Q&A with Noah Horowitz, Executive Director of the Armory Show
As executive director of The Armory Show, one of the most important art events in New York, Noah Horowitz has a daunting challenge before him: balancing the creative and commercial, the conceptual and accessible, and the show’s place as both an art world institution and a New York City institution. No small task, but just days before the Armory Show begins, Noah couldn’t have been more gracious as he discussed with XOJET his first full year overseeing one of the largest and most revered contemporary art fairs.
XOJET: What is the creative vision of this year’s Armory Show?
Executive Director, The Armory Show
Photo courtesy of Tali Shamir
NH: The show started as a community-driven exercise organized by four art dealers in the Gramercy Park Hotel in 1994. It went through several iterations, and when it got too large for that site in 1999, it migrated to the 69th Street Regiment, which was the site of the 1913 Armory Show. The fair subsequently took the original event’s name as homage to that radical gesture, and then migrated to the Piers. In 2007, the fair was sold, and grew from about 150 galleries to nearly 290 galleries in 2010. So our vision is to make the fair more human again in terms of scale.
XOJET: With that in mind, what are some of the changes you’ve made?
NH: One of the guiding objectives was to make the fair more boutique and manageable in size, to make it a place that artists, collectors, dealers and so on felt at home again. So we’ve significantly reduced the number of exhibitors and we’ve engaged architects who restructured the entire floor plan to make The Armory Show a fantastic place to spend a week. And in making the experience more elevated, we hope to rebuild relationships with the great galleries, as well as the museum groups, institutions and partners like XOJET.
XOJET: Since you’ve written a book on the subject (Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market), could you talk about the relationship of art fairs and money?
NH: It’s inherent that any fair is intrinsically linked to capital, because that’s the nature of what a fair is. It’s a business engine, a connective engine. As the art world has expanded globally, it’s not that surprising that the industry has become so event driven. Fairs—like auctions, blockbuster exhibitions and biennials—have become the de facto places where the market comes together and where business is done.
That being said, the best art fairs have a vision and a platform to go beyond that through their programming and related charitable initiatives. For example, we have benefit editions that we commission from a different artist each year (proceeds of which are directed to the Museum of Modern Art and the Pat Hearn and Colin de Land Cancer Foundation), and we coordinate Armory Arts Week in March, which we run in conjunction with New York to promote the arts. We have upwards of 30 cultural partners on board and undertake a broad range of initiatives that the public can participate in.
XOJET: What distinguishes The Armory Show from any other fair in the world today?
NH: First, it’s in New York City. That’s stating the obvious, but it’s worth stating because we’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to be an art fair in an age of so many art fairs and, more specifically, what it means to be an art fair in New York City, which is very different than being an art fair in any other city. Also, a huge number of artists visit the Armory Show, so it’s a great sounding board to get in front of that community, not to mention the press and media networks that New York offers.
Armory Show patrons crowd the
Lastly, there’s an unmistakable energy at the fair that is very much part of its location within the urban fabric of midtown Manhattan; galleries that come to the show can really get in front of a great audience with a volume and velocity not experienced elsewhere.
XOJET: How have you made the Armory show more international in scope?
NH: Another mission we’ve undertaken over the past year is combating the tradition of it being a strongly American/West European fair. As our team travels, we’re constantly working to build relationships with key collectors, collecting groups and museums in other countries, encouraging them to come to New York in March. This year, for example, we’ll see the first gallery from Dubai at the fair. We’ve also added a number of new galleries from Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as Turkish galleries and a several important South American galleries. So it’s increasingly reflective of the global nature of our industry nowadays.
XOJET: Talk about Warhol Museum Director Eric Shiner‘s appointment as Curator of American Focus.
NH: Each year, we do a regional focus, and since we’re celebrating the centennial of the 1913 Armory Show this year, there was no better place to look than our own backyard with respect to that legacy. What we wanted to do in appointing Eric was to honor a hundred years of the avant-garde in America, as scoped through Eric’s very personal survey of what artists and galleries he finds particularly poignant throughout the United States. What more iconic artist and institution could there possibly be than Warhol to speak to what America is and has become?
XOJET: Looking ahead, what are you goals? Where do you see The Armory Show in five years?
NH: My goal is to continue tightening up the fair, making it stand out in the fair calendar and the cultural calendar of New York City. At the same time, I also want to look at different ways of activating our networks and relationships during the Armory Show itself, and, as we move forward, at other points throughout the year—and perhaps throughout the city as well. It’s an incredibly exciting project to be a part of.