ArtExpo New York 2010 – New Venue Debuts with Cautious Optimism

A very good sign is ArtExpo New York 2010 will follow the Architectural Digest show on Pier 94. That indicates buyers are already pre-conditioned to seeing a show on Pier 94.
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,

Come on, come through, New York, New York

“Theme from New York New York” – lyrics by Fred Ebb

For the past 30 years, Art Expo New York has stood at the pinnacle of the commercial fine art print market. The list of past exhibitors is a veritable Who’s Who of visual artists, including Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Indiana and Leroy Neiman.

ArtExpo is a market maker

To illustrate ArtExpo’s past market making prowess, there are bona fide reports of established publishers representing a single artist who have taken in well more than $1.5 million in two weeks with pre-show and at-show sales. Whether such robust buying power exists in today’s market is open to debate. If there is one constant with the show, it is nothing remains the same. The show’s move of venue from the Jacob Javits Center to Pier 94 on the Hudson River is a perfect example.

The famous song lyrics above apply as much to ArtExpo New York as any other artistic endeavor. That is if you make it there (at ArtExpo), you can make it anywhere. During the past three decades it has been a given that if you breakout or stand out at ArtExpo New York your ticket was punched for bigger and better things, both nationally and internationally. 2010 will put its history to the test as never before.

Revolving door ownership has taken a toll

Throughout its interesting colorful history, which includes its ownership passing through a long list of art entrepreneurs and media companies, the show has been challenged by any number of competitors. In the end, it beat them all back to remain the focal point of the commercial fine art and print market.

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This year, the show is facing its toughest challenges yet.

They include:

  • An industry with fading forces in the wake of tumultuous changing market conditions and consumer buying habits
  • An ambiance downgrade move from the magnificent I.M. Pei designed Jacob Javits Center to Pier 94 on the Hudson River
  • The most difficult economic conditions in the show’s long history

Meet the new boss … same as the old boss?

Under normal conditions, any one of these significant factors would make producing a successful profitable show a demanding test of marketing and management skills and considerable industry goodwill. The good news for the show is, while the ownership has changed hands in mid-2009, it was sold to a group headed by Eric Smith. He has been responsible for producing ArtExpo for many years and his tenure has made him one of the most experienced art show producers in the industry.

If there is a downside to Smith’s stewardship of the newly formed company, it is the negativity from many in the industry who felt the shows were poorly managed and unfairly on not put the blame squarely on him. His is the sort of job where results are easy to gauge. You can review to come to your own conclusions.

It must be mentioned that with ArtExpo, Smith was saddled with successive investment banking owners operating with a spreadsheet management mentality that ultimately took a toll on the shows. Moreover, the dramatic change of fortunes and conditions within the industry and overall economy made producing knock ’em out of the park grand slam events virtually impossible for any show producer.

How ArtExpo fares in 2010 will affect your business in the future

If you are a show veteran, you surely have your own thoughts on past show management performance. Regardless, if you put the success of the show above any personal feelings or past history, you realize this is all there is. Like it or not, Art Expo New York has no peer or viable alternative. This means focusing on making this show successful for yourself is more important than ever. Basically, you have to make it here (AENY) because your second choice for a tradeshow does not exist right now.

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A glimpse from the past with some prescient predictions

In March 2008, I wrote a post titled ArtExpo New York – The Show Must Go On. Here are the bullet points from that piece with current comments in [brackets]:

  • ArtExpo New York is the industry’s most important show [It still is, there is no where else to go.]
  • Despite problems and smaller size ArtExpo New York (AENY) 2008 delivers [The 2009 show followed with worse results and dimmed hopes.]
  • AENY transcends ALL constituencies that rely on it [See the first point, where are we without this show?]
  • Further contractions will put the show on a slippery slope [The economy and market conditions have made this a reality.]
  • AENY’s contraction in size is beyond a show management problem [See above point.]
  • Keeping the Javits and optimal dates is not a sure thing – room nights are the coin of the realm [The Javits is history, the dates are not optimal due to the proximity the Jewish celebration of Passover, which starts January 29 at sunset.]
  • Can you imagine our industry without AENY? [If the show is important to your business, you need to have a solid Plan B for this potentially disastrous outcome.]
  • Show success is not based on management and exhbitor activity [Without buyers with an open-to-buy budget and mentality, no show can survive.]
  • Tradeshows such as ArtExpo live and die on word-of-mouth (WOM) – Critical mass keeps the WOM buzz going [Heed the subject line of this post: ArtExpo New York 2010 – New Venue Debuts with Cautious Optimism.]
  • The industry needs to come together to reinvigorate AENY [More true now than in 2009. The huge question marks regarding buyers and exhibitors’ willingness to commit to the show will be answered in March.]
  • Leadership from AENY’s corporate owner is paramount [Will The Who’s immortal line, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” prevail, or will we see something new and refreshing from the new/old owners?]
  • Take a personal interest – get involved – it’s your show and your future [This has always been the case. In past years, one could exhort participation for the good of the industry. These days with survival on the minds of many companies for the first time ever, decisions are cold-blooded and calculated on whether the return on investment is there for both exhibitors and buyers.]

Look upon this bright spot and use it to bolster your confidence and recruit attendance

A very good sign is ArtExpo New York 2010 will follow the Architectural Digest show on Pier 94. That indicates buyers are already pre-conditioned to seeing a show on Pier 94. If one of the most important and influential magazines covering the prized audience of high net worth income consumers can deem to have its show in this location, it makes moving there far more palatable for ArtExpo.

The slippery slope was mentioned above. We are on it right now. I believe we have some firm hand holds and potentially can climb our way up the slope to less treacherous ground. To do so will take a concerted optimistic effort from all involved. The ultimate test of success for any show is did enough buyers come and did they come to buy. When those conditions are met, the results we all desire ensue.

If you do not make it here, the chances for making it at show elsewhere dim

If you plan to make it there in future years, you cannot sit on the sidelines and hope other more intrepid companies and buyers will pick up the slack. Without robust participation this year, the future of ArtExpo New York may be nothing more than nostalgic memories. I am not ready for that outcome and hope neither are you.

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Fine Art Career Roadmap

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