Katelijne De Backer has stepped down as head of The Armory Show, fair planners told the press this Monday. The news comes as the fair announces that the show will once more be downsized from the year before, though organizers are painting this as intentional. “Our dealers want us to have a more focused group, with larger spaces,” says Paul Morris, the fair’s founding director and replacement for De Backer. Morris was bought out by Merchandise Mart in 2008, and was appointed to VP of Art Shows at the firm.
Of course, the price point for Armory booths remains the same, so the fair may also be responding to increased competition. On a related note, London’s Frieze Fair finally announced that they would launch a 2012 New York fair of similar size (roughly 170 booths) after two years of rumors.
In addition to offering more space, the Armory will also be getting rid of the staircase of doom connecting the Modern fair with the Contemporary. This is great news for everyone’s health — I’m surprised the Armory Show didn’t make people sign waivers before using those stairs — though it’s a shame it comes so late. It’s not like this was an unknown problem that couldn’t have been addressed earlier.
Internal grumbling that the art marketplace was not well understood by the corporate entity did not occur so quietly that the offices of AFC were out of earshot; the 2007 marriage between the Armory Show and their new owners at Merchandise Mart has not been without bumps. Some early speculation that the quality of booths was not as important as the numbers they brought in was heard. There’s a chance the three years Paul Morris spent as VP of Art shows at Merchandise Mart will help him navigate a few of these corporate ropes while tackling the new field of competition (assuming there’s still some learning curve to be addressed at the Merchandise Mart HQ). Morris says he attends more than 30 fairs a year, and hopes to bring a few tricks he’s learned to New York. Apparently that starts with talking to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. With any luck this means that by 2012, fairgoers will be able to hail a cab.