The ADAA Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory.

NEW YORK - New York prides itself on its late-night activities—the later you dine or go for a drink, the cooler you probably are. But benefit galas in the art world work the opposite way: The bigger-deal people get to come in early to events like the ADAA Art Show Gala Preview, held Tuesday night and benefiting Henry Street Settlement. And the earlier, the better.

The Park Avenue Armory was awash in early arrivers when workaday writers (read: me) were allowed in at 6:30 pm. MoMA director Glenn Lowry was already making his way out of the show, glad-handing as he exited. At one point I joked with one top collector that he probably got to come in around 4:30pm—he laughed and didn’t exactly correct me.

The first stop is to check one’s coat, of course, but partly because of the stellar, ongoing Herzog & de Meuron renovation/restoration of the Armory, one enters what must be the World’s Fanciest Coat Room, dubbed the Silver Room, a stately and large room fronting Park Avenue. The woman in front of me stopped in her tracks and said, “Oh my!” as she entered.

Inside the actual show—which is one of the New York calendar’s nicest events because of its calm and considered vibe, and runs until Sunday—collector and Whitney board chairman emeritus Leonard Lauder was sporting a bright red Swatch-ish watch as he entertained a crowd with anecdotes, and Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf checked out the Karen Kilimnik works in the 303 Gallery booth. Collectors Peter Brant, Marie-Josée Kravis and Alberto Mugrabi were milling about, too.

Artist Kiki Smith at the 2013 ADAA Art Show.

Dealers were encouraged to create single-artist booths, an ADAA tradition, and that allows the mind to focus a bit instead of reeling from visual overstimulation. David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin told me he was happy to have only one artist, five works and three prices to deal with in his mini-exhibition of the talented abstractionist Mary Corse. The Pace Gallery father-son team of Arne and Marc Glimcher told me they were happy to have their first show in some time of Kiki Smith’s exuberant sculptures (Smith was also on hand). And over in the David Zwirner Gallery space, it was a happy day for people like me who love Milton Avery’s work, as the walls were covered in his theatrical-themed paintings of the 1930s.

A single work that made many patrons slow down and pay attention was in the booth of Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art: “Two Women,” 1928, by Frida Kahlo. This early work, a lovely double profile, invited contemplation for its stillness and its rarity. As one collector put it to me, “You don’t see that every day.”