The opening of The Art Show on Thursday kicks off a carnival of New York art fairs that won’t stop until March 9. The city will host at least 10, offering hundreds of booths of modern and contemporary art, from blue chip to brand-new, and even a sampling of antiquarian books. For the gallerists, the process can be nerve-racking. But for everyone else, it’s a blast.
The more you see in a given day, the better the odds you’ll discover something to love — and even if you don’t, sensory overload has a thrill of its own. And with so many of the exhibitors flying in from abroad, you can essentially travel the world in an afternoon. Just don’t think you’ll get to everything. I recommend wearing sneakers, resisting the urge to over-caffeinate, and putting two — or at most three — of these fairs on your itinerary. Here’s an overview of some of the more substantial fairs.
This fair is for you if you want a little bit of everything. The organizers of the enormous Armory Show call it “the essential New York art fair,” and they’re not wrong. Now for its 26th edition, the show includes nearly 200 exhibitors from 32 countries and deftly straddles art worlds past and future. It’s not just the historical work showing alongside paintings that are practically still wet. This year, all of Pier 90 will be devoted to the increasingly fashionable practice of curator-led presentations, with sections helmed by Anne Ellegood and Jamillah James, both of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Nora Burnett Abrams of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, among others. On Pier 94, you’ll find the same exciting cacophony of multifarious booths that longtime attendees have come to expect. March 5-8; Piers 90 and 94 at 711 12th Avenue; thearmoryshow.com.
The Spring/Break Art Show
This fair is for you if you’re in it for the excitement. Now that NADA is a “gallery open” instead of a fair proper, Spring/Break stands alone as the week’s cool-kid party — young, exciting and a little chaotic. This year its 100 or so emerging galleries and independent curators, all of them bringing projects on the theme of “excess,” will be rubbing shoulders across two floors of Ralph Lauren’s former headquarters on Madison Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets. The quality of the works may vary, but the energy is undeniable. March 3-9; 625 Madison Avenue; springbreakartshow.com.
This fair is for you if what you love is being part of a community. In 2019, the New Art Dealers Alliance had the kind of realization that seems obvious in retrospect: Manhattan itself is already the world’s biggest art fair, all year round. This year’s second annual New York Gallery Open will include artist talks, performances, and more than 60 member gallerists leading tours of gallery shows in Chinatown, Chelsea and the Lower East Side. It’s your chance to get the kind of personal attention they usually reserve for high rollers. March 5-8; various locations; 212-594-0883, newartdealers.org
This fair is for you if you want nothing but the best. Carefully curated and stylish to a fault, TriBeCa’s Independent tends to feel more like a biennial than a trade show, with nearly a third of its exhibitors from outside the United States. The curation cuts both ways: You can be sure all the work will look good, but you won’t get the gambler’s high that comes from hunting through a noisy crowd for a piece that really strikes you. Look out this year for confidently colorful painting, especially the charming intricacies of the self-taught artist Dorothy Iannone, curvy brass sculpture by Hanna Sandin, and a reprise, in case you missed her show at Canada Gallery, of Katherine Bernhardt’s E.T. paintings. March 6-8; Spring Studios at 50 Varick Street; independenthq.com/new-york.
This fair is for you if you love to travel. After last year’s edition of Volta was abruptly canceled and memorably reconstituted in Chelsea, the fair returns with new ownership, a new site, and a new director, Kamiar Maleki. Bringing together artists from five continents, including the self-taught Japanese artist Ayako Rokkaku, who will spend the fair painting with her hands and feet, Volta 2020 may represent a triumphant rebirth: We won’t really know till next week, but you can find out for as little as $25, if you book before March 3. March 4-8 at Metropolitan West, 639 West 46th Street; ny.voltashow.com. (It is a short walk from The Armory Show at Piers 90 and 94.)
This fair is for you if you’re a sucker for sincerity. Paper, as opposed to canvas, plaster, or steel, has a special resonance for anyone who ever went to elementary school — it’s the medium that makes us all remember when we were artists, too. For professionals, though, paper offers a thousand possibilities, from quick sketches to works as powerful and distinctive as painting on canvas. March 6-8; just north of the Manhattan Bridge at Pier 36, 299 South Street; thepaperfair.com.
This art fair is for you if you love magic. For more than two decades, this gallery has been hosting a kind of art-fair tasting menu in its Bleecker Street space. (It also has a location in Paris.) Something about the size, and the timing, gives it a magical appeal — it’s like a dollhouse come to life. This year’s edition, titled “The 11 Women of Spirit, Part 1,” is a compact group show of work by 11 female artists. (Part 2 comes in May, in concert with Frieze New York.) March 2-8; Zürcher Gallery at 33 Bleecker Street; galeriezurcher.com.
International Antiquarian Book Fair
This fair is for you if you’re in it for the history. A signed first edition of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” an invitation to Beethoven’s funeral, a first edition of Kierkegaard that’s been to space — there are plenty of reasons to go to the Park Avenue Armory for the 60th anniversary edition of the world’s premier antiquarian book fair. But if you’re committed to a fine-arts tie-in, go for the debonair brass bullet signed by Andy Warhol for his 1982 “Guns Knives Crosses” show in Madrid. (You’ll find it at Schubertiade Music & Arts LLC.) March 5-8; Park Avenue Armory at 643 Park Avenue; nyantiquarianbookfair.com.