Christina Ramberg: Probed Cinch, 1971, acrylic on masonite, 12 inches square. © David Nolan Gallery, New York.

 

There was a time when "The Art Show," the annual fair mounted by members of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), was the undisputed highlight of New York's late-winter art calendar. Today, it has to contend with serious competition from concurrent events, like the mammoth Armory Show and other sprawling art fairs, including Pulse, Scope and even trendier outings, such as the Independent and SPRING/BREAK, all taking place in the first week of March. The Art Show has worked hard to retain its identity as the classiest of the big New York fairs, offering a balance of blue-chip works with historical resonance and edgier contemporary pieces showcased in carefully curated booths. This year's installment, the fair's 27th, has succeeded once again.

On view March 4-8, at the Park Avenue Armory on 67th Street, the 2015 Art Show features displays by 72 of the country's top galleries. Some 2,600 art-world glitterati packed Tuesday night's benefit preview for the Henry Street Settlement, a venerable social services and arts nonprofit located in Manhattan's Lower East Side. This year, 39 dealers host solo exhibitions in their booths, and 33 feature tightly curated thematic exhibitions.

The fair starts out very strikingly, as visitors entering the exhibition space see themselves reflected in Michelangelo Pistoletto's mural-size mirror pieces filling Luhring Augustine's booth. Nearby, Sean Kelly's display of Antony Gormley's standing bronze figures made of stacked cubes is similarly arresting. Forum Gallery conveys an important historical moment in mid-20th-century American art in its juxtaposition of early paintings by Gorky, de Kooning and John Graham; the latter is also the focus of a mini-survey at Allan Stone Projects.

The mirror motif reappears in an unusual two-gallery thematic display by San Francisco's Fraenkel Gallery and New York's Peter Freeman, Inc. Here, photographic self-portraits at Fraenkel's space by artists such as Nan Goldin, Richard Avedon, Eadweard Muybridge and Hiroshi Sugimoto, correspond to self-portraits in other mediums, by artists including Andy Warhol, Catherine Murphy and James Castle, installed at the Peter Freeman booth across the aisle.

Especially notable this year is the number of displays devoted to the work of women artists. Fredric Snitzer of Miami shows recent vortex-like sculptures and works on paper by Alice Aycock, while David Nolan highlights haunting figurative paintings and drawings by Christina Ramberg, whose works relate to the Chicago Imagist School. New York galleries Janet Borden and Tibor de Nagy present what amounts to memorial exhibitions for recently deceased artists-photographer Jan Groover, at Janet Borden, featuring the artist's moody still-life images, and, at Tibor de Nagy, veteran painter Jane Freilicher, who passed away last year. Freilicher's painterly still lifes and landscapes relate in a poignant way to the small but luscious recent seascapes by Maureen Gallace, featured in a solo show at 303 Gallery's booth. 

Lehmann Maupin devotes its space to "I Fell in Love," a series of small erotic paintings and recent bronzes by Brit-pack art star Tracey Emin. Designed by the artist, the display features walls painted a sumptuous Venetian red. At the preview, Emin herself played host at the booth, greeting visitors and patiently answering questions about the work and her career. One of the evening's most memorable moments for me was discussing with Emin her charitable work in Africa, as well as the current political strife in Uganda, where she funds a library bearing her name.