Review: Spring Masters at the Park Avenue Armory

Curing art-fair fatigue by creating a new art fair seems counterintuitive. But that is what the organizers of Spring Masters have done — or at least tried to do by renaming and retooling the former Spring Show NYC. The premise of Spring Masters, now in its second year, is that art fairs are wearisome because they are homogeneous, overemphasizing contemporary art and not conveying how collectors actually cohabitate with their objects.

The fair thus includes a wide range of historical periods, design and decorative arts, and a booth — kind of like a model living room — created by Jamie Drake and Drake Design Associates, whose clients have included Madonna and Michael R. Bloomberg. The hexagonal, honeycomb booth layout was designed by the architect Rafael Viñoly.

The “masters” part should be emphasized. Coinciding with Christie’s Modern and contemporary auction sale early next week, Spring Masters includes many works that are museum-worthy or have spent time in museum collections. Phoenix Ancient Art, for instance, has a wall of Egyptian stone vessels, like a second dynasty (around 2,900 to 2,646 B.C.) diorite bowl formerly owned by Sheikh Ali (Abadiya), bought by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1903 and later deaccessioned.

The London gallery Mullany has a bronze bust of Julius Caesar with shining silver eye-whites made in a noted workshop in Mantua, Italy, around 1500. From a slightly later period, Coll & Cortés has two 17th-century polychrome wood busts by the Spanish artist Pedro de Mena, whose work was recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hammer Galleries is showcasing a pastel by Edgar Degas from the 1890s that uses information gleaned from studying Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of horses galloping. Midcentury modern is well represented at Vojtech Blau in a 1971 hand-woven tapestry designed by Alexander Calder, and contemporary work is on view at Salon 94, which is showing the “Sand Stools” (2012-13) of Kueng Caputo (Sarah Kueng and Lovis Caputo), made with sand and Styrofoam.

This year’s nonprofit booth, Project Art, provides art classes to elementary schoolchildren affected by budget cuts to art education. Funding their project — a modest $20 buys a paintbrush that will hang on the booth’s wall — could help nurture the next generation of artists.

So does Spring Masters achieve its mission? In many ways, it’s just another art fair with a different, more eclectic format: strong on older art, not so exciting with contemporary. But Frieze New York opens two days after Spring Masters closes, which will provide fresh opportunities for contemporary art-fair fatigue.

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