Justin Kamp May 9, 2022
The art world descended en masse upon Manhattan during the first week of May for the inaugural edition of New York Art Week, the far-reaching partnership between museums, galleries, art fairs, and auction houses focused on highlighting “an unprecedented offering of global art market events and institutional exhibitions,” according to the initiative’s website. The weeklong programming had at its heart a quartet of fairs scattered across the island, many of which were returning to more standard operating procedures after years of pandemic-induced disruptions. Between the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), Future Fair, and Independent, art lovers had a wide variety of artists to see and forums to see them in.
“Calm” was the adjective on everyone’s lips as the weekend came to a close. After the relative buzz of the various VIP openings, the fairs settled into a steady clip of leisurely attendance, with many exhibitors commenting on the unexpected opportunity for deep conversation with collectors and curators alike. The hypotheses for this laid-back atmosphere were multiple—some gallerists thought the concentration of different fairs all in relatively close vicinity made for a more spaced-out attendance situation; some suspected that the looming behemoth of Frieze New York inspired a calmer approach; still others blamed the nonstop bad weather. “The pace was definitely dampened,” joked gallerist Luis de Jesus on Sunday as gray skies and cold weather lingered outside for the third day in a row.
Despite the seemingly more measured cadence, however, many galleries left the weekend with a hearty batch of sales. Painting predictably dominated the proceedings, and galleries that featured figurative artists and vibrant large-scale canvases could reliably expect to sell well.
Painting and sculpture may have dominated much of the weekend, but novel approaches and practices could still be found. At NADA, the sort of digital artworks that were so noticeably absent from other fairs were on display at booths like Denny Dimin Gallery’s, which featured computers playing Jeremy Couillard’s video game/video art piece Fuzz Dungeon on loop alongside paintings of old-school arcade consoles by Stephen Thorpe, as well as at the booth of downtown digital art mainstay bitforms gallery, which included the software-driven animation Does The River Flow Both Ways? by Marina Zurkow and James Schmitz.
Elsewhere, anonymous gallery presented an impressive restaging of Elliot Reed’s installation Rhythm, which features three Ducati motorcycles alongside stage lights and speakers, as well as a separate video work and a wall embedded with knives. As of the fair’s close, two editions of the video work had sold for $4,500 each, and the installation had been put on hold for a public collection. “I’m extremely proud of our ambitious presentation, and fairly satisfied with interest from collectors,” said director K.O. Nnamdie. “We hoped commercial reaction would more immediately reflect Reed’s institutional interest—despite the challenges some of the work presents.
On the whole, the first edition of New York Art Week felt like an experiment in carving out a space for a different, more approachable sort of New York art fair experience. It may not have been the high-caliber sell-a-thon of fairs like Frieze or The Armory Show, but the weekend’s more relaxed pace and focus on earlier career artists and accessible price points fostered a sense of excitement and connection that seemed to spill beyond sales figures. “I was very happy with the experience,” said Dionne Lausberg, co-director of Queens-based gallery 5-50, who participated in Future. “It was my first fair, and I didn’t know what to expect. The audience was so young, so fun. I can’t wait to do it again.” Put another way, by anonymous’s Nnamdie: “New York is always the starting point.”