Noah Horowitz doesn’t like to talk about himself. But that’s not to say he doesn’t like to talk. In the hour or so we spend chatting in his office—a book-filled room, privy to a nostalgic view of midtown Manhattan—there was certainly no shortage of topics to cover. He had opinions to share on the obstacles and triumphs of directing the world’s first online art fair, his fascination with the—“what some people would consider ‘unsavory’”—intellectual space at the junction of art and business, the state of the international art market and what he’s done in the last four years as director of the Armory Art Show to give the establishment a much-needed facelift. And yet, every time the conversation veers toward the personal, he shifts a bit in his seat and glances away bashfully, as if eyeing a red “eject” button hidden somewhere below his desk.
So, here’s what we know about one of the most influential forces in the art world today. At 35, he is remarkably young to be director of the Armory—New York’s premier annual art show, which started in 1994 and is the apex of the year for many galleries around the world. He’s married to Louise Sorensen, head of research for power gallerist David Zwirner, and they have with a 21-month-old baby girl. He grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, where his father was a periodontist, and says that growing up, he wasn’t all that into art. “As a kid I probably loved film and music more than art. But then during my undergrad studies I started to get really into it. I did an Economics degree, and I was working on Wall Street. Everybody would make fun of me because I would take my lunch breaks and go to museums. At that point I was becoming really interested in this investment issue.”
The “investment issue” eventually took Horowitz to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for a PhD, after which he would write a lauded book, The Art of the Deal, which “demystifies collecting and investing in today’s art market.” Around the time of publication he was selected to direct the 2011 debut VIP Art Fair—the first ever online art fair. While many considered the venture a complete disaster, Horowitz saw the silver lining. “The amount of traffic on the site was really heavy… so that slowed it down and a lot of people got very upset,” he says. “But in the aftermath, about six weeks later, I was walking around the Armory Show and keeping a pretty low profile since this was the first interaction I was having with much of this community, who were very unhappy about the whole experience. But one after another, dealers started pulling me aside and saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I just sold something at the Armory to a collector I’ve never met, but who actually saw me at my booth on the VIP Art Fair.
However under-the-radar the VIP Art Fair’s successes were, they seemed to be enough to get the right people’s attention, because not long after that, Horowitz was tapped for his current position at the Armory. It was a big job to take on, because at that point the Armory was, as Horowitz says, “still New York’s fair, so a lot of great people and dealers were coming—but it needed some updating.” Which is a nice way of saying things had gotten fusty. Horowitz made it his business to completely reboot the experience—from hiring architects to re-envision the fair’s layout as an urban space, to prioritizing international curatorial initiatives, to significantly trimming the fat in terms of galleries admitted. “When you go from 270 galleries in 2011 to less than 200 galleries this year, there are a lot of people getting upset who felt they were a part of it,” Horowitz says. “But it’s all just growing pains that you have to go through to make the fair better on a whole.”
Horowitz believes the Armory’s role is crucial to today’s art scene, because “the American market is still far and away the largest, and most buoyant, and most liquid market for modern contemporary international art… so New York—despite the ramped up globalization of the art world—is still the place that every gallery working at an ambitious capacity today wants to be at least once a year. We want the Armory to be the venue for them to do that, so this has been a really important thing.”
I ask if there was one piece of art he would want to live with forever—without any guilt—what it would be. Ever the diplomat, he exclaims, “I would never answer that question!” But he does mention having an affinity for the Suprematist paintings of Malevich, and a special place in his heart for Manet, when it comes to the late 19th century works. And, he reveals that his first big art purchases were maps. “Three different wine regions in France, by the famous Dutch cartographer Johannes Blaeu. They were all taken from important atlases published in the late 17th century.”
As to the rest of what he owns, he’s a little coquettish, and says he doesn’t think of himself as a collector. It seems that while Horowitz enjoys art immensely on an intellectual level, his true passion lies—as his book would suggest—in “the art of the deal.” And perhaps for that reason, we can feel safer knowing Horowitz is mapping out the future of our artistic establishments with a cool appraising eye.
The Armory Show runs from March 5th-8th.