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Frieze Will Host Four Art Fairs in the United States

Frieze acquired the Armory Show in New York and signed an acquisition agreement with EXPO CHICAGO, the two oldest and largest art fairs in the United States. Now, Frieze will be holding a total of four art fairs in the United States. What kind of impact will this have on the Korean art market?

Frieze New York 2023. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of CKA and Frieze.

Frieze recently took a bold step forward. With a total of five art fairs in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Seoul, it will host two more art fairs on the way.

On July 13, Frieze announced the acquisition of New York’s Armory Show and signed an acquisition agreement with EXPO CHICAGO, the two oldest and largest art fairs in the United States, intending to maintain the names and teams of both art fairs. The decision to host a total of four art fairs in the United States demonstrates Frieze’s confidence in the US, the largest art market in the world.

Some may find this unexpected since Frieze is expanding its presence beyond Europe, particularly in the United States, despite being a contemporary art magazine and art fair company that originated in London. In fact, in 2016, Frieze sold 70% of its stake to Endeavor, a global sports and entertainment management company based in Beverly Hills, California.

Frieze’s CEO, Simon Fox, explained that both New York and Chicago have unique ecosystems of artists, galleries, museums, and collectors. By expanding its presence in these cities, Frieze aims to leverage the strong performance it has achieved in the United States through Frieze New York and Frieze Los Angeles to further grow and develop the Armory Show and EXPO CHICAGO, the two fairs it recently acquired.

The Armory Show. Photo by Vincent Tullo. Courtesy of The Armory Show.

The Armory Show, established in 1994, and EXPO CHICAGO, launched in 2012, have held prestigious positions within the US art scene. Both fairs are symbolic events deeply rooted in their respective locations. However, in recent years, their prominence has diminished significantly. Some media outlets suggest that Frieze and Art Basel, two global mega art fairs, have outshined the local fairs due to their global networks, operational expertise, and exhibition infrastructure.

Nicole Berry, the Executive Director of the Armory Show, stated that “joining Frieze enables us to leverage a respected brand, deep industry knowledge, expanded resources, and a larger network, which will further enhance the experience for our exhibitors and visitors alike.”

Tony Karman, the President and Director of EXPO CHICAGO, emphasized that “this acquisition further signals the pivotal role of Chicago as a key center for the US art market. We are incredibly grateful for this monumental partnership with Frieze, which will strengthen the fair’s impact and reach in service of our exhibitors and provide us and our patrons with new invaluable resources.”

EXPO CHICAGO 2023. Photo by Justin Barbin. Courtesy of EXPO CHICAGO.

One analysis suggests that Frieze’s recent moves to expand its market presence are also driven by the lack of economic improvement in the UK following Brexit. With the uncertainty surrounding the UK economy, Frieze aims to explore alternative markets.

MCH Group, the Swiss company behind the globally renowned art fair Art Basel, has also been affected by Brexit-related challenges. They recently canceled Masterpiece London, an art fair with a focus on art and antiques, which they had been operating in London since 2010. According to Artnet News, the increase in costs and paperwork after Brexit has resulted in international galleries opting out of participating in the fair.

Frieze New York 2023. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of CKA and Frieze.

Frieze’s expansion through acquisitions of other art fairs is not the only case. Art Basel, for instance, previously acquired Art HK in Hong Kong and has been launching Art Basel Hong Kong since 2013. This move has since positioned Hong Kong as a hub in the Asian art market.

Now, the global art fair market is structured around two main players: Art Basel and Frieze. While global art fairs offer various advantages, their dominance also means that local art fairs are compelled to compete more vigorously against such influential contenders.

In 2022, Art Basel decided to hold Paris+ par Art Basel at the Grand Palais, France’s historic venue formerly used by FIAC, an established art fair in Paris. Following the announcement of Paris+ par Art Basel, major galleries from the US and Europe quickly abandoned FIAC in favor of Art Basel.

Kiaf 2022. Photo by Kiaf Operating Committee. Courtesy of Kiaf.

Kiaf (Korea International Art Fair) signed a contract to jointly hold the art fair with Frieze Seoul until 2026. Experts are paying close attention to Frieze’s expansion into the Asian art market through Seoul, along with its acquisition of US art fairs, to assess its future impact on the Seoul art scene. They are also closely observing how the Korean art market will change after the contract expires.

Collaborating with or acquiring regional art fairs provides numerous advantages for both large art fair companies and regional art fairs. When global-level art fairs collaborate with or acquire regional art fairs, they gain access to galleries, artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts that they may not have previously been able to reach, enhancing their reach and introducing their events to a new audience.

On the other hand, regional art fairs can maximize their exposure by partnering with global fairs, thereby attracting more participants and attention. By understanding the operational structure of larger fairs, regional events can learn from and adapt successful practices. This not only empowers them with new strategies but also enhances their competitiveness within the local art market, giving them an advantage over other regional art fairs.

However, it is important to note that this dynamic also implies that other art fairs that have not entered into such partnerships or acquisitions will have to put in extra effort to compete. Even when collaborating with larger fairs, they may continue to feel pressure to remain competitive and on top of their game. Even though Art Basel is being held in Hong Kong, many people still find the Hong Kong art scene unfamiliar. This also holds true for Korea, where the local art world must remain vigilant and proactive in its efforts to compete and thrive.

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