Gallerist Column

Fair Game: London’s Frieze Fair Arrives in May, Challenging Armory Show’s Supremacy

So many New York art fairs, so little time: what is an art dealer to do?
randalls island Fair Game: London’s Frieze Fair Arrives in May, Challenging Armory Show’s Supremacy

Randall's Island, the future home of Frieze New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

March or May or both?

That is the key question facing galleries that want to participate in art fairs in New York next year, as a breathtaking—some might say absurd—number of art fairs vie for the attention of collectors and art dealers.

Frieze New York Comes Out Swinging

After 10 years in London, the Frieze Art Fair announced earlier this year that it was planning to start a New York edition in May 2012 on Randall’s Island—the square-mile piece of land across the East River from Spanish Harlem, which was once the headquarters of Robert Moses.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Frieze released a formidable exhibitor list, with about 170 names, including more than 30 top-flight galleries from New York, like 303, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, David Zwirner, Friedrich Petzel, Metro Pictures and Green Naftali. High Line curator Cecilia Alemani has been hired to organize its projects and public programs.

Since some dealers had been grumbling about the fair’s ostensibly far-flung location, director Amanda Sharp and company must have been very persuasive. For one thing, they have emphasized that the island, which will be home to a “bespoke” tent designed by Brooklyn architecture firm SO-IL, is a mere 15-minute car ride from downtown Manhattan.

Armory Show Readies List, Hires Winkleman

The Armory Show—New York’s biggest contemporary art fair—is set to arrive in March, on Hudson River Piers 92 and 94. It has not yet released its list of galleries (it typically waits until January, though Lisson, Sean Kelly, Massimo de Carlo, Boesky and Victoria Miro are rumored to be on board), but it has already said it will trim last year’s total of 274 participants by about 50.

Many galleries that participated in last year’s Armory Show—among them Andrew Kreps, Marianne Boesky and Lehmann Maupin—have signed on for Frieze’s inaugural edition. How many dealers will be willing to do two New York fairs in as many months? That may depend on the prices they are offered for booths.

Meanwhile, the Armory has tapped Chelsea gallerist Edward Winkleman to curate a new section called Armory Films, which will bring a variety of filmic art to a media lounge at the fair. Mr. Winkleman has been a visible video booster for years, and last year launched a video-only art fair called Moving Image during the week of the Armory.

Is Mr. Winkleman worried about being co-opted by the larger fair? “Believe it or not,” he told us on the phone from Miami, “I think Armory and Moving Image are complementary. Last year, about half our galleries did another fair. Moving Image is an opportunity to show your video work at the same time as another fair. You do not have to darken your whole booth. You as the gallery can focus on doing the other fair.”

Satellite Fairs Galore

Which brings us to the messy topic of satellite fairs. Mr. Winkleman told us that the second edition of Moving Image will take place in March during the Armory, and that he expects at least 30 galleries will participate. Why not hold it during Frieze, we asked? “We did the geographical math, and if you are going to Randall’s Island then trying to see Moving Image, it may not happen,” he said.

Like galleries, satellite fairs also have tough choices to make about scheduling. Volta and Scope are sticking with dates that coincide with Armory Week, as they always have, though the Pulse fair has opted to align its fortunes with Frieze, and will operate out of the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea May 3-6. According to Google Maps, that will present visitors with an 18-minute taxi ride to Frieze, without traffic.

So far, Pulse is the lone defector. Despite persistent rumors that the scrappy NADA fair—run by the New Art Dealers Alliance—would stage a New York fair at the same time as Frieze, nothing definitive has materialized, and the clock is running out. In addition, quite a few NADA galleries have signed on with Frieze. Maybe in 2013?

March, on the other hand, is jam-packed with fairs. Along with the Armory, there will be the ADAA Art Show and the Independent, which has taken place in the old Dia:Chelsea building since 2010, when it was initiated by New York’s Elizabeth Dee and London’s Hotel gallery. Mark your calendars for March 8-11.

A list of exhibitors for Independent is expected this month. Both Dee and Hotel are participating in the inaugural edition of Frieze New York, and a representative at Dee told us that they expect some of Independent’s exhibitors will sign on for more than one New York fair in 2012.

The Future

While this two-part fair season is certainly exciting for all involved, Gallerist is left wondering what is next. Will fairs continue to expand beyond New York? Can we do a Basel Mexico City, during the winter, a few months before April’s Zona Maco? How about an Armory Madrid, a few months after February’s Arco? A suggestion: there is some dead time in July and August that could be filled with new fairs. Let’s make sure art dealers are never at their galleries, actually organizing exhibitions.

A few months back, off the record, a downtown dealer quipped to us that, with the recent proliferation of art fairs, it felt as though fairs were the new galleries, and that “galleries are the new artists.” With whom, everyone is asking, will these galleries sign?

Can New York actually support this many fairs, and will galleries continue to play ball? Art Basel Miami Beach has long been effective at luring collectors from both winter-ravaged Europe and increasingly cash-rich South America. New York in May, much less March, is not quite the same as Miami in December.

When we spoke with Mr. Winkleman, he was putting the finishing touches on SEVEN in Miami, an alternative fair of seven galleries—including Pierogi, Ronald Feldman, Postmasters and PPOW—that started last year. Housed in a large warehouse, SEVEN features no booths, and works from different galleries are hung side by side.

“Miami is so much the Oscars of the art world that you can do something experimental here, and it can still sell well,” Mr. Winkleman told us. “The space is the real trick: there is an abundance in Miami.” As some galleries and fairgoers admit to fair fatigue (see Observer columnist Adam Lindemann’s article in this week’s paper), one wonders if similar experiments will take hold in New York. Space is a tricker issue here, but the desire for an alternative is growing. Let’s hope someone steps up.

–Andrew Russeth

This article was published in Gallerist’s new weekly column in The New York Observer.

Follow GalleristNY via RSS.