The Back Room: Great American Frieze

This week: Frieze’s bold U.S. expansion, breaking up (a gallery) is hard to do, and much more.

The scene at Tokyo Gendai 2023. Courtesy Tokyo Gendai. Illustration by Artnet News.

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.

This week in the Back Room: Frieze’s bold U.S. expansion, breaking up (a gallery) is hard to do, a royal surprise at Sotheby’s London, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,874 words).


Top of the Market

From Sea to Shining Sea

The outside of Frieze New York 2019. Photo: Mark Blower, courtesy of Frieze.

The outside of Frieze New York 2019. Photo: Mark Blower, courtesy of Frieze.

The art industry barreled into the latest hard turn of its consolidation derby Thursday morning, as Frieze announced that it had acquired the Armory Show and signed a deal to acquire Expo Chicago later this quarter. Financial terms of the transactions were not disclosed.

Where the race goes from here is another matter entirely. In the wake of the news, here’s your Back Room primer on what’s known, what isn’t, and what we should keep an eye on in the months ahead…


What Will Stay the Same?

According to a press statement, Frieze plans to keep the following components of their two newest acquisitions unchanged…

  • Names and Branding: We are not, we repeat not, getting Frieze Chicago and Frieze New York: Back to School Edition. The Armory Show and Expo Chicago will still be known as the Armory Show and Expo Chicago going forward.
  • Leadership: Armory Show director Nicole Berry and Expo Chicago founder, president, and director Tony Karman will work alongside the directors of Frieze’s other fairs under CEO Simon Fox and parent company Endeavor.
  • Scheduling: For now, the Armory Show will continue to be staged in early September, while Expo will stay put in mid-April. There are no indications that Frieze Los Angeles (February) or Frieze New York (May) will adjust their timing, either. But Fox did tell the Financial Times that putting “a little distance” between Frieze Seoul (also in September) and Armory could be “logistically useful down the line.”


What Will Change?

Four of Frieze’s seven annual art fairs will now take place on American soil. (The ratio rises to four of six if you count Frieze London and Frieze Masters, held concurrently a short walk from one another every October, as a single event.) That’s a significant geographical tilt for British-born Frieze.

Statements from key players also underscore a shared belief that the deals will give all involved the best of both worlds. Frieze, a global brand, gets to extend what Fox called “the depth and breadth of [its] presence in the U.S.” via closer ties to the “distinct ecosystem of artists, galleries, museums, and collectors” in NYC and Chicago.

Armory and Expo, on the other hand, should benefit from a newfound ability to “leverage a respected brand, deep industry knowledge, expanded resources, and a larger network,” Berry said in part.


What’s the Best Precedent for Frieze’s Moves? 

MCH Group’s two-year investment spree in regional art fairs. But even here, we should be conscious of some important differences.

Between September 2016 and July 2018, Art Basel’s Swiss parent company acquired majority stakes in the India Art Fair and Masterpiece London, announced plans to launch the Art SG fair in Singapore (in cooperation with Sandy Angus and Tim Etchells), and took a minority stake in Art Düsseldorf. But the strategy was short-lived.

By November 2018, MCH Group announced it “would not proceed” with Art SG, and would sell its shares in the India Art Fair and Art Düsseldorf. Although MCH eventually bought back a 15 percent stake in Art SG in 2022, leadership permanently folded Masterpiece London early this year, citing insufficient demand from dealers amid rising costs and complications post-Brexit.

Those outcomes don’t necessarily mean anything vis-à-vis Frieze’s American growth plan, however.

It’s no snub of Armory or Expo to call them regional events. (Berry herself has defined the Armory Show as “quintessentially a New York fair.”) But they are regional events in the single largest, most robust art market on the planet.

That positioning contrasts sharply with MCH Group’s four regional acquisition targets, each of which was rooted in a different country with a vastly different commercial ceiling. Of the quartet, only the U.K. has an art market of global consequence—and circumstances there have undoubtedly degraded since 2016.

By the end, Masterpiece London was also as much an antiquities, rare minerals, and fossils fair as it was an art fair. Any comparison to the Armory Show, a contemporary art fair through and through, would be superficial at best. I suspect Chicago and its art industry would like a strong word with anyone keen to parallel the Windy City to Düsseldorf or New Delhi, too.

In that sense, Frieze’s regional expansion only matches MCH Group’s ill-fated one at a glance. And looking to hugely imperfect analogues for guidance is much less valuable than looking at an acquisitions’ own parameters, merits, and execution.


The Bottom Line

The multimillion-dollar question is how Frieze’s U.S. expansion will impact the actions of dealers and collectors, particularly American ones. Undergirding this larger query are numerous smaller but still vital issues…

  • What tangible changes will manifest at the Armory Show and Expo Chicago courtesy of Frieze’s greater resources? For starters, will any or all of the mega-galleries return to the former after deserting the fair completely in recent years?
  • Will the presumed upgrades to Armory and Expo further dampen U.S. buyers’ interest in traveling abroad for fairs, as art advisor Thomas Staufferof Zurich-based Gerber and Stauffer Fine Arts speculated to our colleague Vivienne Chow?
  • Is Frieze’s decision to consolidate power in the U.S. more a vote of confidence in the American art trade or a tacit judgment on the increasingly challenged U.K. and uneven East Asian markets? Either way, is it the best bet to make?
  • Will the acquisitions trigger a counter move by MCH Group? Is more consolidation at the hands of the two biggest fair organizers even plausible now, let alone advisable? Or have we reached the point of (drastically) diminishing marginal returns?

It’s far too soon to know any of the answers. But hey, at least now you’re better equipped to hold court on the subject at your next art world cocktail party.

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Paint Drippings

The latest Wet Paint tracks how to sort the pecking order among some of the undersung heroes of the art world: registrars, plus the Roth Bar’s triumphant return to Hauser and Wirth’s New York headquarters.

Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…

  • Art Fairs
    • Bucking low expectations given its spot in the calendar and the weak yen, the first Tokyo Gendai drew a robust crowd and notched healthy sales, albeit mostly in the below $500,000 range. (Artnet News)
    • Art Market Hamptons has canceled this year’s edition and will return in August 2024, citing “unforeseen logistical issues.” (The Art Newspaper)
    • The 2024 edition of AIPAD’s Photography Show will take place at the Park Avenue Armory, returning to the venue for the first time since 2016. (The Art Newspaper)


    Auction Houses

    • Christie’s reported that global sales, at $3.2 billion, were down 23 percentfrom the comparable period in 2022. (Artnet News)
    • On a more optimistic note, Bonhams logged $552 million in sales during the first two quarters of 2023, the best first-half results in the company’s history. (Artnet News)
    • Phillips announced plans for an annual auction of works by David Hockney in its London salesroom. This fixed auction will offer lots ranging “from entry level works priced at £1,000 to higher value pieces at £250,000 and above,” according to Robert Kennan, the house’s head of editions for Europe. (TAN)



    • After more than 20 years in business, Simon Lee Gallery in London has gone into joint administration, meaning it faces insolvency. Accounting consultants and restructuring experts BDO LPP have taken the reins of the business. The news follows recent reports that the gallery was almost dissolved earlier this year over a tax dispute that it later claimed had been resolved. (Artnet News)
    • Paris-based Galerie Christophe Gaillard is opening a new outpost in Brussels with a group show featuring 15 of the 35 artists on its roster; and Frankie Rossi, Geoffrey Parton, and John Erle-Drax, all former senior directors at Marlborough, have joined forces to form Frankie Rossi Art Projects, whose inaugural exhibition of self-portraits by Frank Auerbachcloses today. (Press release, Financial Times)
    • Michael Kohn Gallery now reps London-based Chinese artist Shiwen Wang, whose first solo show with the gallery will open in fall of 2024; and Almine Rech now represents Korean artist Choi Myoung Young in Europe, the U.S., U.K., and Asia (except Korea and Japan). His first solo outing there will open at Rech’s Paris space in September. (Press release)



    • The Shed hired Meredith Hodges, currently the executive director of the Boston Ballet, to be its new chief executive, effective later this year; and Paloma Ruiz-Picasso, Pablo Picasso’s youngest child, was named administrator of the Picasso estate. (New York Times, Artnet News)
    • At least half of the 60+ staffers that the Hong Kong Arts Centre employed in mid-2022 have departed amid financial difficulties and allegations of institutional self-censorship. “Many are leaving because they cannot bear to stay on and just do programs with little meaning,” one former employee said. (South China Morning Post)
    • As the museum world comes to terms with the serious allegations made against David Adjaye in a recent FT report, including sexual harassment and fostering a toxic workplace, more institutions are rushing to cut ties. The forthcoming African Institute in Sharjah, UAE, is the latest to do so, canceling a major building project by his firm, Adjaye Associates. (TAN, ARTnews)


    Tech and Legal News

    • Artists Krista Perry, Larissa Martinez, and Jay Baron have filed suit against fast-fashion company Shein for stealing their designs via a trend-detecting algorithm, then deploying them in the ultra-cheap clothing it manufactures. (Yahoo! News)
    • Soufiane Oulahya was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for his alleged role in a scheme to impersonate the NFT sales platform OpenSeafor fraudulent purposes. One unnamed individual allegedly lost approximately $450,000 worth of Ethereum and NFTs, including a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT, in the scam. (ARTnews)

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“I think making sure you keep a level head is important. Focus on positive things and rebuilding. Don’t fight with the ex-partner; that is what lawyers are for.”


—Dealer Rob Dimin of Dimin gallery, offering advice on how to handle a professional breakup. Dimin split with Elizabeth Denny, his longtime business partner in the now-defunct Denny Dimin Gallery, in December 2022. (Artnet News)


Work of the Week

Master John’s Portrait of Katherine Parr (1512–1548), Queen of England and Ireland

Attributed to Master John, Portrait of Katherine Parr (1512–1548), Queen of England and Ireland (1544–1545). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Attributed to Master John, Portrait of Katherine Parr (1512–1548), Queen of England and Ireland (1544–1545). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.


Date: ca. 1547–48


Seller: Estate of George Francis Child-Villiers


Estimate: £600,000 to £800,000 ($762,485 to $1 million) 


Selling at:  Sotheby’s London


Sale price: £3,436,000 ($4,366,501)


This portrait of Katherine Parr, the first Queen of both England and Ireland, fetched more than 4X its £800,000 ($1 million) high estimate after fees at Sotheby’s evening sale of Old Master and 19th Century Paintings in London on July 5. While it was not the auction’s highest-earning lot, it was easily the best-performing relative to expectations.

That wasn’t the only way in which the painting shocked the art trade, however. According to Sotheby’s, British historian Roy Strong incorrectly reported in his 1969 book Tudor and Jacobean Portraits that the painting had been “destroyed by fire.” Instead, it returned to the market unscathed through the estate of George Francis Child-Villiers, the Earl of Jersey, almost 200 years after its last appearance at auction.

Attributed to Master John, the portrait was most likely painted shortly after the 1547 death of King Henry VIII, who had made Parr his sixth and final wife four years earlier. It is one of only two portraits of her known to have survived to the present day; the other is a full-length canvas, also credited to Master John, and residing in the permanent collection of London’s National Portrait Gallery. The results prove once again that history plus intrigue plus extreme scarcity is a pretty good equation for generating a bidding war.

—Tim Schneider

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Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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