Illustration by Robert Radziejewski.

Thinking Outside the (Fair) Box

Also available in:  Chinese

Throughout 2019, The Point explores new models for operating in the art market. For this issue, we asked Heather Hubbs to explore how gallery-focused organizations and art fairs can adapt to instability. 

The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is a membership organization founded in 2002—for galleries, nonprofits, and individuals—dedicated to the cultivation, support, and advancement of new voices in contemporary art.

NADA produces a range of programming for its members throughout the year, including an annual art fair in Miami that has been running since 2003. From 2012 to 2018, NADA presented NADA New York, an art fair that typically included more than 100 galleries from around the world. In those seven years, NADA New York moved three times; the demand, use, and cost of large commercial spaces in Manhattan changed so unpredictably that it was difficult to find a location we could stay in for an extended period. In March 2018, we hosted the fair in our newest venue, a beautiful, 60,000-square-foot former freight terminal building on Manhattan’s Lower West Side. Unfortunately, immediately after the walls and works came down, we learned that the building had been sold, and we had to completely reconsider our options. 

Keeping in mind the difficulties with finding affordable space to host a fair, and our conversations with New York-based gallery members about the lack of foot traffic to their spaces, we at NADA decided to try a different model for 2019. And so we launched a new weeklong initiative called the New York Gallery Open (NYGO). In early March, NYGO brought visitors, collectors, curators, and critics into more than 62 art galleries, nonprofits, and alternative spaces around the city, coinciding with the Armory Show, the Independent, and other art fairs. 

Through guided tours, artist talks, performances, dinners, and special events, NADA aimed to cultivate a renewed sense of energy, viewership, collaboration and patronage within these critical spaces. NADA also partnered with Collecteurs, a collector-driven online platform and public-benefit corporation, to create a dedicated hub for the public to view artworks and read editorial content about participating galleries. We received a lot of positive feedback. In particular we saw a great response to our guided tours, which bring people directly into galleries and spaces to explore exhibitions and meet the owners and artists. As NYGO continues, we hope to include more galleries and build on our program of tours to enrich the viewer experience—adding more artist talks, performances, and other experiences along the way. 

We also recently staged a three-month-long exhibition on Governors Island, “NADA House.” This exhibition was an opportunity for NADA gallery members to stage a group show in the intimate and unusual setting of 34 rooms across three historic Colonial Revival houses. Many artists responded directly to the unique context of Governors Island and its changing identity over time—from its origins as Lenape land occupied by Native Americans of the Manhattan region to its role in the Revolutionary War, and later occupations by the US Army and Coast Guard. The collaborative nature of the exhibition reflects the camaraderie intrinsic to NADA’s mission, and, along with NYGO, exemplifies the organization’s adaptive approach to finding new models in presenting work from its community to a broader audience. 

For many of our members, an art fair is still a valuable environment for them to engage with and meet new collectors, and we will continue to stage fairs as long as that remains the case. On our calendar this year are the Chicago (September) and Miami (December) editions and we are still open to hosting a fair in New York if the right space were to become available. However, we feel that the current fair-dominant model is unsustainable—especially in cities where the real-estate landscape is overblown. For many of the smaller independent galleries we work with, who are often competing with larger galleries for attention, the constant pressure to show up at fairs all over the world is clearly becoming more and more untenable. It seems only natural then for galleries and NADA to refocus some energy back to the galleries themselves and their core exhibitions, which are at the heart of everything they do.

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