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At the Art Fairs, Advice for Dealers in a Bear Market: Be Nicer!

Work at this year’s Armory Show.Photo: Patrick McMullan

A cash bar in the VIP lounge?

That was the first sign of Armageddon at The Armory Show last night. The veteran art fair this year is under new management – Chicago’s Merchandise Mart – and also under a cloud of concern about recession. (More signs of cost-cutting: Entry fee was $30, up from $20 last year.)

The Armory Show is just one of nine contemporary art and design fairs (Scope, Pulse, Volta, Red Dot, Diva, Pool, Bridge, and Design Miami/New York) opening this week at a time when there’s more talk of Bear Stearns than bare walls. At Armory rival Scope, fair president Alexis Hubshmam says his fair is countering the downbeat mood with low prices and a bigger concentration of European dealers – “the dollar is so low now that European money and Chinese money are buying” – not to mention encouraging a change in dealer attitude. Hubshman says he told two dealers worried that the recession would dent sales to simply be friendlier to customers: “Being aloof, and the coldness of 10 years ago, won’t work now.”

At the Armory, artists in residence included Ashley Bickerton and Polly Apfelbaum. The most popular booth was Paul Kasmin’s, which was giving out apple pie as part of a witty Annette Lemieux installation that had something to do with Walker Evans, farms, and gingham. Several Whitney Biennial artists (Phoebe Washburn, William E. Jones) were on display, and all the art was by living artists.

One happy one was Chicago’s Tony Fitzpatrick, who had a well-received show at P.S. 1 last fall. Pioneer Williamsburg gallery Pierogi sold two of his pieces, for $14,000 and $17,000. “Guys in my price range don’t get hurt in a recession,” he said, smiling. — Alexandra Peers

At the Art Fairs, Advice for Dealers in a Bear Market: Be Nicer!