Economics USA

Economic downturn prompts stand-out booths

Less commercial climate results in “curated” presentations

As dealers struggle to stand out in the shrinking art market, increasing numbers are presenting single-artist exhibitions at the Armory Show, which opens in New York to invited guests on Wednesday, and to the public on Thursday. Others are presenting themed and curated group shows instead of unrelated selections from the gallery roster.

For some, this is clearly a response to the dire financial situation: while dealers struggled through Monday’s snow storm to hang their booths, the Dow Jones index plummeted to its lowest mark for 12 years. Paris dealer Frank Elbaz, of the Galerie Frank Elbaz (P94/973), will show the sculptor Gyan Panchal. “Due to the economic situation, we’re not expecting to do much business, so I’d rather make a beautiful and coherent booth. The main purpose of my presentation is to meet curators and collectors,” he said.

One of the most striking solo shows is devoted to Hans Josephsohn, a late-blossoming 89-year-old sculptor whose massive, archaic bronzes greet arrivals near the fair entrance in front of the large stand taken by Hauser & Wirth of Zurich and London (P94/601). “We could have brought some discreet paintings and sold them easily,” said associate director Joel Yoss. “But we don’t like to do things the easy or the obvious way. We like to take risks—and hopefully we will sell some things at this fair.” The largest Josephsohn works are on sale for $210,000, but smaller wall reliefs are on offer at $10,000, reflecting the tactic adopted by most galleries at this year’s Armory of offering works at lower price points.

London dealer Simon Lee (P94/1504) has shifted to one-artist shows at fairs in the past two years. “Sales volumes are lower, but one feels somehow more satisfied,” he said. “It is so unsatisfactory to show one of this artist and one of that—it can end up looking like a dog’s breakfast. Fortunately I don’t depend on art fairs for sales. I am more interested in them being extensions of the gallery.” At the Armory Show he will present a stand devoted to New York-based painter Gary Simmons.

Some dealers say they have opted for solo shows for straightforward commercial reasons. London dealer Max Wigram (P94/708) believes he has an excellent opportunity to sell his exhibition of monochrome oils on board by James White, priced at about $16,000 to $25,000. “These are beautiful paintings—new and fresh to the United States, but an artist who is already well supported by collectors in Europe, and by some in New York who collect emerging artists.”

Wigram believes a solo show can have real impact at a fair. “The market is not going to play such a big role any more, which means people will have to look in depth. My gallery represents a generation of artists who have nothing to do with the tomfoolery of the last few years.”

Scott Speh of Western Exhibitions, Chicago, (P94/740) also believes in making a strategic impact. “We’re a young gallery with young and emerging artists. There are so many well-known national and international artists here, so we figured the best way to tell our story was to have a one-man show.” Western Exhibitions is showing John Neff, a 34-year-old photographer.

Galerie Eigen+Art of Berlin and Leipzig (P94/1051) is presenting a one-man show for the third year running at the Armory, convinced that it is the best way to introduce emerging artists to the US market. This year’s artist is Matthias Weischer; two paintings were already on reserve to collectors who had seen them via jpeg ­before the show even opened, at $160,000 and $38,000 each, according to gallery director Gerd Harry Lybke.

Other single-artist shows include Christine Hill at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts of New York (P94/951); Dasha Shishkin at Zach Feuer of New York (P94/1151); Eva Berendes at Jacky Strenz of Frankfurt (P94/743); Maria Finn at The Apartment in Athens (P94/966); and Anton Henning at Galerie Bob van Orsouw of Zurich (P94/900).

Museum-style group shows include Paris space Galerie Lahumière’s (P92/312) presentation “Paris 1950-60—the Roots” in the new modern section on Pier 92, featuring geometric abstract art; Sicardi of Houston (P92/353), showing Latin American kinetic art of the 1960s; and a group show of small works by women artists including Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse and Kiki Smith by New York dealers Amy Wolf and Marianne Elrick-Manley (P92/346). Studio la Città of Verona (P92/230) hired curator Marco Meneguzzo to direct “Italy Post-Contemporary”, featuring nine artists led by Morandi and Fontana. Gallery owner Hélène de Franchis said: “I wanted to present a less commercial show with high-quality work representing the 40-year history of my gallery.”

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