Friday, February 13, 2009

The Armory Show: An interview with Katelijne De Backer

Katelijne De Backer, Executive Director of The Armory Show, answered our questions:

2009 is probably the most challenging year so far due to the economic environment. Will you judge the success of the Armory Show 2009 upon the same criteria than the previous years?
We have always judged ourselves by the quality of the art shown and that remains our primary concern. Of course sales are important, but we feel they result from the great work our galleries exhibit.

Have you taken into account the current economic environment when selecting the galleries? Did you take into account the tough times gallerists and artists are currently facing?
The economic crisis hit the art world after our selections were made, so it didn’t affect our considerations – nor our applications. But we are very aware of the difficulties our exhibitors are facing, so we have tried to help them by offering them such options as being able to get smaller booths and to make their payments in instalments. We have also stepped up our efforts to attract committed visitors to the fair. It is worth remembering that our fair started (as the Gramercy International Fair of New Art) as a response to the art market crash of the 1990s, and the same reasons that made it a success then make it a success now: by pooling the resources of the world’s best galleries in New York, the center of the art world, our exhibitors have access to more collectors, curators and critics than they ever could have on their own.

What are the main differences between Armory Show 2009 and Armory Show 2008?
The most obvious difference is that we have expanded to include Pier 92, in which we are debuting The Armory Show – Modern, a section devoted to Modern and secondary-market contemporary art. I feel that it gives our fair historical depth that it didn’t have before. This also gave us the opportunity to reach out to organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum and the Neue Gallery to get involved in our off-site events.

As sales will be certainly lower than the previous years, have you taken more risk, being more audacious or, on the contrary, have you favoured “high street” galleries and very established artists?
As I said, our decisions were not dictated by the market. I expect that the galleries in our Modern section will bring their heavyweights, while the contemporary galleries will continue to do what they do best – the more established ones will bring their stars, while the younger ones will dazzle us with new talent.

Is the Modern Art section a sign of return to fundamentals, a sign that the excess of contemporary art (declining quality of art works, prices out of control) are over?
I wouldn’t look at it that way. In 2007 we held our fair at the same time as the ADAA held theirs, and we discovered that both fields reinforced each other. We have wanted to take advantage of this at The Armory Show, but were only able to do it this year thanks to our parent company, MMPI, which was able to secure our permanent access to both piers. I do agree that prices were out of control, but that was a result of excesses throughout, not just limited to the art world. I’m glad that things will return to more realistic levels.

Why have you not diversified to design instead of Modern art as it seems it is becoming the next hot collection to have...?
Our only concern is fine art, and it will continue to be that way.

Does it really make sense to have several galleries within the largest fairs that represent the same artists. Some important artists such as Damien Hirst or Anish Kapoor are represented by four or five galleries in some other big fairs...? Is it a concern you have at The Armory Show?
Our Selection Committee (made up of six gallerists from around the world) spend a lot of time weighing the strength of our applicants’ programs. They’re not only concerned with whom they represent, but their standing in the art world and their commitment to their artists. With nearly 250 galleries, it’s inevitable that there will be some crossovers, but for the most part you will see a great variety of work, a lot of which you may not have the chance to see elsewhere.

Would you dare asking galleries to coordinate before the fair in order to do not have too much of the same few artists in different booths?
We don’t do that. Usually galleries that represent the same artists negotiate amongst themselves. But we leave it entirely up to their discretion.

Given the buyant artistic environment of New-York and the permanent presence of very large collectors, there is a risk of being too “New-York centric”. Is it a concern you keep in mind when selecting the galleries? Or on the contrary, do you clearly play the card of New-York...?
We really aim to have a great variety, which is why we make sure that our Selection Committee is made up of dealers from all over the world. This year our Committee was made up of Ciléne Andréhn from Stockholm, Olivier Antoine from Paris, Matthias Arndt from Berlin, Stefania Bortolami from New York, Marc Foxx from Los Angeles and Alison Jacques from London.

Generally, how do you see the art fairs market evolving? Do you believe that fairs will increasingly become like Miami art week with a mix of art, parties, celebrities... or do you think fairs will become more like the Basel week where art and only art matters...?
We work hard on our VIP Program and we have dozens of events happening all over the city, but our emphasis has always been on the art. Parties are great, but we don’t want people to forget what they are here for.
Pier 92 and 94
5-8 March 2009
Noon to 8pm (7pm on 8)
12th Avenue and 55th Street

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