This weekend is The Armory Art Fair in New York City. It is not currently held in one of New York City's fine dilapidated armories—these days, we've used some of those to house the large numbers of people made homeless by Hurricane Sandy! Oh and also the one on Park Avenue serves in part as a shelter for mentally ill women, did you know?!—but over on piers 92 and 94, which is basically where West 53rd Street runs into the Hudson. Yes, brr.
In this art fair, a couple of hundred galleries have wedged wares into little booths. People walk around and look at these things. And run into friends. And sometimes buy things. Like much of New York City in general and the art world in specific, the Armory is intended for rich people. (Here's the photographic proof.) It's one of the niche worlds of the City—like the dance scene, or the opera scene, or I guess the artisanal butchery scene—that you can tunnel deeper and deeper inside, as far as you want, or not. The further you enter the cave, the more cognizant you become of the jokes, the interplay, the scandals, the status-jockeying. And the prices, I guess. Same thing?
But you don't need any of that! That's for later, if you want. The awesome thing about art fairs—and about galleries—is that, on any given day, you have this tiny window during which you can see amazing things. You will never ever be able to see almost all this art again. Isn't that cool? Don't you think that's fascinating? DO YOU LIKE THINGS???
The typical life cycle of a piece of art is that it is made and then never seen anywhere. (Art is like books in this regard! Books are written and barely even ever printed out, on average!) A ridiculously small percentage of art is then shown in a commercial or noncommercial gallery. Much of that then goes unwanted. But a small percentage of what is shown is sold, and it goes into someone's home, or even more rarely, an institution. And maybe some will be brought out or toured or loaned in the future, or eventually sent to auction, and so made visible again. But most, for much of the time, is just above someone's couch. (Or more likely, in racks in their cellar.)
And so you can see why the emphasis in art is so relentlessly commercial. That money being exchanged for art is so rare creates an undue emphasis on it. And also people like money, and the getting of it.
One downside of this is that the art that is privileged is the art that will make everyone money. And so it is often trendy, or trendily decorative, or ridiculous. But that's the point of looking at a lot of art. You can learn to see things you enjoy, and look beyond the stupid things that are designed to trick rich people out of their money.
Because in this process, capitalism has given you a wonderful gift! That gift is that these big fancy shops that sell art and these art shows that display art for such a short time are available to you. You, whether you are an impoverished rube or a painter or a semi-rich person, are allowed to walk around and examine things. It's kind of great!
Here are some things to try this out at, right now!
• The Armory Show itself is up. Here is its Here is a pretty great list of all the alternative short-term art stuff going on around town right now, mostly fairs. Highly recommended: "Spring/Break," which is happening in NoLIta, and the Independent fair.
• And here, for after the fairs are over, is a Chelsea gallery map.
How do you go out and see art, you ask? Well, put on some clothes, appropriate for the weather. Then go forth. Comfortable shoes are wise. Commence a logical wandering. Don't touch things you shouldn't touch. Smile at the people who work in the galleries or fair booths. Keep your dumb questions and fake questions that are actually statements to yourself, unless you're one of those people who's never ashamed of asking dumb questions. A gallery will have a nice thing on a desk somewhere that explains more about what you're looking at, if you care. And they might have a price list out. But if they don't, and you want to know how much something is, you can just ask a person at a desk for the price list. ("Hello, may I see the price list?") The laws of New York State require standardized pricing, because of the history of setting different prices for different sorts of people, so now everyone is supposed to have a list. Sidebar: maybe don't do this at galleries where things are obviously $3 million.
Through this process, you will learn about what excites you and why.
If you want to buy something, that's a little more complicated. We can talk about that later! But honestly it's a lot like buying shoes, except in most cases everyone has already bought all the shoes you want and there's a waiting list of several years for new shoes that you might like as well, though you might not, and in the meantime, you have to buy these OTHER shoes, shoes that are ugly that no one wants, to keep your place in line to get the shoes you want. But in other respects it is almost exactly same, except worse. But like, there is sales tax.
So spring is right around the corner, and what is more romantic than exploring odd corners of the city in springtime? (Drinking milkshakes with two straws, that's what, but that's more of a summer thing.)