Contemporary Art Fairs Heat Up

The Telegraph has a good article on the large American art fairs, and how competition is changing the New York Armory Show. With the London based Frieze set to invade NY, the Armory Show and promoters are working hard to keep it viable.

The Telegraph reports

More importantly, though, the Armory Show’s reputation was hit by criticisms that, in its drive for profit, it had neglected the needs of exhibitors and overlooked the quality of the viewing experience. Critics said too many galleries were packed into small booths with not enough space for visitors to walk around and relax.

Although it had the support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Museum of Modern Art, some collectors stopped visiting the Hudson River location, and several high-profile exhibitors dropped out. In fact, the turnover in exhibiting galleries became extreme. In 2010, 54 dropped out, and 92 came in who hadn’t exhibited the year before.

Such instability made the Armory Show ripe for replacement as a leading fair, and, nine months ago, Frieze announced that it was going to spread its wings and land in New York. Its directors, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, had been thinking about a New York fair since 2008. Since they opened the London fair, virtually obliterating the long-standing Art Cologne in the process, they have earned a reputation as merciless opportunists, “always looking for a gap in the market (and to crush the competition)”, according to Art Review magazine. But, says Slotover, “the initial idea came from our exhibitors”, who had reservations about the overly commercial directions that the fairs in New York and Miami were going in.

Following the Frieze announcement and the likelihood that more galleries would desert the Armory, MMP re-invested in the fair, and changed the management structure, bringing in as managing director Noah Horowitz, a graduate of the Courtauld Institute and director of the first VIP online art fair last year.

The results look promising. A number of high-end dealers are back, including David Zwirner (New York), Spruth Magers (London and Berlin), and Hyundai (Seoul). Stands in the overcrowded contemporary sector have been reduced by 25 per cent to allow galleries to present their art better. Wider aisles have been designed, and lounges and cafes have been improved. Most importantly, the emphasis on the art experience has returned. America’s latest cultural star, Chicago artist Theaster Gates, who makes symbolically charged sculptures from recycled materials, has been commissioned to make work for the fair, and galleries have been encouraged to present thematic displays rather than just an array of stock.
Source: The Telegraph

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