This year Pulse Art Fair switched from its usual early March slot during the Armory Fair to try out New York’s new art week during the Frieze Art Fair. View highlights from the fair below and get an inside perspective from director Cornell DeWitt.
What is Pulse’s fair’s signature feature?
In a word, accessibility. We always try to make Pulse welcoming. We like to be in the centrally located Metropolitan Pavilion. We like to have friendly dealers. And we like to have a really broad spectrum of artists. Also, we really take pride in our friendly staff and that their enthusiasm is infectious.
Even if the art can be very opaque, we have gallerists that are passionate about it and are happy to share their insights with people. They’re not going to sit in their booths and glower at you thinking “well if you don’t understand this, I’m not gonna waste my time talking to you.” The price range also makes the fair accessible. While we have high six-figure sales, you can also walk out with a drawing for $500.
So people know that we offer something for everyone without it being this lowest common denominator situation.
How does the selection process work?
The same committee responsible for the gallery selections also determines the winner of Pulse Prize. For New York it consists of myself and the gallerists Stefan Roepke and Thomas Von Lintel. Each member serves for three years or so, but some have stayed longer.
We have a minimum of 80% return rate, so we have long-term relationships with a lot of galleries. It’s kind of like preschool in Manhattan and they are the “legacies.” But there is also some space for new galleries every year and I travel around the world going to fairs and other art events to fill it. Once in while a gallery applies that I might be familiar with, but with whom I don’t have a relationship and I think “oh, they want to do the fair, that’s great.” And a gallery I’ve never heard of might submit an amazing proposal that the committee loves, that I love, and there it is.
What is the idea behind the Impulse section?
Impulse is the place where a young gallery showing young artists can join and from there they work their way up into the main section.
For example, Man&Eve gallery exhibited work by Larissa Nowicki at impulse in Miami. And as it turned out, Larissa won the pulse prize that year and now the gallery has sort of graduated onto exhibiting here on the main floor. The way I see it, that’s the way Pulse should work.
Man&Eve’s founding director Lucy Newman Cleeve: “it’s a great way to go about it because when you are just starting out it’s much more manageable to be in impulse and show a single artist.”
How is Frieze’s debut impacting Pulse?
Frieze is a corollary benefit. We are a satellite fair and we don’t pretend to be anything other than that, although I feel very strongly that we are the best satellite fair by a long shot. Because of that, we have the liberty to align ourselves with whomever we want, and Frieze is the shiny new bauble in town whom everyone is excited about, so we welcome them. I’ve known Amanda Sharp for a long time and participated in Frieze in 2006 when I was working at Yvon Lambert, so I think it’s great.
There are a lot of good reasons to align with Frieze rather than the Armory, but of course it is not because we feel that Armory is circling the drain or anything like that. It’s just that Frieze is what people are excited about now and logistically it is better for us.
Previously, after Miami we only got a week or two and then the holidays would come and the next thing you know, it’s the middle of January and you’re only six weeks out from the fair in early March. It’s always been kind of a scramble. Moving the New York fair to May during Frieze also gives us opportunity to spread things out, which is really great.
On Miami vs. New York
The thing is that Miami has always been bigger for us, but even though New York is smaller, New York is really the most important art market in the world at the end of the day. Miami is a bigger art fair market, but New York is really the big kahuna.
What do you do to give each fair a local flavor?
We really push to have local non-profits that might not be so well known. Bringing them in gives us that tie to the local community and adds something new at the same time. And the attention benefits them too. Here we have NYFA and Creative Capital. They’re big, but one wouldn’t necessarily expect to see them in a fair, and they bring some work and add something to the fair that is unique.
I’m not sure if you’re allowed to pick favorites, but what what would you say is this year’s highlight?
The special projects are always my favorite. We put a lot of effort into those and its one of the few areas in which the fair’s organizers can really get involved with the artists. Typically, we know what the galleries are bringing based on their proposals, but the galleries are really in charge of their artists and what goes on in the booths. So I love that the special projects give me the opportunity to select artists and work with them one-on-one to kind of curate this mini group show. Here with have six special projects, but in Miami last year we had sixteen, so it’s a huge undertaking.
My favorite piece here is City Surface by Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo. It involved three days of construction—the artists were here with a crew building, and I think they really knocked it out of the park.
Feedback so far?
It’s been really positive. It’s turned out about how I thought it would in a best case scenario. Collectors generally want to check out the big fair first, where they are going to spend the bulk of their money, and then they visit the satellite fairs, of which Pulse is usually first. So we weren’t sure if we were going to get sales going right off the bat, but sales have started rolling; maybe not as gang-buster as they have in the past, but many collectors have told me they were planning to visit Frieze only once and them come back to Pulse.
What do you have in store for the future?
We are continually fine-tuning but have no big changes or expansions planned. One thing we continue to work on is building our relationships with the local nonprofits, particularly in Miami. For example, we are going to partner with Lotus Foundation to do a benefit on the opening night this year.
Another initiative we are still developing is Pulse Play, which has evolved beyond the traditional black box video program. First we started allowing some other partners to curate a program, then we are doing solo projects for the first time. And finally in Miami last year we got rid of the black box all together for the first time. It was an installation by Lucie Fontaine (the alter ego of a writer and editor). This year we decided we’d take “play” literally and turn it into a video game. So we’ll continue working on things like this.