Nick Korniloff, director of the Downtown modern and contemporary art fair, which launches its first edition next week (May 8-11) at New York’s 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, struck lucky earlier this year. The Red Dot fair initially opened at this historic venue in the Flatiron district during one of the busiest weeks in the art world, when Frieze New York welcomes legions of hungry collectors. “We acquired the dates, location and rebranded the fair in late February,” Korniloff says.
He explains that he subsequently received more than 200 applications for a fair with 51 available stands. The result is a mix of mainly US dealers, 44 in total, coming from as far afield as Memphis, Albuquerque and Durham, Pennsylvania. Seven West Coast dealerships are making their presence felt, while European dealers such as Flowers Gallery of London and Amsterdam’s Witzenhausen Gallery stand out.
The selection brings to mind London’s Art14, which launches its third edition (Art15) at Olympia next year. Downtown’s roster is similarly top-heavy with high-end mid-market dealers – an astute strategy on the part of the organisers, who have signed up galleries keen to access the major market hub that is New York (some will no doubt have also been rejected by Frieze).
Korniloff, an art fair veteran, is a director and partner of Art Miami LLC, which runs the stalwart fair Art Miami, coinciding every December with Art Basel Miami Beach. In 2012, the group also launched Art Wynwood in Florida, Art Southampton in the Hamptons and Context Art Miami, a parallel event to Art Miami. Next up is Art Silicon Valley/Art San Francisco, which opens this autumn in San Mateo County.
But muscling into Manhattan signals an expansion into an art-market heartland. “Art Miami complements Art Basel Miami Beach, and we complement Frieze New York. We believe that our relationships in the market are very strong through Art Miami,” Korniloff says. The Frieze ferry is 10 blocks away on 35th Street, so art-world professionals will, it is hoped, take in Downtown.
Dealers see the fair as a prime platform in the heart of Manhattan. “New York provides access to important local and international collectors,” says participating dealer Jennifer Tam, the manager of the Baltimore-based C Grimaldis Gallery. It will offer primary market works such as paintings by the emerging Japanese artist Hidenori Ishii ($2,500 to $12,000) and light sculptures by the Busan-born mid-career artist Chul Hyun Ahn ($12,000 to $150,000). “Our selection of secondary market pieces includes paintings by Grace Hartigan [$55,000 to $135,000] and Willem de Kooning [$85,000],” says Tam.
The Los Angeles-based gallery Coagula Curatorial is bringing works with markedly low price points. “We offer primary market artists; our speciality is emerging LA artists,” says a gallery spokesman. “We are introducing three painters to New York at the Downtown fair: Michael Maas, Eva Malhotra and Linda Saccoccio. These are artists with paintings available in the $3,000 to $5,000 range for new small and medium-sized works.”
Korniloff is adamant that his fair will stand out, stressing that his event will present work that is fresh to the market as well as a strong selection of secondary market pieces. “We work with blue-chip, upper-mid-market and emerging galleries. Works that are offered are small-scale compared to a majority of the works found at Frieze; however, the quality and artists are no less important,” he said.
A New York dealer appearing at Downtown explains, meanwhile, the logic of appearing at a fair in his native city. “The art market has become increasingly event driven, and collectors seem to like the social interaction provided by fairs and auctions … As a dealer, I want to be at the fairs, which is where the collectors are! They come to the fairs to buy,” said Armand Bartos of the eponymous 20th-century dealership.
The contemporary art auctions held in mid-May are a major draw, he emphasises. “Also the fair offers me, as a private art dealer, a good venue where my clients and I can sell fine works of art. The transactions are discreet. The works of art don’t get ‘burned’ as they are when they go unsold at auction.”
Price points for works available at his stand, which will feature artists including Alexander Calder and Sam Francis, range from $25,000 to “several million dollars” but “the work that sells most readily is in the $50,000 to $150,000 range”, he says.
Downtown will compete with a number of other established and new fairs, including the Spring Masters New York at Park Avenue Armory (May 1-4). The latter, which was originally the art-and-antiques Spring Show NYC, has been rebranded by the New York advisory group Artvest. It encompasses art and design from antiquity to the 20th century, with 34 New York-based dealers.
The London-based gallery Waterhouse & Dodd, a regular participant at Art Miami, is taking part in Spring Masters. “I simply wanted to give our 1880-1950 stock an airing in New York and it fitted rather well with our schedule following the Tefaf fair in Maastricht. The Downtown fair sounds great, really exciting, but it’s very much a post-1950 and contemporary show,” says dealer Jonathan Dodd.
These launches have sparked debate about whether the market in New York can sustain further fairs. “I suspect the city can support a few more fairs but, yes, there is an eventual saturation point at which nearly everyone loses money at them,” says an unnamed Manhattan collector. The location for Downtown is “superb”, he adds, voicing an obvious but no less essential art world reality: “I suspect they’ll get enough traffic to make it feel somewhat successful but sales will determine the day.”
Downtown Modern and Contemporary Fair, May 8-11, downtownfair.com