Sarah Thornton Gets The New York Fairs Right

by Art Fag City on March 12, 2010 · 18 comments Events

POST BY PADDY JOHNSON

Sarah Thornton nails the New York art fairs for the Economist, in particular, The Armory.

“Armory” is a powerful brand. It evokes the 1913 Armory Show, which introduced European modern art, including Marcel Duchamp's scandalous “Nude Descending a Staircase”, to America. In 1999 four dealer-organisers of an annual contemporary art fair resurrected the name. Then, in 2007, they sold both name and fair to Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc (MMPI). When MMPI asserts, as it does on its website, that it is “the world's leading owner and operator of showroom buildings and trade show facilities,” it gives us a clue as to why the Armory is one of the world’s worst art fairs.

Last week, the 13th edition of the Armory Show hosted 289 galleries-50 more than last year. Although some stellar galleries participated and a dozen or so offered arresting installations, the stands were very uneven. Add to that the indiscriminate lighting, bad acoustics, awkward floor plan, and dearth of food and drink and you’ve got a fool-proof recipe for a terrible viewing experience. Art, especially on its first outing, can’t afford to be treated like run-of-the-mill merchandise; it requires a context that enhances its aura. It’s embarrassing to New York that the Armory, the symbolic hub of the week, is delivering so poorly on its legendary brand.

Thornton outlines problems I’ve been talking about for some time now, so I hope the folks at The Armory start taking these criticisms a little more seriously. The New York fairs don’t look very good on a world stage. Hell, they’re not even very good compared to what happens in Miami.

The piece as a whole discusses the problem of branding in New York. I would add her run down of successful and unsuccessful New York names, the generic titles of virtually every art world publication. Observe: Artnews, ArtReview, Art in America, ArtForum, Art Papers, Art on Paper, The Art Newspaper…the list goes on.  These names simply underscore the insular nature of the art world. If the only way to know the difference between these magazines is to be part of the scene, then surely it’s not of great importance to most of these professionals to reach an audience larger than themselves.

  • Mead McLean

    Add ArtFagCity to the list…

    Just kidding Paddy; we all love your particular brand of criticism.

  • Mead McLean

    Add ArtFagCity to the list…

    Just kidding Paddy; we all love your particular brand of criticism.

  • Howard Halle

    Paddy, New York City simply doesn’t have the right facilities to host something like a big art fair compared to other cities. And when we try to build them, they get shot down by NIMBY activists. So I’d submit that infrastructure is a big part of the problem.

  • Howard Halle

    Paddy, New York City simply doesn’t have the right facilities to host something like a big art fair compared to other cities. And when we try to build them, they get shot down by NIMBY activists. So I’d submit that infrastructure is a big part of the problem.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Howard You make a good point, but Sarah Thornton’s thoughts on lighting, floorplans, and food – why can’t that be addressed in house. I suppose I don’t know tons about the logistics of real estate options, but it seems like if anyone would want to help find a solution, it’d be bloomberg.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Howard You make a good point, but Sarah Thornton’s thoughts on lighting, floorplans, and food – why can’t that be addressed in house. I suppose I don’t know tons about the logistics of real estate options, but it seems like if anyone would want to help find a solution, it’d be bloomberg.

  • fds1679

    London, in a similar way, has no real “infrastructure” for such a thing. But the Frieze tent is a good (not great) solution. The uneven floors are one problem, but at least the food at Frieze is okay. I had a massive headache and my reflex to flee the Armory pier after a few hours was immense. The first thing I noticed at Independent was the quality of the food, the art was pretty good too.

  • fds1679

    London, in a similar way, has no real “infrastructure” for such a thing. But the Frieze tent is a good (not great) solution. The uneven floors are one problem, but at least the food at Frieze is okay. I had a massive headache and my reflex to flee the Armory pier after a few hours was immense. The first thing I noticed at Independent was the quality of the food, the art was pretty good too.

  • dehydrated

    i almost took someone’s empty water bottle out of the trash to fill up in the bathroom.

  • dehydrated

    i almost took someone’s empty water bottle out of the trash to fill up in the bathroom.

  • http://bloggy.com/ Barry

    In the early 90s I went to a number of quickly-organized art shows/fairs in empty floors of lower Manhattan skyscrapers. Each gallery would have its own area. I don’t see why that, combined with some decent food vendors, would be less attractive than a pier that is more than half a mile from a subway station.

  • http://bloggy.com/ Barry

    In the early 90s I went to a number of quickly-organized art shows/fairs in empty floors of lower Manhattan skyscrapers. Each gallery would have its own area. I don’t see why that, combined with some decent food vendors, would be less attractive than a pier that is more than half a mile from a subway station.

  • ernstwhere

    I disagree with Howard. The attraction of Armory Show weekend is the infrastructure of New York. It’s an opportunity for every stripe of the contemporary art field to mix, conduct business and network within the most culturally developed city in the United States. What visitor to New York ever thought it would be easy to get around town? That’s part of the energy of the city which is always an attraction. Is the gripe really about Armory’s event planning? We live in a city built on event planning, that can be changed. I appreciate the Economist’s column, but it asks a deeper question. Does the art world want to make itself more coherent and accessible to those not in the know (when being in the know is the prize commodity in this field) the next time around?

  • ernstwhere

    I disagree with Howard. The attraction of Armory Show weekend is the infrastructure of New York. It’s an opportunity for every stripe of the contemporary art field to mix, conduct business and network within the most culturally developed city in the United States. What visitor to New York ever thought it would be easy to get around town? That’s part of the energy of the city which is always an attraction. Is the gripe really about Armory’s event planning? We live in a city built on event planning, that can be changed. I appreciate the Economist’s column, but it asks a deeper question. Does the art world want to make itself more coherent and accessible to those not in the know (when being in the know is the prize commodity in this field) the next time around?

  • ernstwhere

    And afterall. Everything one could have seen and experienced last weekend, concessions are the problem?

  • ernstwhere

    And afterall. Everything one could have seen and experienced last weekend, concessions are the problem?

  • nate blake

    I have to mention that I got two free passes to this mess of cubicles and to the VOLTA SHOW. I’m not too bitter.

    There wasn’t anything amazingly uplifting about the Armory Show. Most of the staff were assholes. Most of the people representing galleries for Pier 92 were posh posh modernist dealers who stared me down because I wasn’t planning on dropping millions on abstract expressionist art objects or some other dead artist thing. People at Pier 94 were a lot nicer. The set up was worse than Pier 92 but at least the people were nicer.

  • nate blake

    I have to mention that I got two free passes to this mess of cubicles and to the VOLTA SHOW. I’m not too bitter.

    There wasn’t anything amazingly uplifting about the Armory Show. Most of the staff were assholes. Most of the people representing galleries for Pier 92 were posh posh modernist dealers who stared me down because I wasn’t planning on dropping millions on abstract expressionist art objects or some other dead artist thing. People at Pier 94 were a lot nicer. The set up was worse than Pier 92 but at least the people were nicer.

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