More Fair Logic
No one knows.
That's the response you most often hear when the question "What do you think the coming week is going to do to the New York fair landscape?" crops up. And it's cropping up so constantly as the week begins that the answers are overlapping and like cacophonous sound waves cancelling each other out to some degree, leaving a numbing white noise in their wake.
With regard to the main fair, Frieze New York, everyone seems to think the location is the big variable, and how easy it is (or isn't) to get on or off Randall's Island may determine the inaugural version's success. Will you take a cab, the train, or try the ferry? seems to be another common question. (A friend of ours born and raised in New York, more than 70 years ago, has never been to Randall's Island either, so he was no help in deciding how to get there. And he's probably more typical than not, which gives non-New Yorkers some idea why the location seems such a big unknown.)
No one doubts the fair itself will be high quality. No one doubts New York has the bandwidth for more great art. Short of Art Basel opening up shop in New York, though, I don't think any other event could have caused this much commotion, anticipation, or uncertainty in the Big Apple. At least where the contemporary art market is concerned.
I've mused on all this recently, but to be honest it feels as if it's all shifting so quickly, I personally can't get enough feedback on what it all means. One thing is clear, we're in a tumultuous art fair era, and experimentation is the order of the day. Clearly things will need to settle, but how they settle is being worked out even as we speak.
Murat and I are in an interesting (though, perhaps not far from in the Chinese curse sort of way) position to observe this evolution. Collaborating with 6 other galleries to play with the model in Miami, and having started our own small, niche fair in New York and London, even as we participate in more established fairs and other innovative models, we're monitoring it all on the iPad and iPhone even as we are finalizing plans on the laptop, all the while trying to remain as flexible and rested as possible in the non-online world (so, you know, we can actually visit or work the fairs). We're certainly not bored.
What we're noticing though from our particular position, very gratifyingly, is how experimentation in particular seems to be paying off. Especially when the experimentation is driven by galleries' needs and the realities of both viewing art and selling it. For two examples I can report on firsthand, traffic increased significantly at SEVEN in Miami this past year, and sales jumped dramatically at Moving Image New York this past March (with several galleries eventually grossing more than 10 times the participation fee). More than increased traffic or sales, though, is what seems a growing awareness that hybrid models (whereby, for another firsthand example, one art fair is invited to curate a film series within another art fair, as happened with Armory Film) are paying off (again with an emphasis on meeting the needs of the galleries and with an eye on better viewing experiences).
We're not alone in our wish to experiment, obviously. No experiment has been a more brilliant triumph, in my humble opinion, than Independent. It simply looked and felt fantastic this year. I heard sales were stronger as well.
What's in store for the galleries participating in fairs this week? We'll know soon enough. Personally, any effort that brings quality and excitement to New York is welcome in my book.