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Thursday, 10 March 2011 04:02

Competition keeps art fairs on their toes

Balletic performance at the Armory Show Balletic performance at the Armory Show Photo: Casey Fatchett

There are over 600 galleries spread over seven art fairs vying for collectors and sales during New York’s unofficial arts week. And that’s not counting the smaller satellites and numerous gallery shows from Chelsea to Brooklyn. Elsewhere there is a dominant beast: in Miami it is Art Basel and London has Frieze, but there is no über art fair in New York. Does Manhattan really need one? Or does competition bring out the best in everyone?

The Armory Show, founded by four entrepreneurial art dealers in 1994 and first held at the Gramercy Hotel, has grown into a corporate-run event filling two piers. But several major dealers have jumped ship in recent years. And there is a power play between the city’s rival fairs.

The Art Show, run by the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), moved its dates last year, going toe-to-toe with the Armory Show, which had encroached on the ADAA’s traditionally blue-chip turf in 2009 by introducing the Armory Show-Modern. Things heated up further when the young pretender, Independent, entered the fray last year, taking over the former Dia building in Chelsea to create refreshingly alternative, booth-free displays of international contemporary art.

This year all three fairs return. Some say the shifting of the art world’s tectonic plates is beneficial. “There’s a healthy competition that’s breeding excellence,” says Mari Spirito, the director of 303 Gallery (P94/1300), whose sales include Eva Rothschild’s, Jokes, 2007, for €45,000, to a New York-based collector. Maureen Paley, showing at Independent, agrees: “Diversity is never a bad thing, and the city has a broad enough base to support it. New York maintains its position as a diverse magnet.” Paley’s early sales include David Salle’s I’ve Got It All Up Here, 2010. The artist’s large-scale works sell for around $300,000.

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