Published: August 14, 2018
New Yorker Helen Allen is no newcomer to the art fair circuit. Perceiving a gap in the marketplace, the communications expert partnered with British promoter Will Ramsay to create the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair and consulted on the establishment of Art Hong Kong, now Art Basel Hong Kong. “Many of my dealers now do Frieze, Art Basel and the Armory Show,” she says with evident satisfaction. At the helm of the Winter Show since mid-April, the fair’s new executive director seeks to balance tradition and innovation as she reaches out to audiences new and old.
How did you become involved with the Winter Show?
I’m a third-generation New Yorker and an East Side resident, or perhaps I’m considered a Yorkvillian. I’ve loved the Winter Show as long as I can remember. Friends and colleagues were involved with East Side House Settlement, a vibrant charity that does such important work, so I’ve been associated in a variety of ways for many years. Now, as executive director, it’s great working with co-chairs Lucinda Ballard and Michael Lynch. They’re wonderful partners and sounding boards.
What do you most love about the Winter Show?
I love its quality, eclecticism and wide range of prices, which allows anyone to come and discover something spectacular they can admire and own. To have every item vetted by a panel of over 150 experts is testament to the excellence of the exhibitors, who put tremendous effort into creating exciting displays.
What changes are in store for 2019?
We’ve updated our name to the Winter Show, which is what people already call it. We want to broaden the support base and appeal to a younger audience that may not understand the show’s scope. Our new web address, www.thewintershow.org, underscores that we are a not-for-profit. We are working with a fantastic design firm and are going to be unveiling new graphics. One thing I’m very excited to be doing with the Winter Show committee and my colleague Michael Diaz-Griffith is reaching out to potential partners to jointly organize events and programs throughout the year. We want to showcase our exhibitors beyond the ten-day run of the fair.
Will the fair’s dateline change?
I don’t see any major changes in the fabric of the 2019 Winter Show, our 65th and sapphire jubilee. We represent 5,000 years of fine and decorative arts and design, up to the present day. The show has gradually added more contemporary material. We are developing a strategy so the process is seamless, and we are bringing in the top of the crop. We are beefing up our vetting committee for contemporary art and design.
I teach a class at Sotheby’s called “How the Art World Works.” One common challenge is the speed with which the market is changing, hastened by our ability to see images online and in social media. We all have to adapt to this new environment – to figure out how to best stake our claim and build new audiences. Constantly looking and evolving is important. All fairs are competing for time, eyes and dollars. Capturing interest is about creating dynamic and innovative programming. It’s important to provide the next collectors with opportunities.
What’s in store for the Winter Show’s signature loan exhibitions?
The 2019 loan exhibition will showcase the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association. Michael R. Harrison, NHA’s director of research and collections, has just written the book Collecting Nantucket: Artifacts from an Island Community. Loan exhibitions are a wonderful thing for the Winter Show. They contextualize the value exhibitors bring to the fair by providing a museum context, and they are a great tribute to the idea of collecting.
Plans for social media and digital presentation?
There is an opportunity to create experiences for younger audiences, who look at everything through the lens of their phones. I want to provide an interactive experience. It’s important to evolve as we move further into the Twenty-First Century.
On a personal note, what are your favorite art destinations worldwide?
I lived in Rome for almost three years and adore everything about it. I loved setting off on my motorino, Pepe, just to see a new area of town. In London, I always visit my favorite painting, Del Sarto’s “Portrait of a Young Man” at the National Gallery. In New York, the Frick Collection is spectacular. You get the best in a bite-sized portion. Of course, I’m partial to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I started my professional life in the communications department.
Best restaurant within walking distance of the Park Avenue Armory?
Am I being totally trendy by saying I love East Pole on East 65th Street?
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