This year marks the centennial of the original Armory Show, that infamous art exhibit held in 1913 at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue (these days you probably know the place from those Choice Eats food orgies). It was the first major exhibition of modern art in the U.S., and it swiftly scandalized a large swath of middlebrow America that wasn't prepared for Europe's avant-garde. In particular, Marcel Duchamp's groundbreaking Nude Descending a Staircase caused quite the sensation, and the general uproar surrounding the show was perhaps best crystallized by Theodore Roosevelt's declaration, "That's not art!"

Starting in the mid-'90s, a contemporary reboot of The Armory Show plowed the original event's historical cachet into a brand, and the exhibition has grown into a mandatory whistle-stop on the one percenters' global art fair circuit. It now takes place on the sprawling Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River and 55th Street, and is owned and operated by Merchandise Mart Properties, which also presents the slightly "alt" Volta Art Fair. Art in America's Brian Boucher reported last year that Vornado Realty Trust, which owns Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc., has been looking to sell the whole operation, and Boucher notes that the show's "inhospitable setting and gigantic size (274 galleries in 2011) made it generally dreaded among visitors and dealers."

Boucher is certainly right about the inhospitable setting—last night our long blustery journey west from Columbus Circle culminated, appropriately, with the sighting of a massive installation outside Pier 94 consisting of the words "I NEED TO START SEEING A THERAPIST" spelled out in giant wood and steel letters. Inside, madness. International dandies chattered and swilled champagne like giddy residents of Panem's Capitol on the eve of the Hunger Games, admiring fine art objects like the painted McDonald's cup encased in glass ($9,000). On opening night especially the people-watching can be more satisfying than the art admiring. (It gets even better at the annual after-party at MoMA, headlined this year by Solange.)

Of course, the fact that the whole shebang is run by a company called Merchandise Mart Properties speaks volumes about the circus (to which admission costs $30). The Armory Show is certainly an "experience," but don't go expecting to replicate that intimate revelation you had on acid at the Rothko Chapel on your way back from SXSW. It's essentially a big shopping mall, and as one art dealer told the Observer last month, "even the artists are market-driven. They see all their friends doing well, buying shit with all the money they make from dripping a little sweat on charcoal."

And yet, sprinkled throughout the big crass loony bin, some real beauties can be found. Last year the show was trimmed down to a more manageable 228 exhibitors, making it a better experience for the casual visitor, and this year's version retains the shrewdly tightened approach. One wing of the show is devoted to a well-curated selection of American galleries; if you go, don't miss Duke Riley's atavistic scrimshaw and large-scale nautical-themed studies. (Riley, you may recall, is a Brooklyn-based artist who was caught by the Coast Guard after he sailed a DIY wooden submarine within 200 feet of the docked Queen Mary 2 at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.) We also adore Patrick Jacobs's marvelous dioramas, which are viewed through a circular glass lens that magnifies his breathtaking attention to detail. And Tobias Bernstrup's large-scale sculpture installation, in which decaying infrastructure forms the word HOPE in giant letters, would really tie the Gothamist break-room together.

The Armory Show is just the anchor to an entire week of art exhibitions, with galleries from all over the world converging on various satellite art fairs around town. There is also the Fountain Art Fair (held at the very same armory where the 1913 Armory Show was held), Volta in SoHo, the ADAA Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory, Scope in Chelsea, PooL Art Fair at the Flatiron Hotel, and many more. Most charge an admission fee of $5 and up, and most conclude on Sunday.