Armory Show Puts Major Works Under One Roof, Ready to Sell

If you had a few million dollars in your pocket, the Art Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan was certainly the place to be. The five-day annual event, which ended Feb. 27, is one of the premier dealers' shows in the country.

There you could have picked up an early Picasso painting from 1917 in his harlequin series for $2 million. An Andrea Mantegna engraving from the 15th century went for $800,000.

''This is definitely the No. 1 art show; there's nothing that compares,'' said Robert Fishko, owner of the Forum Gallery. ''Many people come to make their annual art purchases,'' he added.

The Seventh Regiment Armory is a cavernous building on Park Avenue. There, 61 of the leading American art galleries displayed their most prized pieces in a show organized by the Art Dealers Association of America.

Susan Sheehan, owner of the gallery that bears her name, was particularly proud of a wooden shoe that Andy Warhol painted neon orange topped by images of Christmas ornaments. Asking price for the object used as a store window prop in 1957: $14,000. ''It's really hard to find them,'' she said.

She also said that her prints by Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol have sold well in recent months and have risen about 20 percent in value since October. ''It's the first good quarter I've had in almost four years,'' she commented.

Another dealer grumbled privately that his collection of modern prints, purchased at the market's height in 1989, is now worth only a fraction of what he paid.

A few dealers displayed new works, having encouraged artists to finish in time for the show. And people bought. For instance, a 1994 work by Keith Milow showing the names of top 20th-century artists on three circular layers of rusted steel sold within hours of the show opening for $30,000.

For those without the big bucks to invest, the Art Show provides a chance to admire a remarkably diverse collection of work from intricate Old Master prints to chaotic whirlwinds of steel by Frank Stella. ''This is not a contemporary fair, it's a historic fair with lots of range,'' said gallery owner Barbara Mathes. ''You also get to meet the owners of the major galleries.''

Some of the owners you meet are remarkable; others have remarkable stories.

David Tunick, owner of David Tunick Inc., pointed to his Mantenga print ''Entombment with the Four Birds,'' and said that after museum experts verified that the work was done by Mantegna and not his disciples as previously thought, its price in his gallery shot up from $100,000 to $800,000.

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