On March 3rd, the annual Armory Show in New York will open to the public on Piers 92 & 94, bringing together works from 204 galleries from 36 countries, marking the fair’s largest international representation to date. The Armory Arts Week in New York is akin to New York Fashion Week. However, rather than getting a sneak peak at next season’s hottest trends, collectors and art world enthusiasts attend art fairs to get a sometimes overwhelming look into the future of art, with dealers and gallerists bringing out their latest and greatest works, ready to sell. The first week of March seems overwhelmingly chaotic for art lovers and professionals alike as 12 different art fairs descend upon New York, all occurring nearly simultaneously. Though some are more curatorial focused than others, art fairs have the same basic layout—galleries install works in small booths set up in large exhibition spaces, comparable to an old-world marketplace with purveyors pushing their goods on passerby’s. At least, with the high density of visitors and constant visual bombardment, that is how it feels.
Although the art fairs all boast a certain unique quality or aspect, at their essence, the shows are a convenient and efficient way to sell as much art as possible to as many people as possible. However, fairs present a front of being simply a means to promote art and culture. Though this point is hotly debated, art fairs are not deceiving their audience by claiming to be a means for the public to experience a vast, diverse amount of art with little effort. The greatest barrier in terms of accessibility is the sometimes hefty price for an entrance ticket. Beyond the ticket price, art fairs do stand as a way for the general public to get a glimpse of artworks they might never otherwise encounter. Also, on the business side of things, the fairs have become extremely important for gallerists and art world professionals to garner relationships and reach a market that previously would have been unavailable, or just simply outside of the reach of their network. “Fairs are a necessary evil,” says London-based art dealer Ben Brown. “I prefer the quieter contemplation of the gallery, but I sell more at fairs, and I make more contacts.”
There are 200 large contemporary art fairs a year within major art-hubs around the world. As the art world becomes ever more globalized, collectors and art lovers have begun to congregate at art fairs rather than spend time visiting singular galleries and dealers. Collectors and viewers alike can browse an international selection of work, and while the viewing conditions may not be ideal, the exposure is hard to beat.
Like a thunderhead looming over many cities, the upcoming fairs have thrown the art world into a frenzy of preparation, waiting for the floodgates to open and the storm to begin.