As Frieze week approaches, we ask two art experts to take sides and share the ups and downs of London’s biggest art fair
Founder of London Art Studies and Frieze lover Kate Gordon offers her positive view on the fair, and argues why it is still London’s premier art event
I think Frieze is really the bionic man of fairs: bigger, stronger, faster. It’s far more international than when it first started; in the beginning, it was mostly UK-based galleries. The addition of Frieze New York has changed things as well. In Focus, the fair for young galleries with emerging artists has also been important in Frieze’s evolution.
For me the highlight of 2014 was the Hauser & Wirth stand, which was curated by Mark Wallinger and inspired by Sigmund Freud. They had a sleeping guard by Christoph Büchel. The other thing that stands in memory from 2014 is the children’s play area, set up by Carsten Höller. One of your first impressions was of children climbing around these giant mushrooms; it was a light-hearted touch, and a nice welcome.
I see it as an accessible event. That’s the joy of Frieze. Contemporary art is all about learning, and you go to Regent’s Park – hopefully – with an open mind, to look and to learn. It’s very open to the public; it’s almost like theatre. As art lecturer Ben Street says, ‘all art was contemporary once’. Things that were shocking 300 years ago aren’t shocking now; we have to look towards the future.
Even certain collectors hesitate before knocking on gallery doors, and I think that’s one of the democratising parts of the fair, you get to see things behind the doors which you were previously reluctant to open. The fair really offers everything under one roof and in one city. But it’s not just Frieze, it’s the additional events. All the satellite exhibitions around it are so compelling. London basically turns into Disneyworld for grown-ups who like art.
In the beginning, if you weren’t in the art world, perhaps you didn’t know what was going on. Now, Frieze Week is known throughout London. I found a note from last year that Sotheby’s and Christie’s had £230m worth of art on view during Frieze. This is access which you can only dream of.
The price is always hard; in my opinion, it’s good value for money, but you should use that ticket more than once. Going hungover on a Saturday morning isn’t the best way to go. It’s similar to a top-price theatre ticket. Frieze gives you the beginnings of a language to learn about a different world.
Playing devil’s advocate is art adviser and historian Dr Clare Heath, who tells us that when it comes to Frieze London, there’s still room for improvement
As an initiative, Frieze is really revolutionary and it has changed the art world. There are so many good things that it’s done, but I think that it’s time for a reinvention. Last year, I saw a real recognisable identity coming through for Frieze Masters, I think it was very well curated, there wasn’t much repetition and The Collector installation by Robin Brown really was museum-exhibit quality.
Repetition is one problem at Frieze. When you go to multiple fairs a year, there is always a lot of duplication as you literally have one international art fair after another. Frieze art fair is one of the few fairs to focus on contemporary art and living artists, so it would be interesting if it captured more of the emerging art markets from India and Asia.
When it started out it was a rogue, outsider sort-of event. It was presenting people on the edge peripheries of contemporary art; it was breaking new ground. Now, because of the business side being so successful, what it’s actually doing is limiting the new voices that it could potentially attract. It’s up there with the Armory Show, with Art Basel; it’s a very mature fair now. It’s a high-profile, glamorous event. Art fairs are not museums; clearly there is a commercial imperative, so it is not surprising that big brands outweigh marginal identities.
Although Frieze is accessible, it does have an agenda – to sell – but this reality is not always apparent to its visitors. It’s very hard for something that started out as alternative and has become mainstream to then break out of that mould. You have to appeal to different tastes and make money. You have to compromise, to a degree. The vetting committee at Frieze is very good, so it’s not done on the bottom line, but it’s so hard for young galleries to get on the treadmill of being represented at fairs.
The business side of it is quite transparent, but the story of art has always been dependent on a thriving economy, and the patronage, wherever that comes from. That’s why the Indian art market is going through the roof now. I think it’s easy for people to forget that art has always been a commodity, whether we like it or not.
1. Pick up The Art Newspaper, which is given free at Frieze and gives you highlights about what to look for.
2. Ask the gallerists questions if you’re curious about something, don’t just dismiss it and walk on.
3. Two days is a bit of an extravagant endeavour, but if you do try and do Frieze all in one day, by the end of four hours your eyes will glaze over. If you have the luxury of going back a second time, do it.
4. Book lunch as soon as you can, normally by the time you get around to it, the restaurants are full.
5. Don’t forget to visit the Sculpture Park, which is brilliantly curated by Clare Lilley.
6. Make sure you bring Compeed to deal with the blisters. Leave your high-heels at home. You do see first-timers in heels.
7. Stop for coffee at Gail’s, and do it just before you collapse from exhaustion, as many often
do it too late.
Frieze London takes place 14–17 October and Frieze Masters 14-18 October. A combined ticket for entry to both events is priced at £50, friezelondon.com; for details on London Art Studies’ lecturers at the Bulgari hotel, visit londonartstudies.com