Paddy Johnson is seeing the art fairs in New York so we don't have to.
It is mind-bogglingly stupid that a scene that offers viewers a year-round art fair with beautifully appointed, hideously expensive white cube spaces, every year packs up its inventory to display it a few blocks away in carpeted trade show spaces worthy of an International Bolt and Screw Convention.
What a bunch of desperate morons, not to put too fine a point on it.
Last year Johnson posted a photo of Art Basel Miami revealing it as a soulless Borg cube. This year, prior to attending the fairs, she landed an interview with an actual Borg drone, who is adding to the perfection of the collective as the executive director of the Armory, a fair not actually held at the Armory. This humanoid normally has a number but has taken the name Katelijne De Backer in order to talk to humans; it dispenses corporate PR pablum via direct neural link to its backers at the Hive. Despite the efforts of Johnson to inject human drama and journalistic interest into the interview, watch how the Borg deflects the questions with an artful shield of carefully-contrived mush, written in first person plural (the collective's favored mode). Incredible. This interview originally appeared on Art Review dot com beta, verbatim but without the Drone avatar--that was added here. Sorry about the irregular spacing, Word Press also does everything it can to thwart blogger creativity. (If the type is all jammed together try refreshing so the spacer GIFs load.)
Paddy Johnson: With the European stock market crash, and fears of a US recession, what are your expectations for the Armory's economic performance this year?
The Borg: There's been a lot of speculation about the health of the art market every year since the beginning of The Armory Show in 1999, yet all signs show that it remains healthy - sales have been steady and galleries are confident. We have no evidence that this will change this year.
PJ: Perhaps, but in 2006 galleries were reporting almost frantic buying at Art Basel while in 2007 Miami, not all galleries reported astounding sales. Doesn't indicate at least a more cautious collector than last years?
The Borg: Possibly, but we spoke to many galleries when we were in Miami, and though they said there wasn't the frenzy that they'd seen in the past couple of years they were satisfied with sales. It might just be that new collectors have been learning to make more considered acquisitions.
PJ: Do you expect the economy to affect fair attendance?
The Borg: Whatever the state of the economy, New Yorkers are interested in art… And this year our fair coincides with the Whitney Biennial, which is sure to spike attendance rates, as it did in 2004 and 2006.
PJ: What makes a collector more inclined to buy in tough financial times?
The Borg: Many factors go into the decision to buy art – sometimes even tough financial times work as an incentive, as some collectors choose to buy art as a long-term investment. Art is clearly a more pleasant way to invest one's money.
PJ: This is your first year operating under Merchandise Mart. How has this affected the fair?
The Borg: The changes are mostly behind the scenes – Merchandise Mart takes care of a lot of the infrastructure, such as payroll, employee benefits, etc., which has been a great help. The reason they bought the fair was because they liked what we were doing, and they want us to continue doing it.
PJ: So Merchandise Mart does not insert its influence in any of the business decisions you make for the fair?
The Borg: No, they realize that we've been successfully doing the fair for ten years now and our job is to keep it up.
PJ: Former Village Voice critic Christian Viveros-Faune co-directs Next in Chicago, also a Merchandise Mart fair. On his site Modern Art Notes, Tyler Green asked him how his position at the Voice was not a conflict of interest. What are your thoughts on critics who take on multiple roles within the art market? Are there acceptable examples of conflict of interest in your opinion? What tips the boat? Was the Village Voice correct, in your opinion in letting him go?
The Borg: Christian is a friend of ours, and he's great at what he does – whether it be writing or curating. Further than that, it's not my place to say – my feeling is that these issues should be judged on a case-by-case basis.
PJ: Can you name some of the new galleries you've accepted into the fair this year, and why they were chosen? Who was rejected this year? What puts a gallery on the waiting list?
The Borg: This year we're welcoming 15 new galleries from around the world: ATM Gallery (New York), Galerie Baronian-Francey (Brussels), Cherry and Martin (Los Angeles), Carl Freedman Gallery (London), Galerie Erna Hécey (Brussels), i8 (Reykjavik), Juliette Jongma, (Amsterdam), Simon Lee Gallery (London), Galerie Urs Meile (Lucerne), Nogueras Blanchard (Barcelona), Pilar Parra & Romero Galeria de Arte (Madrid), Galerie Francesca Pia (Bern), Ratio 3 (San Francisco), Raucci / Santamaria (Naples), and Tracy Williams Ltd. (New York). They were chosen by our selection committee, and they used the same standards that are used for all our participants. It really comes down to the galleries' programs and the quality of the work they show. As for galleries that were rejected, we had over 600 applicants this year. We have a limited amount of space, so clearly we can't show everyone we would like to every year.
PJ: Last year a story ran in Time Out about the difficulties emerging galleries faced in regards to getting into the fair. Steven Stern spoke to Canada gallery's Phil Grauer about the fact that the galleries often have problems getting into the fair, but artists they were the first to represent would go with or without them. In other words larger galleries would show his artists overseas, and they'd end up at fairs the gallery wasn't able to get into. How does the fair committee work to keep abreast of what innovative emerging galleries are doing, and ensure that the galleries doing the really heavy work are recognized?
The Borg: The selection committee is composed of several leading contemporary gallerists, and they certainly pay attention to what's going on in the art world – all successful dealers have to. The issue really is that even if an emerging gallery discovers an artist that becomes successful, it does not necessarily mean that their entire program is a strong one, which is what our committee is concerned with. Canada has a great program, not just a hot new artist, and that's why they are back again with us this year.
PJ: How do you come up with the fair floor plan? How much of it has to do with the prestige of a gallery's name, versus how much they pay for a booth, versus the work they show and how good it might look next to another gallery?
The Borg: The floor plan is a very complicated process and a lot of factors come into play. Firstly, there are the booth sizes that galleries request; they also sometimes have location preferences, as some galleries ask to stay in the same spot from previous years; we have to make sure there is a good geographical mix – for example, we wouldn't want to put all the London galleries next to each other. And galleries can also pay for premium placement, though the other factors affect how much we can do.
PJ: How much time does the fair typically have to devote to figuring out the floor plan then?
The Borg: A lot! Seriously, it's difficult to say. It's an ongoing process, it starts after the selection committee makes its decisions and continues almost to the start of the fair. We're still fine-tuning this year's floor plan as we speak.
PJ: Last year you moved to a new larger location, though the fair still feels like it could use more space. What's keeping you from moving to the Javits Center, a much larger and maybe grander location?
The Borg: We think the piers have more character than the Javits Center! We did discuss the possibility of moving there last year, but our selection committee agreed that they preferred to stay where we were. Besides, we often get comments from out of town visitors that the piers are very New York.
PJ: Will the Armory be attempting to do more supplementary programming to the fair, such as commissioned installations, lecture or film programs? What are the special commissions you are most proud of this year?
The Borg: We have several artist commissions slated for this year, but we can't divulge the details until the plans are confirmed. But we do have a confirmed artist's project that we're very excited about: Alex Bag's The Van, courtesy of Elizabeth Dee Gallery. The van, a white Dodge with customized interior, was set up near Colin de Land's gallery booth at The Armory Show in 2001. A video is shown inside the van of the proprietor of a gallery driving three of his stars (all played by Bag) to the Armory as they ramble about their careers and possessions in really crass terms. It's a great piece, and it serves as a great example of de Land's irreverent sensibility as a gallerist. We are of course also happy with how it connects with the history of the fair.
PJ: The Armory seems to have an affinity for art that addresses institutional and social critique, as well as, well, motorized vehicles. Last year at the fair we saw The Social Mirror (1983) by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, a reflective garbage truck meant to mirror back the show to its visitors and attendees. Are we likely to see more motorized art at the Armory in the future?
The Borg: It's a bit early to start thinking about next year's commissions, but I'll just say that we're not trying to compete with the Auto Show!