Exterior view of Pier 94 from Pier 92. Photo by BFA, courtesy of The Armory Show 2016.
Tomorrow, The Armory Show will be announcing the most significant set of changes to its structure and program in over a decade. Among the highlights are a greater focus on optimizing the fair for young galleries, the dissolution of the separation between the Modern and Contemporary sections of the fair, and a rejiggering of the Focus section from concentrating on a region to presenting solo shows or curated group presentations.
Former artnet News editor-in-chief Benjamin Genocchio, who took the post as director at the 22-year-old fair this January, made no secret of the fact that he had big changes in mind in the lead up to this year’s edition. (Full disclosure: I worked under Genocchio during his tenure at both artnet News and Louise Blouin Media.) Just a few weeks into his new position, ahead of the fair’s opening, he told Artsy, “It’s a New York institution. It just needs, you know, maybe a little work.” So while the month after a fair’s run usually sees some downtime for staff, this year The Armory Show’s offices were abuzz with change, as tweaks were being added to the fair’s new face up until the final weeks before Friday’s release.
Among the most significant shifts is the combination of The Armory Show’s two, relatively separate entities—Pier 92: Modern and Pier 94: Contemporary—into a unified fair that will span both spaces. This is a notable pivot from the strategy of competitor Frieze London, which began Frieze Masters, a second October fair for older works. However, Pier 92 had seen waning audiences in recent years as the art market shifted its focus to contemporary art—or modern works of exceptional quality.
Former Pier 92 galleries (and, presumably new additions to the fair) may find themselves in one of two sections. The Galleries section will expand Pier 94’s main offering to also include established dealers of 20th century art. (Genocchio teased this in the March edition by bringing Mazzoleni Galleria d’Arte to 94.) Meanwhile, the Insights section will allow dealers to mount more focused presentations of a single artist or a handful of thematically tied artists from the 20th century.
The Armory Show’s Presents section, for galleries under 10 years old, will be bolstered by a new advisory panel to aid in the selection of participating galleries. (Over 200 galleries applied for the mere 22 spots in the section this past year.) That panel includes 11R’s Augusto Arbizo, Jessica Silverman of the eponymous gallery, KOW’s Raphael Oberhuber, and mor charpentier’s Philippe Charpentier. Efforts to increase the ambition of the solo and dual artist presentations in the section—among them, the lowering of booth fees and thus the financial risk of participation—have also been floated.
After six years and seven editions, Focus will drop its remit of highlighting a particular region’s art production. This past edition’s Focus: African Perspectives was by far the most successful iteration of the initiative to date—particularly with regard to press and public exposure. However, with nearly every major emerging region now covered, it appears Genocchio was keen to take a fresh, editorially minded approach. The new Focus will feature curated and solo booths of “today’s most relevant and compelling artists,” as selected by a yet-to-be-appointed curator. It’s a vague notion to be sure, meant to be malleable from year to year. But Armory Show applicants and attendees should likely expect a fair section along the lines of an “artists to watch” list.
Outside of traditional booths, yet another curator will be appointed to enact an Art Basel Unlimited-style showcase of large-scale artworks for a new section spanning both piers, called Platform. The Armory Show is also broadening its programming with a new initiative titled Armory Live. Featuring an expanded series of talks, performances, and screenings (both at the fair and online), Armory Live is aimed not only at making the fair experience more dynamic, but also at increasing the fair’s reach beyond those who are able to visit its five-day run in Manhattan. Considering Genocchio’s background in the digital media space, we could see this Armory Live audience potentially monetized in the future, should it reach scale, adding another revenue stream for the already-profitable fair.
Can these changes make The Armory Show into the world’s best art fair? Can they give New York the great art fair that Genocchio has, for the past six months, campaigned to say it needs and does not have? Time will tell. The art market isn’t all that warm to change, generally. And one would expect the truly great galleries might watch with interest from the sidelines as the fair’s 2017 edition takes shape. Then again, showman that Genocchio is, they might not.