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Frieze New York 2019.

In New York, Fair Weather Darkens As Books Show Cancels, Armory Pivots 55 Dealers Online

Because of the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and uneven vaccination rates, as well as ongoing travel bans, plans for upcoming in-person trade fairs, including art fairs, are looking shaky. Two prominent New York events have been canceled within the last two weeks.

Today, the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF), the long-running fair headed up by veteran art fair organizer Sanford Smith, called off its 2021 edition, which was to take place at the Park Avenue Armory September 9–12. In a statement, Smith said he was “disappointed that the fair cannot go on, but for everyone’s safety—our exhibitors, staff, and public—we have made the difficult decision to cancel” due to the uncertainty caused by the spread of the Delta variant.

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Frieze New York 2019.

In pre-pandemic iterations, Smith said his fair usually has over 200 exhibitors participating, but this year’s had been pared down to 119 participants—too few to continue with the event. The cause, according to Smith, is the current travel ban from Europe to the United States, which forced European dealers to pull out over fears that they would not be able to re-enter their respective countries.

“It was like a run on the bank,” Smith said of the slew of dropouts, noting that several European dealers had arranged to send employees through Cyprus and Barbados for quarantine periods before entering the U.S. The next edition of the book fair is now scheduled for April 2022.

Just last week, another major trade fair cancelled its planned August 19 opening at the Javits Center in New York: the annual New York Auto Show, which hoped to see some 1 million visitors. But the Armory Show, first major U.S. art fair to stage an edition since the onset of the pandemic, is still set to take place at the Javits Center September 9-12—the same dates as the canceled book fair.

Before the pandemic, the Armory Show had planned for its 2021 dates to move to September from its typical time in March as part of its move from the city’s westside piers to the Javits Center. (The March 2020 edition of the Armory Show was one of the last in-person fairs to be staged before the global lockdown.)

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise because of the Delta variant, the Armory Show said it would make changes to its exhibitor list. Of the 212 international galleries slated to present booths in the fair, only 75 percent (157 of them) will now participate in-person; 55 international galleries—the majority of them European—have deferred their in-person presentations to the 2022 edition of the fair. Instead, they will participate in the Armory Show’s new digital platform, Armory Online, a virtual presentation of the fair developed in partnership with the company Artlogic. Of the 157 still planning to present in-person, 44 of them are international galleries that have found proxies to work in their booths.

“While some international exhibitors are not be able to participate this year due to the ongoing Covid-19 travel restrictions, we are doing everything we can to support their attendance and are providing options to best suit their needs,” Armory Show executive director Nicole Berry told ARTnews. “We are committed to supporting our exhibitors in order to create the best experience possible for our fair in September.”

In May, the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair announced that it would postpone its own annual fair, which had been scheduled at the Javits Center in October. David Tunick, the fair’s president, said in a statement that an in-person edition “would place an undue burden on our members in the E.U., the U.K., and Asia” because of international travel restrictions. The fair presented a digital edition this past spring and expects to return to the Javits in October 2022.

Fairs scheduled later in the fall in the Park Avenue Armory building include the ADAA Art Show (November 3–7), which brings together only U.S.-based galleries, and the 10th anniversary edition of Sanford Smith’s own Salon Art + Design fair (November 11–15). As of now, both events are still on.

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