'This is a rodeo,' were the words used to summarise the Armory Show's packed VIP preview yesterday by new executive director Benjamin Genocchio, an editor and former New York Times critic who was tapped to run the fair in December. 'The one thing a lot of the fairs want is energy, this place has it. This is a selling machine.'
Now in its 22nd year, the fair certainly wouldn't be recognisable to its 1913 namesake, or even the modest contemporary concept conceived (originally as the Gramercy International Art Fair) by dealers Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks and Paul Morris back in 1994. By 5pm, Sean Kelly sold two massive works by Kehinde Wiley (one painting for $300,000 and one sculpture for $375,000); Jack Shainman sold Photo Bloke, the Instagram-breaking neon pink Barkley L Hendricks portrait for a cool $200,000; Sprüth Magers moved a 2010 stainless steel Sterling Ruby sculpture for $175,000; and both Marianne Boesky and Jessica Silverman Gallery sold a few watercolour and gouache paintings by Dashiell Manley for between $20,000-$30,000.
'People brought out heaps of quality – they're a little bit anxious about the market so they brought great stuff,' says Genocchio, noting that, for this year's edition, the fair built a bigger VIP lounge and enhanced visitor services. It also bowed its Africa Focus section, the highlights of which included solo offerings by Dan Halter (at Cape Town's WhatIfTheWorld) and Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze at Seattle's Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt – who also presented Stephen Burks' 'Noir' exhibition beside his Pier 92 lounge. 'But for next year's fair we'll make some changes,' Genocchio continues. 'We'll look at the floor plan, try to create more space downstairs, maybe move some of the services up to Pier 92, maybe relocate the VIP lounge. Dealers want bigger booths, it gets congested.'
Some key changes might include a reimagined Focus section (arranged conceptually or thematically instead of simply by region); more spots for the Armory Presents section (for galleries aged ten years and under, and which received 220 applications for 20 slots); a rethink on the division between modern and contemporary ('The market has dissolved that division'); and perhaps a new section for larger installations on par with Art Basel's Unlimited sector.
'That's a prissy, Swiss space. This is a huge industrial structure in New York. I've got 40-foot ceilings, I've got 37,000 feet on the bone yard – that's a third more space, and we don't even use it. All of this is up for grabs,' says Genocchio. Nodding to the surging preview crowd, he adds, 'This is unstoppable, but as a result we haven't done anything. I'd like to evolve it conceptually, the first major conceptual floor plan evolution since they added the Modern section. It hasn't evolved because it works as it is, but we can do it, it's just a matter of getting through this current fair.'
Until then, see above for some highlights from the last pre-Genocchio rodeo.