“The idea came in the art recession in the early 90s to hold an art fair in Gramercy Park Hotel, charging exhibitors fifty dollars for space,” he remembers. The show metamorphosed into Gramercy International Art Fair, soon succeeded by the Armory Fair, founded ten years ago by Morris and partners.
The site (on the Hudson River piers) and show were recently bought by city developers who are renovating and expanding. Morris has stayed on to manage.
Known for contemporary art, emerging young artists, and international art, The Armory Show will soon include modernist art also. “We have a special niche in the market,” says Morris. “We only represent primary markets. Dealers can exhibit only if they represent the living artist.” The show’s VIP program enables participants to visit private collections and cultural exhibitions.
Armory’s “artist-of-the-year” is unique. “We use it to brand the fair,” says Morris. This year, organizers selected emerging artist Ewen Gibbs as the award’s recipient.
Contemporary art fairs can launch a new artist’s career, as Morris, who helped launched the careers of Jim Hodges, Tracey Moffett, Peter Blake, and others, well knows. Morris also knows more than a bit about what makes a successful art show. “As De Kooning said, ‘you have to change to stay the same,’” he says. “You also need an extraordinary respect for artists, art dealers, and a healthy dose of courage and endurance.”
Bottom line: “If the subtext is art, it’s successful.”