🥊 Armory vs Frieze

+ The New York Armory Week Affairs


Ever been to an art fair and felt a bit out of your depth? Well, you're not alone. The art world, with its splashy valuations and abstract interpretations, can feel like an elite club where the password changes every minute.

Take the case of Frieze and the Armory Show. Their valuations could leave you scratching your head, wondering if you missed the memo. One artwork might command a sum that could buy a beach house, while another, equally impressive, is priced like it’s just a beach towel.

This isn't the stock market – it's the art market. And just like your aunt’s “famous” casserole at family dinners, nobody really knows what’s in it, but everyone wants a piece.

Join me this week as we demystify these valuations. We’ll pull back the curtain on the great art show and reveal what's really going on backstage.

Ready to peek behind the canvas? Dive in 👇

Read Time 05 minutes

🤔 Curious Valuations: "Armory versus Frieze" and The New York Armory Week Affairs

Anyone who's ever attended an art fair or ridden the carousel of weeklong gallery shows knows that art market valuations can feel like Rorschach tests. They're at once revealing and confounding, and sort of like the proverbial secret sauce; to an unseasoned spectator, the art world's valuation metrics might look like the secret brother of Sudoku.

A recent case in point was the valuation of two major art fair brands, Frieze and the Armory Show, both owned by the Endeavor Group. The summer revealed some stunning numbers: while Endeavor bought the Armory Show for $24.4 million, it seems to value Frieze, despite running four fairs, at a comparatively tiny sum of $55 million.

These numbers may feel as if they've been drawn from a Salvador Dali painting, seemingly distorted, but let’s dive into this surreal scenario.

Roll back to 2016 when WME, now Endeavor, acquired 70% of Frieze. Then, Frieze was a promising teenager, boasting two fairs- one each in London and New York. But the deal was an odd duck; Endeavor merged Frieze's acquisition numbers with Fusion, a US marketing firm, making the buyer's math more elusive than a Picasso Cubist piece.

Fusion was reportedly bigger in terms of the workforce but possibly not in revenue. A contractual formula based on the times’ Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA, or essentially, profit) suggests Frieze was valued at around $55 million in 2016.

Interestingly, fast forward to 2019, pre-EXPO Chicago acquisition and Armory Show, Frieze was still hanging onto its old price tag of $55 million.

This might have spurred Amanda Sharpe and Matthew Slotover, Frieze's founders, looking to cut and run from their brainchild. Their vision of Frieze’s growth didn’t quite mesh with the reality of ragged margins against ballooning investments. Whether these were due to Art Basel's dogged competition, management missteps, or even Covid’s long shadow, the art world is likely never to trace out.

This discrepancy in valuation raises a glaring question: Why did the Armory Show command a high price?

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