An Electrified Fence Shocks Art Dealers at the Armory Show

Walking down the Armory Show‘s main drag, the one display that is 100 percent guaranteed to catch even a seeing-impaired fairgoer’s attention is Paul Kasmin‘s booth, which has done its share to bring the bling this year by giving over it’s entire stand to a giant glowing neon fence by Ivan Navarro. Consistent with the fair’s budget-minded identity this year, the work — titled “The Armory Fence” — is selling for a relatively modest $40,000 per seven-foot section. But that doesn’t mean it’s not bold in other ways. In fact, this particular fence, whose bright bluish light radiates out into the surrounding stands, has not made for such good neighbors.

New York art dealer Peter Blum, whose booth is immediately adjacent to the megawatt installation, spoke of Kasmin’s coup de theatre in a precise, restrained manner that suggested simmering fury. “I was a little startled when I saw that,” he said, with wry understatement, of the Navarro. “Of course, I didn’t know that was going to be there. The art fair obviously did know it was going to be there. As a result, I voiced my opinion to the art fair. Not that you can’t have a work that has the qualities it has, but we would have changed our booth. The artists we have don’t have the same kind of firepower, let’s say.”

Blum’s booth, in fact, was a tasteful display of quiet works, including a delicate white Robert Ryman painting (priced at $385,000) and a framed and glass-covered Huma Bhabha piece that had to be moved to shield from the fence’s glare. (It nonetheless sold for $35,000.) Three Matthew Day Jackson editions were framed with glass fronts as well, and they were displayed on the back of a pillar facing away from Kasmin’s booth. Seven of the editions by the hotly coveted artist sold for $14,500 apiece.

Despite the successes, “it’s valid to say that this is not exactly the way it should be,” Blum said. “I had to put in more lights, which costs money, to try and combat the neon. It’s an art fair, so one has to be tolerant, but one must also be considerate of one’s neighbors, and I’m not the only neighbor.”

Blum wasn’t the only dealer in the vicinity to find the Navarro fence dazzling, and not in the most positive way. “Ah, it’s quite a glare — I need sunglasses,” joked Magnus Edensvard of IBID Projects, who had a booth alongside Kasmin’s. “I’m actually standing with my back to it.”

Of course, in an art fair like the Armory Show, getting noticed is paramount — which means that the more people talking about Ivan Navarro, whose first solo show with Paul Kasmin is opening at his Chelsea gallery tonight, the better, sunglasses or not.