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.