Merchandise Mart Properties is offering the Armory Show, the Volta Show and Art Platform Los Angeles for sale, according to three sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke to Art in America on condition of anonymity. Sources say that Vornado Realty Trust, which owns Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI), wishes to divest itself from the art fair business.
A Westport, Conn.-based business, Corporate Solutions, has sent e-mails offering "a group of high-end art and design events" that, according to a reliable source, refers to the MMPI-organized fairs. The e-mail, signed by Nick Curci, president, offers a prospectus, though no fairs are named. Curci declined to comment. The e-mail mentions that the fairs attract 90,000 attendees and that sales are expected to increase 10 percent next year to well over $15 million.
When, earlier this month, Armory Show director Paul Morris resigned after 18 years and the Volta Show art fair moved from its Vornado-owned building to a new location, it signaled to observers that larger changes were under way. A press representative for MMPI declined to comment for this story. A press representative for the Armory Show also declined to comment.
Volta was founded in Basel in 2005 by critic and curator Amanda Coulson, along with Kavi Gupta, Chicago; Ulrich Voges, Frankfurt; and Friedrich Loock, Berlin; Volta inaugurated a New York edition in 2009. Art Platform Los Angeles launched in 2011. Its 2012 edition runs Sept. 28–30.
But the biggest property involved is the Armory Show. With fellow dealers Matthew Marks, Colin de Land and Pat Hearn, Morris launched the Gramercy International Art Fair in 1994. In 1999 the fair moved to the 69th Regiment Armory building and was re-christened the Armory Show, a name the fair has retained despite moving to two West Side piers in the early 2000s.
In recent years the Armory Show has faced increasing competition from younger fairs such as Frieze, which launched a New York edition this year. The Armory's inhospitable setting and gigantic size (274 galleries in 2011) made it generally dreaded among visitors and dealers. The Show engaged architects Bade Stageberg Cox to lend the 2012 outing more of a boutique feel, and trimmed the list to 228 exhibitors.
Chicago-based MMPI organizes some 300 expos and conferences a year, ranging from gift and furniture shows to art fairs. In March, the company scuttled the Art Chicago fair, which was to take place the following month. Chris Kennedy, son of slain Senator Robert F. Kennedy, ran the company for 25 years and resigned in 2011. The new president is Mark Falanga.