Frieze London

Frieze Week Reviewed 0

Juste Kostikovaite

For the 10th time in a row now, London invited the artworld's creme-de-la crème, biscuits, and soups to go around the fair. Frieze week started already on Tuesday, October 9, as a Special Preview day. Unsurprisingly, on the same day a lot of galleries in central London were organizing their openings. Probably expecting the dealers. Among them was Regina Gallery, which presented a new performance work by Russian artist Oleg Kulik, while the neighbouring gallery Pillar Corillas presented the work of Korean artist Koo Jeong A. That evening, the air felt thick with anticipation: what is going to be shown and sold during the five following days? 

Performance by Russian artis Oleg Kulik on the opening nigh of his solo show at Regina Gallery in London

In one week, London hosted Frieze, Frieze Masters, the Moving Image art fair, and the Sunday art fair. In addition, shows were opened and non-profit art galleries had special performances and talks scheduled, such as a performance evening on 11th of October, at the newly opened space of the David Roberts Foundation, at Mornington Crescent. But still central to all these events was the Frieze contemporary art fair, with its New Old Art sister – Frieze Masters.

As many of the visitors agreed, this year’s Frieze art fair seemed less hectic and easier to walk through. Firstly, this effect might be connected to the fact that this year it was less crowded. In addition, Frieze organizers made the fair a bit less accessible – they gave out fewer VIP passes. Also, the price for entry was quite high: for visitors, tickets cost 27 pounds for adults, for just the Frieze London fair, and 35 pounds for both the Frieze and the new Frieze Masters fair. 

The reason for this decision might be that the galleries complained during past years that it was not comfortable to talk with collectors because of the high number of visitors. In general, the fair seemed more spacious and dispersed, and the Frame and Focus sections less experimental, even considering some of the Focus section's young galleries. That even held true for the recent Royal College of Art London graduate Ed Forniele’s work, Charactergate, which invited viewers to take on a new pre-determined personality and try to become that personality at the art fair. The booth was a stage with a photo studio, digital images and pink walls.

Maybe the structure of this year's Frieze Art Fair was also informed by the fact that gallery booths had a more curated approach than before, with solo and two-person shows more common, although an uncurated mix of artworks, displayed salon-style, was still abundant. 

Maybe the easiness of seeing the fair had to do with the fact that collectors and visitors had two Frieze Fairs to visit, not just one, and also, by the aesthetic decisions regarding the fair’s interior. This year's Frieze tent was designed by the New York-based architect Annabelle Selldorf, and here the galleries had their stands in colours of pale grey, medium-grey, dark grey or white. This year, for the first time, the fair added the Masters as a separate art fair structure.  

Some views from Frieze Masters

When Frieze started in 2003, it could have set up an old-art fair at the same time. But at that time, this kind of project would not have worked, as the contemporary art market was growing . Now, Frieze directors say that the aim of Frieze Masters was to re-contextualise contemporary art. One might suggest that it is a sign of Frieze expansion, but it can also be seen as a strategic step regarding the financial growth of the art fair, which is impossible without targeting the biggest turnovers, and which is what happened at Frieze Masters. Here, according to Bloomberg, A Pablo Picasso painting priced at $8.5 million was among the early sales, as billionaires browsed Frieze Week. 

Both Frieze and Frieze Masters were accompanied by an educational programme of talks, the majority of them even supported by the Arts Council, which might sound a bit odd in comparison to the sales that happened at Frieze. The Frieze Master talks were organised by the art-historian Jasper Sharp. The Frieze public programme was organized in collaboration with Frieze Magazine. It had invited filmmaker John Waters, artists Olive Laric, Kasper Konig and Tino Seghal, among others. It seemed that the Serpentine Gallery Marathon, initiated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and which was happening at the same time, drew more crowds than Frieze’s events, especially those with David Lynch (who did not show up), Tilda Swinton, Daniel Buren, Liam Gillick and Michael Stipe.

This year Frieze decided to continue its East End Night. It is an initiative of Frieze, in collaboration with East London galleries, in which the galleries stay open until late during Frieze Saturday. The Frieze VIP Pass-holders were offered a free shuttle and tour services, which took them to the 4 different routes going around different non-profits and galleries in East London. The aim of those tours was to draw the attention of collectors to the young galleries, most of  which are based in East London and might be quite hard to find. In addition, the East End gallery tour gave a more relaxed, but at the same time an authentic and work-related atmosphere, and a good opportunity to speak directly with artists or curators of the galleries. Among the participating galleries were those London galleries which were included in the Focus or Frame Frieze sections, such as Cabinet gallery and Carlos Ishikawa gallery, among others.