Across the street from the Empire State Building is the Volta Art Fair, a sophisticated and civilized art fair where galleries from around the world present solo artist projects. Elizabeth Tenenbaum and Elissa Levy of InContext Studio Tours gave me a preview of Volta New York 2011. After attending six art fairs during Armory Week, Volta felt different to me. It was a tightly curated, intelligent and a refreshingly friendly view of international contemporary art. The attitude here was more like a TED conference than an art fair, seemingly more concerned with good ideas than with commercial sales.
The Art Show has been hosted by the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) for the last 23 years, reigning supreme as the longest running national art fair. The ADAA consists of 175 galleries but only seventy exhibitors enrolled this year, excluding stunners like Andrea Rosen, Betty Cunningham, PPOW and Gavin Brown. A large majority of the participants are located uptown between 50th Street and 90th Street. The generalized content (“cutting-edge, 21st century works” and “museum quality pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries”) and my fears of dated academia prepped me for the deflated viewing that was The Art Show. The ADAA’s Executive Director spoke to the “calm and intimate atmosphere” of The Art Show. Although the Park Avenue Armory’s soaring “balloon shed” construction is partially responsible, the cavalcade of elderly patrons weren’t exactly rambunctious. The air-kisses exchanged between crotchety senior citizens summoned a swinger’s club way past its prime.
The art world has different tribes. The crowds at the Armory, ADAA Art Show and Pulse are different because the varying aesthetics and brands on display draw different audiences. To my eyes, the Independent was dominated by the ArtForum set, a post-minimal aesthetic that drew heavily on blank-faced conceptualism, the visual strategies of minimalism and the wallets of a coterie of black-garbed international hipsters. Of course, I still liked it more than any other fair I’ve attended yet.
Starting today, I will be posting a special series sponsored by 20×200 that will profile some of the people who are attending the New York art fairs this week. I did a random sampling of attendees at the 2011 Pulse Art Fair to give a sense of who the audience is for these annual events. Here is who and what I found on a Thursday afternoon in Chelsea
Perhaps going directly from the Armory to Scope was a mistake. At a significantly smaller scale, lower budgets, and complete with an indoor smoking room and a cash bar manned by none other than Bushwick artisanal pizza powerhouse Roberta’s, Scope Art Fair New York was very much like a Bushwick opening after a day at MoMA. The editorial lens of the significantly more exclusive (and expensive) art fairs do, in fact, produce better art viewing experiences.
Pulse 2011, a more emerging gallery-oriented fair than the Armory, ADAA or Independent, took place in a well-lit, pleasant space on West 18th Street that had more in common with a high-end mall than a convention center. Unfortunately, most of the art on view was just as anodyne as the space itself.