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New York's The Armory Show at crossroads following acquisition by Frieze

The oldest art fair in the US showcases a diverse selection of new pieces

Sept. 10, 2023 - 12:48 By Park Yuna
"Urban Requiem” by Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo is on display at The Armory Show at the Javits Center, New York City. (Vincent Tullo, The Armory Show)

NEW YORK -- The 2023 edition of The Armory Show kicked off Thursday at the Javits Center in New York, and was joined by more than 225 galleries from 35 countries. Established nearly 30 years ago, the art fair is the oldest fair in the US and has been a continuous presence in the international art scene.

"The Platform" section of this year's fair saw a number of large-scale installations draw the attention of visitors. Among the works in the section was Jean Shin's “Huddled Masses," created with discarded electric cords and old-style foldable cellphones, showing how once discarded things can be revived.

Curated under the theme of rewriting histories, "The Platform" section spotlights artists who challenge the canons of art, history or culture. “Urban Requiemm” by Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo, speaks about society's marginalized through the integration of ladders and wooden busts.

People stand in line to enter The Armory Show at the Javits Center in New York on Thursday. (Vincent Tullo, The Armory Show)

“People associate us with the discovery both of artists that they might not be familiar with, as well as galleries that they might not be familiar with. Part of what we attribute that to is the fact that we work with amazing curators,” said Nicole Berry, executive director of The Armory Show since 2017.

Citing "The Focus" section, featuring mostly work by indigenous artists, as an example, Berry said that curators introduce interesting art to people who may not be familiar with it. "That's part of what The Armory Show does very well," she added.

The art fair brought young galleries to the forefront at the "Presents” section, showcasing intriguing solo and dual artist presentations. The Dio Horia gallery from Athens, Greece, showed a live working studio of tapestry artist Desire Moheb-Zandi, who integrates personal history and cultural identity.

Inside the gallery's booth, Moheb-Zandi could be seen creating art and interacting with visitors.

The studio of tapestry artist Desire Moheb-Zandi is seen at the Dio Horia gallery's booth at The Armory Show in New York. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“The idea for (our booth at this) fair came about when we were at other fairs and felt confused about the way conversations were happening ... (people only talked) about the price," said Marina Vranopoulou of the Dio Horia gallery.

“So we felt ‘Why don’t we stage the artist’s studio?’ The artist is here sometimes working (on) her work (at the studio), and as a gallery, we are outside (of the booth).”

London-based Pilar Corrias joined The Armory Show to meet collectors in the East Coast. The only US art fair that the gallery joins on a regular basis is Art Basel Miami in December.

“We have this artist, Gisela McDaniel, who is a very young artist and recently has moved to New York, so we wanted to do a solo project with her, and we found the best opportunity to introduce her to the New York audience,” said Vera Yu, the gallery director.

The fair generated solid sales during its first two days, with some galleries even selling out. These included Korea’s Johyun Gallery, which brought works by Korea’s renowned artists Park Seo-bo, Lee Bae, Lee Kang-ho, and emerging artists Kang Kang-hoon and Jin Meyerson.

"Untitled" by Lee Kang-ho (Johyun Gallery)

“The Armory Show has its unique (classic) atmosphere ... (which) seems to stem from its long history compared to other fairs. I really like the fair’s unique vibe,” said Julie Hur, the gallery’s sales director based in New York.

Impact of Frieze acquisition

Originally launched by four New York art dealers in 1994 to support their artists and attract global attention to the city, The Armory Show was bought by Frieze in June. Frieze last year launched Frieze Seoul as its first art fair in Asia. The acquisition of The Armory Show was aimed at growing its presence in the US art market, the biggest art market in the world, according to Frieze.

In the US, Frieze currently runs Frieze New York in May and Frieze LA in February.

While some galleries and fairgoers at The Armory Show anticipated that the change in ownership would have a positive impact financially, some were concerned over how being part of Frieze would influence the fair's direction going forward.

People visit the 2023 edition of The Armory Show during the VIP opening on Wednesday. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Meanwhile, Frieze CEO Simon Fox said Frieze would continue with two separate brands pursuing “two successful events,” rather than turning one event into the other.

“Obviously there are some benefits that Frieze can bring (to) The Armory Show in terms of our sponsorship relationships and our collector relationships. So I believe that the Frieze team will be able to support The Armory Show,” Fox told The Korea Herald during an interview in Seoul on Wednesday.

“For Frieze, to have a more significant presence in New York seemed to us very strategic. The Armory Show gives us the opportunity to be present twice a year. It is a significantly larger fair than Frieze New York, so it allows us to welcome a bigger group of galleries and an overlapping set of collectors,” he added.

One possible change would be a change of dates for either The Armory Show or Frieze Seoul -- which currently overlap -- for collectors and galleries that want to attend both fairs, he said, hoping the change could be achieved in the next year or two.

“It is not ideal that they overlap,” he said.

Nina Kong-Surtees, a resident of New York who has been attending The Armory Show since 2011, recalled how The Armory Show has evolved over the past years.

“I feel like it has become substantially bigger and diverse. The fair was not even held at the Javits Center (at the time) and was on a much smaller scale. It was held at a pier and did not have good ventilation,” she said Friday at a VIP Lounge at The Armory Show.

Having attended many art fairs, she expressed her disappointment at how the fairs these days all look so similar.

“Many of them have similar programming (in general) these days. They probably (hosted) the same participants. Now it is hard to tell what art is shocking. There was art that really shocked people if you look at the history of it. But I feel like nowadays everything is already out and about, and we are more accepting. It is not shocking anymore,” she said.