The Armory Show opens to the public in New York next Wednesday, March 2, with a brand new director at the helm, Benjamin Genocchio (former Editor in Chief of Artnet News). Highlighting the fair’s “Focus” series on African artists, the “Presents” section’s debut galleries, and other highlights from Pier 94, Genocchio spoke with Whitewall about his latest role.
WHITEWALL: First off, congratulations on the new position! As someone with a long career in criticism and arts editing, what interested you in the position of director of an art fair?
BENJAMIN GENOCCHIO: Everything! The Armory Show is a New York institution and one of the world’s truly great art fairs. It’s like a grand old lady admired by everyone. The idea of being able to manage and direct it into the future was to me both exciting and an honor.
WW: As a former editor covering and overseeing coverage of New York’s biggest art fair, how would you describe the role of The Armory Show in the international art market?
BG: The art market has changed and is changing continuously. So, too, does the role and place of The Armory Show. Ten years ago there were maybe 10 art fairs internationally, and last year there were 180! What this has meant is that increasingly international art fairs serve a local and regional audience. The Armory Show is still New York’s biggest and best art fair, and it is also the most international art fair in North America based on the number of countries from which the exhibitors come—this year we have 36 countries represented. So, I’d say its place and its position in the international art market remains strong and very vital. I want to continue and expand that.
WW: As its new director, are there ways in which you are interested in expanding, evolving, or growing that role?
BG: Absolutely. I strongly believe it is time for The Armory Show to evolve in several ways, and I think that was one of the key reasons why I was hired, to bring change and update the business model. It is a bit premature to talk about it because I’ve only just begun in the job, but once we’ve finished with the 2016 fair—which looks amazing, by the way—I’m going to sit down with our talented team and plot out a three- to five-year plan. New York has many of the best museums, art collectors, artists, and critics in the world, so I think we deserve the best art fair.
WW: Some were surprised at the announcement last month of your new position—but critics have regularly gone on to hold positions at museums, galleries, or even found fairs (thinking of Frieze). How do you think your experience on the editorial side of the art market will be advantageous now as The Armory Show’s director?
BG: You are quite right that other former editors and journalists have gone to successfully run art fairs. There is indeed a bit of a tradition now. In my case, however, it’s a little different because I also have a strong and successful track record as a business manager. I spent two decades in newspapers as a critic, but after leaving the New York Times in 2010 I ran a magazine and online publishing company overseeing Art + Auction, Modern Painters, and artinfo.com, and then I founded Artnet News, which in two years has become not only profitable but also—I am still amazed by it—the world’s most popular daily source of art news with over 1.6 million visitors a month. The point is that I have a lot of experience in business as well as editing and writing, much more in fact than most other journalists and editors who have gone to run art fairs. But the real advantage that I think I bring to this new role is a 360-degree view of the art world gained from two decades’ experience reporting on art, artists, and the art market from more than 25 different countries. I’ve seen a lot and therefore have an overview of trends and new opportunities.
WW: Armory Focus has proved successful over the past few years, highlighting contemporary art from international regions like Scandinavia and Africa this year. How important is the international perspective at The Armory Show?
BG: The Armory Show is the most international art fair in North America in the world’s most international city, and I think that is not only important but extremely appropriate. We bring the world to New York, but at the same time we bring New York to the world through our extensive partnerships with many of New York’s museums and cultural entities and through our extensive VIP Program. Last year over twenty of New York’s most important collectors opened their homes for private collection visits and tours. This coupled with our artists-supporting programs like Armory Arts Week and the Armory Artist Commission, the fair’s depth of contribution to New York is huge!
WW: We heard that one of the galleries this year will be re-creating Joan Miró’s studio at their booth. As director, do you see yourself encouraging a more curated approach from exhibitors?
BG: This is indeed a trend among galleries at fairs where they want a booth to really stand out. Personally, I love it and would encourage more galleries to think along these lines. That said, it has to make sense both financially and aesthetically for the dealer to invest like this. In the case of the gallery you are referencing, Mayoral, from Barcelona, has put together a museum-quality presentation of Miró’s Majorca atelier, a show that is traveling to London before coming to The Armory Show in March.
WW: Are there any other historically driven presentations we can look forward to?
BG: I think one of the highlights of this year’s Focus will be the presentation of several large-scale works by Ibrahim El-Salahi, the legendary Sudanese painter who recently enjoyed a career retrospective at the Tate London in 2013. His work will be presented by Vigo Gallery from London as part of the Armory Focus initiative. Our curators, Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba, thought it important to include a historical survey amongst the mostly young and emerging artists in Focus. Several works in this presentation appeared in the Tate retrospective and at least one recently created by the artist, who will be at the fair, I believe, so it’s an honor for The Armory Show to play host to their American debut. Elsewhere on Pier 94, Galerie Nordenhake, from Stockholm and Berlin, will present a solo booth of John Coplans’ incredible, haunting black-and-white self-portraits, taken when the artist was in his sixties.
WW: What are some of the programming aspects of this year’s fair you’re looking forward to?
BG: “Focus: African Perspectives” will be a major highlight, of course, as will the Armory Presents section, which is devoted to galleries fewer than 10 years old. This section has grown over its three years to become one of the most anticipated parts of the fair, with overwhelming applications each year. It’s exciting to see young galleries like Carlos Ishikawa from London, RaebervonStenglin from Zurich, and Daniel Faria Gallery from Toronto (all are new to Presents this year) thrilled about doing The Armory Show. It’s important to support and build this younger generation of galleries, and our audience seems to agree. A young and hip gallery from Brussels or Zurich can reach interested and engaged collectors at The Armory Show, just as a bigger more established gallery can.
The Armory Show is on view in New York from March 2—6.