There are few things more cosmopolitan than art fairs. They spring up in locales as far-flung as Miami, Basel, and Hong Kong, and yet unite largely the same coterie of collectors, artists, and dealers who seem perfectly at home no matter where they land. At the London-born Frieze Art Fair, currently debuting its second edition in New York this week, the globalization of the market has, in many ways, become the wedge driving itself between comparisons to its elder rival, the Armory Show.
In March, about 110 of the Armory Show's 214 total galleries hailed from foreign countries. Frieze, which deals exclusively in contemporary art, brought only about 180 galleries to New York, but it drew just as many international exhibitors. The Armory, in other words, is a New York fair; Frieze is an international fair that happens to be in New York.
This distinction has become definitive for a number of international galleries choosing between the two fairs. "A lot of our peers are here, galleries that we like from Berlin and Milan," said Tara Downs of the Berlin-based Tanya Leighton Gallery, which this year participated in both Frieze and the Armory.
Others echoed this sentiment: "Frieze is very diverse," said a sales rep at Tel Aviv's Sommer Art Gallery. "There's a good representation of international galleries," added Andrzej Przywara, director of Warsaw's Foksal Gallery Foundation.
Some of the defectors are major players. Paris's Thaddeus Ropac has switched to Frieze, where this year he mounted a multi-million-dollar booth hung with works like a $600,000 Georg Baselitz painting—the subject of serious scrutiny by celebrity art advisor Kim Heirston and one of her clients. At the booth of another former Armory exhibitor, Almine Rech, artist Maurizio Cattelan inquired about an Alex Israel self-portrait while Greek megacollector Dakis Joannou discussed a Miró-esque Aaron Curry sculpture with a dealer.
Frieze's European roots may have even helped Berlin's Wien Lukatsch gallery convince Cherokee artist Jimmie Durham to exhibit his work at the event. The artist has historically refused to visit or show his work in the U.S. out of protest of the country's treatment of Native Americans, but he acquiesced this time around "because it's such an international fair," said dealer Wilma Lukatsch, "and we asked him very nicely."
When queried if it was Frieze's international reputation that attracted Yvon Lambert to the fair from Armory, director Olivier Belot said, "I definitely agree with that, but it's also that here they put more attention into the details. Dealers care about things like the quality of the booth walls, and the lighting is better."
This was a common refrain at the inaugural edition of Frieze, although the Armory Show has since drawn dramatically better reviews after decreasing the number of galleries and redesigning its layout, opening up its aisles to create an airier floorplan offering similar presentations to Frieze. So, while Frieze appears to be leading on the international front, it's too early to say how the fair will relate to its compeitor—which is known as a far more populist event, with a reputation for brisk sales—in the long-run. As Magnus Edensvard of London's Ibid Projects said, "We did the Armory for six years but we stopped in 2011. We heard it was good this year though, so we might consider that again. These things always go up and down in popularity, so who knows."