NEW YORK - When the Armory preview began at noon yesterday, the 205 exhibitors were ready and so were the VIPs. Fresh from the previous night’s openings of the ADAA Art Show and the Whitney Biennial the art crowd wasted no time getting to Piers 92 and 94 on Manhattan’s far west side. Among those walking the aisles of the Contemporary section were director Sofia Coppola, musician and author David Byrne, tennis legend (and one-time art dealer) John McEnroe, megapatron Eli Broad; tastemaker Peter Marino; fashion designer Cynthia Rowley and artist Maurizio Cattalan. Although fair director Noah Horowitz hesitates to identify a larger theme or trend this year, he does emphasize a few highlights. We checked out his leads – and followed a few of our own – in the opening hours of the fair.

Jennifer Bartlett, March Bermuda (P15 house), 1998.

Venus Drawn Out

A terrific group of around 35 works on paper by 20th-century women artists chosen by independent curator Susan Harris, Venus Drawn Out is installed in a public lounge area that has a rare amenity at the Piers: natural light. “Drawings are perfect for this space,” says Harris. “I think the intimacy of the works pull people closer.”  Selections range from a gestural Elaine de Kooning to a perfect Agnes Martin grid to classic Jennifer Bartlett house drawing in pastel and a mural-sized Pat Steir. “There’s not really a theme, but so many of these works have such an intensity,” says Harris. The selections are all from galleries exhibiting in the fair, which makes it easy to acquire one – choosing is the hard part.

Chen Haiyan, Caterpillar, 2009.

China Focus

There are plenty of international participants but the focus on China is by far the Armory’s most global effort. Curated by Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center in Beijing, the section of 17 galleries from Hong Kong and the mainland – more than half of which have are new to the international fair circuit – is truly unprecedented. “This will give a sense of what’s actually happening in China,” says Tinari, who notes that the real story is often lost in market hype and a focus on questions of government censorship. There are artists working with traditional mediums, such as Chen Haiyan’s ink paintings at Ink Studio of Beijing, to the artist collective Double Fly Art Center, who have filled the booth of Space Station gallery with balloons and carnival games, along with a large, hyperrealistic painting of a group of adolescent boys goofily in their underwear.

Carrie Schneider, detail of Abigail reading Angela Davis (An Autobiography, 1974). From the Reading Women series (2012-2014).

Going solo

Rebranded and given more space, the Armory Presents section comprises 16 booths each devoted to the work of a single artist. Notable here is Jessica Silverman Gallery of San Francisco, which features recent Yale MFA Hayal Pozanti’s paintings and animations which are built from an alphabet of abstract shapes; and at Lower East Side gallery Invisible-Exports, Scott Treleaven’s collage-like abstractions accompanied by a quirky wall-mounted fountain. Also in this section, don’t miss Ahmed Mater and Nasser Al Salem at the booth of Jeddah gallery Athr, the first-ever Saudi Arabian exhibitor at the fair.

Solo booths can be found across the fair. Two among many of interest: The Chicago dealer Monique Meloche has Carrie Schneider’s quietly powerful photo series Reading Women, and at Dublin gallery Mothers Tankstation, Atushi Kaga’s darkly comic Anime-inspired paintings. “The great thing about a solo presentation is that it allows you to really take a bath in an artist’s work,” says David Godbold of the gallery.

Atushi Kaga, Mt Fuji and aubergines, 2014.

LA Abstraction

In the booth of West Hollywood gallery Louis Stern is a selection of paintings by LA hard-edge painters and its easily the freshest looking group of works here. The Los Angeles school artists of the mid-century such as Helen Lundeberg, Lorser Feitelson and Karl Benjamin ought to be as readily known as Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Mangold, but, says Louis Stern, “nobody paid attention to the work because it was made in California.” At least one of these painters was advised by the doctrinaire modernist critic Clement Greenberg that he needed to move from the West Coast to New York to be taken seriously. But would the colors be as vivid and contrasts so sharp without the LA light?