Competition keeps art fairs on their toes
Organisers have had to up their game in an increasingly crowded market
By Charlotte Burns and Melanie Gerlis. From Armory daily edition
Published online: 04 March 2011
new york. There are over 600 galleries spread over seven art fairs vying for collectors and sales during New York’s unofficial arts week. And that’s not counting the smaller satellites and numerous gallery shows from Chelsea to Brooklyn. Elsewhere there is a dominant beast: in Miami it is Art Basel and London has Frieze, but there is no über art fair in New York. Does Manhattan really need one? Or does competition bring out the best in everyone?
The Armory Show, founded by four entrepreneurial art dealers in 1994 and first held at the Gramercy Hotel, has grown into a corporate-run event filling two piers. But several major dealers have jumped ship in recent years. And there is a power play between the city’s rival fairs.
The Art Show, run by the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), moved its dates last year, going toe-to-toe with the Armory Show, which had encroached on the ADAA’s traditionally blue-chip turf in 2009 by introducing the Armory Show-Modern. Things heated up further when the young pretender, Independent, entered the fray last year, taking over the former Dia building in Chelsea to create refreshingly alternative, booth-free displays of international contemporary art.
This year all three fairs return. Some say the shifting of the art world’s tectonic plates is beneficial. “There’s a healthy competition that’s breeding excellence,” says Mari Spirito, the director of 303 Gallery (P94/1300), whose sales include Eva Rothschild’s, Jokes, 2007, for €45,000, to a New York-based collector. Maureen Paley, showing at Independent, agrees: “Diversity is never a bad thing, and the city has a broad enough base to support it. New York maintains its position as a diverse magnet.” Paley’s early sales include David Salle’s I’ve Got It All Up Here, 2010. The artist’s large-scale works sell for around $300,000.
Others, particularly art dealers on the modern section of the Armory Show on Pier 92, are less convinced. “It would be great to have one leading fair. You need a strong event to attract collectors,” says first-time exhibitor Manuel Ludorff at Galerie Ludorff (P92/124), showing a rare 1919 Alexej Jawlensky oil on linen, priced at $1.75m.
As the market continues to pick up pace, some gallerists are opting out altogether, while others are taking the opportunity to have more than one bite at the cherry. Richard Desroche of New York’s CRG Gallery has made sales at both The Art Show (B8) and the Armory Show (P94/1212), with works ranging from $4,000 to $250,000 at the former. He also sold works by Steven Bindernagel at the Armory Show, including Synthesized Ruins, 2011, for $12,000.
Elizabeth Raizes Sadeghi, the director of Greenberg Van Doren gallery (P94/946; B7 at The Art Show), says the strategy is working for them, too. “It’s good that the fairs are broken up—there’s a limit to how much people can absorb at once,” she says, reporting sales including Betty, 2003, priced at $9,000 by Tim Davis at the Armory Show and a 1977 $450,000 Richard Diebenkorn at The Art Show, both to private US collectors.
The Armory Show seems to be setting out a store for newer buyers, while The Art Show still appeals more to the seasoned, well-heeled collector. “The Armory is good for people who want to get in the game because it appeals to a broader market. It doesn’t need great collectors,” says Miami-based Marty Margulies, who has a museum space there. He bought several works including Ruby Neri’s Untitled, 2011, from David Kordansky, priced at $9,000 (P94/615). Elsewhere, prices were temptingly low as several dealers brought new works by young artists in more adventurous displays than last year.
The sense of discovery continued at Independent. Its co-founder Darren Flook says “the level of galleries, museums and collectors in New York is amazing. That’s why you take a risk here.”
And there is talk of another player coming to the table. “The rumour that Frieze will open here is encouraging everyone to up their game,” says gallerist Ed Winkleman, who has launched his own video art fair, Moving Image, this week (see p9). Nonetheless, Frieze’s organisers are coy. “[We] explore many projects on an ongoing basis,” says a spokeswoman.
Some say the confluence of so many events lures more collectors, tourists and dollars: the week is expected to bring in over $40m, according to New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg (below left), who opened the Armory Show on Wednesday. Showing no favouritism, Bloomberg graced The Art Show’s preview last year. So why doesn’t the city officially endorse an arts week as it does fashion week and restaurant week? The mayor declined to comment, passing the question to Margaret Morton, cultural affairs deputy commissioner: “There are no plans right now but we try to support the arts as broadly as possible.” Lucy Mitchell-Innes, ADAA president, thinks the city should. “It would be enormously positive for tourism, economic impact and art industry awareness.”
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