History of The Armory Show
The Armory Show, housed in Piers 92 and 94 along the Hudson River on Manhattans west side, is the largest art fair in New York and one of the principal annual art events in the international art market calendar. Visited by tens of thousands of people each March, the Armory has for almost two decades been the showpiece for some of the worlds most important modern and contemporary art galleries. Canonical names from Picasso to Pollock have all been presented at the fair, as have, in equal measure, some of the most cutting edge artists of a younger generation. Organized by The Armory Show, Armory Arts Week has emerged as one of liveliest moments in New Yorks already rich cultural calendar, with a number of smaller art fairs temporarily alighting throughout the city and the major museums staging their marquee exhibitions to coincide with the fair.
Founded in 1994 by dealers Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks, and Paul Morris as the Gramercy International Art Fair, named after its initial location in the legendary Gramercy Park Hotel, The Armory Show acquired its new title in 1999 following the fairs migration to the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. The name was an homage to the legendary 1913 exhibition of the same name that also took place in this building, which famously showcased works by avant-garde European artists never previously seen on American soil side-by-side with their American counterparts. This original Armory Show is widely credited for bringing Modern art to New York, and its eclectic and unorthodox mix of genres, juxtaposing Vincent van Gogh alongside Marcel Duchamp and Edward Hopper, has been a source of inspiration for ensuing decades and continues to linger today, 100 years later.
While its location at the 69th Regiment Armory was only temporary, the current Armory Show was inspired by the idea of bringing new art from all over the globe together under one roof. The fair moved to the west side piers in 2001, initially on Piers 88 and 90. Like the fairs previous locations, the piers feature prominently in New York City history, and are also a characteristic part of its visual make-up, with their finger-like structures poking out from Manhattan on popular birds eye view maps of the island.
The piers are numbered according to their original position amongst over a hundred similarly sized piers from the south tip of the island to the Upper West Side. Located between 52nd Street and 55th Street on Twelfth Avenue. The Armorys piers are on the edge of midtown, with it's characteristic skyline and flashy neon signs hovering just a few blocks away.
The piers are visual reminders of a significant time in New Yorks past, when the Hudson River was central to the citys transportation infrastructure. Wider than the East River, and connected to timber, coal, livestock, and other natural resources from upstate New York, the waterway carried steamboats and ferries to a budding metropolis long before cars became mainstream. Passengers and cargo were off-loaded at the various piers, which further connected the surrounding area by railthe Highline, now a public park, extended from the riverfront to the Meatpacking District and SoHo.
As the emergent auto industry gradually diminished the reliance on rail and waterways by mid-century, traffic to west Manhattan thinned. Businesses at the piers closed down and many were left to decay. Their desolate, frail structures could be dangerous territory to frequent, but also offered temporary homes to various artist projects, the most illustrious, perhaps, being Gordon Matta-Clarks iconic Days End on Pier 52 from 1974. As with his characteristic building cuts, the artist, to use his own words, took a decaying sad reminder of a previous industrial era and renovated it." While the police were quick to put an end to the huge, gaping hole cut in the far wall of the abandoned pier, thus letting in air, light, and reflections cast by the Hudsons sparkling water, the intervention stood as a visionary effort to revive the west side waterfront, which was ahead of its time by over thirty years.
In the last decade, significant cultural redevelopment of the area has been underway. The Hudson River Park, extending from Battery Park to 59th Street, is the largest park to be created in Manhattan since Central Park (completed in 1873), and provides home to a marina, sports complex, driving range, canoeing club, and many other popular year-round attractions. The remaining piers closest to the Armory still serve as a hub for ocean-bound ships and cruise liners (with the New York Passenger Terminal handling over one million travelers every year), as well as The Intrepid, the Second World War aircraft carrier, which now houses a museum.
Set within the citys ever-changing urban landscape, The Armory Show on Piers 92 and 94 has become an integral part of the cultural redevelopment of Manhattans west side. As both a leading international art fair and a New York institution, it continues to evolve as a site for discovery and for supporting the great galleries and artists of our time.