NEW YORK—Attendance and sales were subdued at the 21st edition of the Art Dealers Association of America’s Art Show, held at the Park Avenue Armory Feb. 19–23. Fair organizers reported total attendance of 9,500, down from the 10,000 visitors reported last year, and a considerable decline from the 14,000 visitors reported in 2007.
Given that most dealers went into this year’s fair with drastically reduced expectations, however, many said they were satisfied with the turnout of local collectors and new contacts.
“Everybody turned out; serious collectors are still looking, even if they are not buying as passionately or as quickly as they did last year,” said Michael Findlay, a director of Acquavella Galleries, New York. “A lot of the business done because of an art fair doesn’t necessarily happen while it’s on. You really have to look six months ahead” to recognize sales that might be attributable to the fair, he says. The generally slower pace notwithstanding, early in the fair Acquavella sold a large James Rosenquist painting, The Divergent Path of Artists’ Lives to Infinity, the Identity Changes, to a New York collector. The work had an asking price of $550,000.
Jane Kallir, director of Galerie St. Etienne, New York, which specializes in German and Austrian art, said she sold an early Oskar Kokoschka watercolor, which drew competition among three prospective buyers, to a private collector for a price “in the low six figures.” Overall, Kallir said, this year’s fair “could have been worse; it could have been better. There’s no question that the art market is contracting. While that certainly creates difficult business circumstances for a lot of people, it also creates a much more rational market and a more comfortable atmosphere for collectors.”
“It’s the end of the jpeg era,” Ann Freedman, president and director of Knoedler & Company, New York, told ARTnewsletter, referring to collectors buying works solely on the basis of a digital image. Freedman said the crowd at this year’s fair consisted of “tried, true and trusted collectors. We’re seeing that responses and decision making are just slower . . . not that there isn’t business being done.”
Kallir compared the current climate with previous down cycles in the art market, and noted that this time around dealers and auction houses are adapting more quickly to market weakness by setting lower, more realistic prices, as opposed to past downturns, when “people refused—sometimes for years—to lower prices.”