Maresca Gallery at the show was the Afro American artist William L. Hawkins who lived from 1895 to 1990, growing up in rural Kentucky, and spending most of his life in Columbus, Ohio. He did not start painting until he was 75 years old and completed works at a prolific rate using second hand primary house paints, worn out paint brushes applying single strokes, and made corrections with old rags. His broad themes covered animals, rural and city backgrounds, pop pornography, religion, semi phantastic imagery, and ideas derived from print media. His improvisational approach included found objects, sand, discarded ceiling panels, and sawdust. Hawkins' work was expressive and imaginative in contrast to his limited reading and writing skills. The majority of Hawkins’ paintings brought to the Art Show were sold. A superb introduction by Hawkins to his work is his brief video that can be found here. Virtually unknown, he gained some recognition after winning a price at an Ohio art fair and his work has been presented since 1983 by the Ricco Maresca Gallery. A comprehensive 2018 exhibition included 60 of his most important art works and several US museums have his work in their permanent collections.

Pictured above is his 1989 Nativity # 3 work, enamel and collage on a wood panel, 48 by 48 inches. priced at $65.000

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