Small art-fairs will not survive

Sanford L. Smith : curator
At the major fairs, the top of the line in anything is still selling because the people with money still have money. It’s easier to sell a $2 million picture than a $15,000 picture. That’s why the model now is to bring in the right people—collectors who will buy big-ticket items—and not worry if you don’t make any money in the gate.
I think there’s an oversaturation of fairs around the country. But dealers are optimists. They will try a new event and will keep it going for two years, maybe three. They figure, “Oh, we saw great people. We didn’t make any money, but we’ll get ’em next year.” So most fairs make it to two or three years before falling apart. But there’s no question there are too many regional ones.

The events that are still succeeding tend to be the association fairs. As for independent shows, major dealers have the money to participate in any fair; everybody else doesn’t. For my Outsider Art Fair, I’ve had to make concessions to dealers. And the antiques business is hurting still, especially the brown-furniture end of it.

In New York in particular, things are shifting quickly. Frieze is siphoning off many of the European dealers from the Armory Show. The Park Avenue Armory space just hired its first artistic director, and eventually it will be doing 80 percent theatrical and music productions. Right now the venue hosts more than 10 art shows each year, but I expect that by 2017 fewer than half a dozen will be left. With all the changes, organizers need to come up with fresh ideas. I need to do things I’ve never done before to make sure the right people come in.