If you were looking for the cheapest thing you could buy at last week’s Armory Show art fair, the anchor event to a citywide art fair week, you could head to a booth run by Berlin’s Galerie Nagel Draxler. There, you could find artist Mark Dion serving up lemonade for two dollars and “real sea shells” for just a dollar, mimicking young children’s proto-capitalist enterprise in a tiny corollary to the big sales all around.

Lemonade Stand (1996) was recently discovered in storage and brought to light again to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Armory Show, when it was called the Gramercy Art Fair; Dion’s work was shown at a very early incarnation. Founded by dealers Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, and Matthew Marks along with Paul Morris, the then-tiny fair took place in rented rooms at the Gramercy Hotel and was meant as an alternative to existing trade shows. Along with Dion’s work at Nagel Draxler’s booth were pieces by other artists exhibited by American Fine Arts, de Land and Hearn’s gallery, including two excellent videos, by Andrea Fraser and Renee Green, in which they serve as tongue-in-cheek art tour guides.

Pascale Marthine Tayou. Photo by Teddy Wolff
Over the intervening quarter-century, Armory has grown from just a few dozen American and European galleries to nearly two hundred global exhibitors, making it one of the biggest in the field. And if you could still spend two dollars on lemonade, you could plunk down quite a bit more elsewhere.Galleries reported sales including a $1 million Lee Krasner, sold to an undisclosed buyer by Hollis Taggart Gallery; $500,000 for a Frank Bowling, paid by an anonymous buyer at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery; a $400,000 Michaël Borremans, sold to a European collector by Zeno X Gallery; and a $375,000 Mary Corse, sold to an unnamed buyer by Los Angeles’s Kayne Griffin Corcoran.

These sales galloped along despite a giant hitch in the Armory’s operation. During a routine inspection just days before the fair’s opening, Pier 92, one of two piers on the Hudson River that Armory normally occupies, was found to be structurally unsound. The outcome? Armory’s sister fair, Volta (which takes place in Basel and, in New York, next door on Pier 90) was indefinitely postponed, and Armory moved many of its exhibitors onto Volta’s pier instead.

Ai Weiwei at Ditch Projects. Photo by Teddy Wolff
That unfortunate development, though, resulted in a remarkable showing of community that went against the assumption that dealers and fairs are only ever in competition, that all compete in a zero-sum game. New York collector Peter Hort and mega-dealer David Zwirner leapt into the lurch and organized a one-off pop-up fair, Plan B, which provided two large gallery spaces in Chelsea to accommodate Volta dealers who had already shipped work, booked flights, and reserved hotel rooms. Many of those who didn’t find a home there were offered space by other fairs, namely Scope, Art on Paper, and Independent, so that the majority of the seventy-one Volta exhibitors were able to show their wares.

But the splashiest works were, as ever, back on the Hudson River Piers. A gargantuan but collapsible sculpture by Cameroonian-born Pascale Marthine Tayou, made of 24,000 plastic shopping bags in every color of the rainbow, hung from the rafters, dominating attention in one of the so-called Town Squares that provide momentary respite from the endless aisles (and a landmark by which to situate yourself in the labyrinth). Tagged at $240,000 and customizable to a buyer’s facility, the work nods both to critiques of consumerism (a tart commentary at an event that’s all about the commodification of art) as well as the manifold ways in which the world’s most disenfranchised might use shopping bags, such as a way for refugees to transport their belongings as they flee misfortune.

Tania Candiani. Photo by Teddy Wolff
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. Photo by Teddy Wolff
As the fairs receded in the rearview mirror, talk among the art set returned to how exhausted everyone was, not only dealers, for whom fairs represent weeks’ worth of work, but also visitors who Ubered and Lyfted their way through a frigid city. A post-fair artnet News report offered a new variation on “art fair fatigue,” a condition caused by the worldwide proliferation of these big events: apparently, even collectors are saying we may have reached “peak art fair.” How will we know whether we’ve reached that breaking point? We’re not sure, but in the meantime, we’ll see you next year, on the piers and throughout the Big Apple. Bring your checkbook and keep your eyes wide open.