Shifts in strategy are par for the course when fair leadership changes, and Genocchio points out that the last major overhaul of The Armory Show took place when his predecessor Noah Horowitz came on for the 2012 edition of the fair. Among other changes, Horowitz cut back on the number of exhibitors and removed an aisle on Pier 94, which had previously made the overcrowded Armory Show among the greatest exponents of a meat market art fair experience. Horowitz was heralded as “bringing The Armory Show back,” says Genocchio. He has different ambitions for the narrative that will surround his directorship.
Genocchio has removed another aisle in 2017—one that ghettoized a number of dealers on the left wing of Pier 94—and worked again with architectural firm Bade Stageberg Cox to further widen hallways and create more open spaces throughout the piers. The result should allow visitors better sight-lines and vistas when moving throughout The Armory Show, and it has allowed for an increase in the average size of booths that the fair offers galleries. But the director had other concerns, less immediately apparent to visitors.
“It was time that we took a broader look at the fair climate and asked how we could rewrite The Armory Show to today’s market conditions,” says Genocchio, characterizing the market as “choppy” at present.
While data on primary market performance in 2016 is yet to be released, judging by auction sales and the prices being paid on the secondary market for young artists’ work, 2016 likely followed the downward trend experienced in 2015. If the market did contract, it’s not to say that some or even many dealers aren’t still doing well. But, according to Genocchio, all are feeling the squeeze.
“Every single dealer that participates in this fair, whether they are a billion-dollar business or a dollar business, is price-sensitive at this point in the market cycle,” he says. “They’re aware of the costs of participating in the fair. They’re trying to save money. And they don’t want to take unnecessary risk.”
He sees it as his responsibility as director to facilitate that more conscious, business-like spending by his clients.
Genocchio’s proudest accomplishment in this regard is the change he’s brought to The Armory Show’s Presents section, in which young dealers show solo or dual artist presentations. The number of applicants to what was a section of 22 galleries last year had grown steadily over the years; 250 applied in 2016. Meanwhile, the Modern section of the fair had more or less flat-lined in its number of applicants, while still taking up an entire pier.
“Corporate said we should put the price up [for Presents] since there were so many applications. I said no,” Genocchio recounts. Instead, he dropped the price of participation by 40 percent, to under $10,000. He increased the number of galleries participating to 30, and he recruited a new sponsor to mount a booth prize that essentially makes participation free for the winning dealer.
He’s interested in going even further in tinkering with the economics of fair participation. “It just doesn’t seem right that a big gallery essentially pays the same price per square foot as a small gallery and yet can sell multiples on what a small gallery can do in terms of financial volume,” Genocchio says. He would like to develop a way for more galleries to participate at around half the current average of roughly $40,000 per booth outside of Presents. But that will have to wait for 2018.