The Art Fairs of New York

   |  9 March 2012  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Fairs are the life blood of the Art World. Far from the hushed atmosphere of the sales room, from “weird pictures in a frame” which are often impenetrable to the un-initiated, and from static museums, art fairs offer something entirely different, allowing novices as well as the art world’s hardcore to mingle.

An anecdote which appeared on Twitter on 9 March is testament to this. A visitor to this year’s Armory show in New York was admiring a monumental abstract work by Gerhard Richter, and enquired about the work’s price. “Thirteen point five”, replied the dealer. “Thousand?”, asked the visitor, only to have his wife correct him: “No, millions.”

The art fair remains the best place to discover the dynamism and the creativity of the international contemporary art scene, as well as for getting up close to classic modern and ancient works. Many galleries understand this, and leap at the opportunity to  introduce the works of their artists to newcomers to the art world.

Anybody casting their eyes over the major art fairs taking place worldwide in this first week of March would, without a doubt, arrive at the conclusion that New York is the nucleus of today’s art scene, and they would be absolutely justified to do so. If they were to look over the dates for fairs in June, however, it would appear that Basel were

the capital of the art world. Chris Vroom, the director of, listed ten shows which are taking place in the Big Apple this weekend. Charlotte Burns, writing for, counts eleven events. She also goes on to point out that, contrary to Basel, which every June hosts one single exhibition of epic proportions, this weekend of shows in New York will have much more variety.

The city of New York has undertaken to compliment this variety through putting on the Armory Show Art Week. Charity galas, public exhibitions, events to bring art to the people, guided visits, reduced entry fees to the city’s many museums, installations in public parks, all are part of the Armory Show.

Yet the Armory Show is not simply about art. The city also takes the opportunity to promote its hotels and tourist sights as part of the event too. Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, takes it upon himself to respond to the needs of the organisers, and takes care not to ignore any of them, proof of the political and economic significance of such shows for America’s biggest city.

Each of these fairs cater to a certain clientele. The Art Show, organised by the ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) is the old man of this weekend’s shows. Open to members only, this fair is of a modest size with only 72 exhibitors. It takes pride in being the place where the cream of the New York art world congregate, simply through being the  most venerable event. Because of this, the director of the event does not hesitate to describe it as a source of inspiration for the other New York fairs in a press release for the show.

The Armory Show, for its fourth edition, may be considered as a spirited, internationally inclined event. A little too spirited in the eyes of some commentators, with the 2011 edition of the show in particular coming under criticism, especially its section dedicated to modern art. The Amory Show remains, however, an asset to the art world, the tendencies of which seem to be heavily influenced by the American East Coast. The Armory show this year has a Nordic focus, with singer Björk and performer Ragnar Kjartansson as guest stars. The Washington Kennedy Center is following a similar theme with a Nordic Arts Festival Planned for 2013.

The ADAA Art Show and the Armory Show will largely attract New York’s attention this weekend. A Number of galleries which are being presented at the Art Show are also one of the Armory Show’s 220 exhibitors. In response, the smaller shows are adopting several strategies in attempt to stand out; cornering the market, big name collaborations, and (falsely) aggressive rivalries.

The New York edition of the Scope Fair, which moved last year to premises near to those where the Armory show will be taking place on the banks of the Hudson river, is one such smaller event. Alexis Hubsham, its founder, declared in 2011 that this decision to move the location of the event had “everything to do” with the Armory Show. Now in its eleventh edition, Scope New York also faces stiff competition. The event’s organisers have chosen to focus firmly on contemporary art in order to contrast with the modern art theme of the Armory show.

Volta NY, for its fifth edition, is collaborating with the Armory Show with a combined ticketing system for the two events. Its 80 spaces, which are each allocated to an artist rather than a gallery. They are following the lead of the Armory in their content too, with a section dedicated to Nordic artists, from Iceland and Scandinavia. Moving Image, a fair dedicated to video art, is also a satellite show of the Armory, and will feature video works by artists being featured at the larger show.

The Independent Art Fair, found by gallery owners Elizabeth Dee and Darren Brook, is now in its third edition. This fair aims to present artists and galleries all united under a common theme, as opposed to other fairs which often feature a divergent, heterogeneous collection of galleries, artists and styles; The PooLArt Fair is for the eighth time bringing together  a number of artists not affiliated to any particular

gallery in the tradition of the Salon des indépendants de Paris of 1863. It aims to attract the attention of visitors to larger neighbouring shows, in order to promote its artists, many of whom are from the Antilles. Frère Independent, the organiser of the PooL Art Fair, is in fact also the organiser of two fairs in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Among the other events attempting to break away from the larger events as well as from galleries is the Spring/Break Art Show. This show is housed in a former school in the Nolita quarter of the city and will host exhibits by 23 independent curators.


The Fountain Art Fair also takes an interesting approach, featuring works by street artists in the former 69th Armory Regiment, the building that hosted the very first Armory Show in 1913 and from which the fair takes its name. The choice of this location for the fair creates an intentional link with the fair’s history as well as tying in with Marcel Duchamp, the French artist who scandalised the 1913 Armory Show and who created the controversial readymade the Fountain. This work, which was refused by the New York Society of Independent Artists in 1917, gives the fair its name. Similarly, at the end of March, Art Expo and its 250 some fine art exhibitioners will set-up on Pier 92, the same stage used by the Armory Show, for the big finish to the month-long string of exhibitions. Fair organisers are really drawn to this symbolic spot.

The same phenomenon will take place on a smaller scale at the beginning of May once again with a number of fairs holding exhibitions simultaneously. There has been much talk about the decision to move the London Frieze fair to New York. Wedged in between Contemporary Auction Week, Frieze New York will be held inside a park, just like its more venerable British sister fair, on Randall’s Island. The New York design firm, SO-IL created the marquee, which will host the fair’s visitors.

There are several similarities between Frieze and Armory. Both fairs are new, innovative, and have recently been looking towards the past—after the 2011 Armory Show Modern, Frieze will be launching Frieze Masters next October in London, in parallel with its regular programme.

Frieze New York has already embraced the Armory Show spirit. It seems as if the New York art scene is expecting the confrontation and has already commented on the opposition between the two heavyweights. “If you don’t do this fair, you’re stupid. Frieze won’t cut down on the business you do here.” To sum up, “two large fairs is better than one.”

Frieze seems to have quickly attracted keen interest from the public, which may not be as strong as the attention received by the Armory Show, but which is impressive nonetheless. Frieze has already held several events, which normally take place in parallel with the Armory Show but which have been postponed from March to May—the fairs’ online calendars gives contradictory information.

In a press release published by Verge Art Fair NYC: NADA, Pulse, and Red Dot have joined together a group of satellite fairs around Frieze. During the same week, the second edition of the Spring Show, an antiquities fair, will also be running. Frieze can already count on the support of Michael Bloomberg, who is thrilled by this new arrival and by how this artistic event will benefit his city.

To return to the comment made by Charlotte Burns on the website, these are two different groups of fairs taking place in New York during the months of March and May 2012. Basking in the glow of its recognition thanks to its London success, Frieze is coming face to face with the Armory Show, a highly important institution, albeit sometimes criticised, especially in the company of other fairs with a similarly large stature, who oppose a certain resistance in a multi-polar structure. Conversely, the format proposed by Frieze, seems closer to the one offered by Art Basel—a predominant force around which other smaller and complimentary fairs gravitate and who openly define themselves as such. Even though the difference between the two fairs may go unnoticed by visitors who think that a Richter would sell for $13,500, there is no doubt that the art world (even Sean Kelly) will value this formula which in the end is more profitable.

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