Lunch at the Art Fairs / New York

April 10, 2018

The publication section of The Armory Show boasted the best view of any of the three spring art fairs in New York. Installed in an arm of Pier 92 suspended over the Hudson River, visitors were greeted with floor-to-ceiling windows that provided a rare, uninterrupted panorama of the river and sky further south. The section also hosted a pop-up lunch canteen from wellness bakery chain Chloé, which is where I purchased a slice of matcha-chocolate babka.

Pier 92 was transformed into the ideal place to take my lunch by an inopportune snowfall on opening day, and I slowly pried apart the gnarled layers of the decadent, convoluted pastry while watching the heavy snowfall cascade into the water and disappear. My mouth buzzed like I had touched my tongue to a nine-volt battery: the tannic sensation of matcha laying the groundwork for a succulent jolt of chocolate. The hybrid pastry was nearly electric.

That I forgot I was sitting in the middle of a mundane trade fair was the exact outcome I had hoped for. This spectacle of art and commerce, though mysterious to outsiders and idealists, epitomizes the doldrums of endless cubicles and glazed bricks the color of diner coffee. The food really helps, and this year, my own last-ditch means of engagement found my critical attention directed toward the restaurants and catering at Armory, Independent, and NADA. Rounding out my experience at Armory was Italian fine dining establishment Il Buco. VIP ticket holders had the option to reserve a table in a private lounge, but considering that my budget consisted of what I was willing to pay out of pocket, I kept it to lunch. My take-out salami sandwich was, in fact, satisfying. The cured meat was as unctuous as the focaccia it was served on, and both were balanced out with the sour edge of goat cheese. Sadly, though, there would be no champagne to wash it down.

A kind of masochism underscored my writing enterprise, the particulars of which were only confirmed by Independent’s dismal food offerings. Like attending the fairs in the first place, eating at them was perfunctory. It was only hunger that forced down my entire twelve-ounce portion of minestrone soup. It included an entire bay leaf, the thorny flavor of which bypassed my tongue and stung straight at my throat. Independent may not be to blame. Spring Studios, which hosts the event, likely mandated their in-house catering service, Spring Place. But imagine if every misguided attempt at fanciness came off like an allergic reaction. Poppy’s, the only catering service Independent seemed to have been responsible for, offered a good gluten-free brownie near the exit.

A sensible ploughman’s lunch was available at each venue, belying an awareness of the mundane needs of small gallery entrepreneurship: it provided something to snack on to all who worked those marathon days alone. For my final stop at NADA New York, at Skylight Clarkson, I went with the stalwart vegetarian option, a wrap. Little more than a calorie delivery system, creamy feta lent weft to the watery texture of two handfuls of spinach, and four squirts of olive tapenade provided enough of a condiment to credibly call the whole concoction a sandwich. A raspberry linzer torte offered a practical dessert pairing, though refusing to get any of its powder sugar garnish anywhere near my clothes, I ate it ostentatiously craned over a low-slung standing table. My final lunch only confirmed to me that I could have gotten by at all of the fairs on a single Diet Coke each (three total on the weekend). The only beverage I purchased, in my hand it felt like an old friend. Besides, who needs the calories at an art fair?

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