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Deep Frieze: London’s Premiere Art Fair Arrives In New York


If you’ve got the resources to buy contemporary art—or the admirable envy suppression to spectate as others do—it’s a good week to be in New York. Sotheby’s and Christie’s contemporary art evening sales commence next week, and beginning tomorrow, London’s Frieze Art Fair arrives for its first-ever New York residency, setting up shop on Randall’s Island, where upwards of 25,000 people are expected to descend. Frieze’s tireless directors, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp (he, London-based; she, New York), have not only corralled 180 galleries for the event; they’ve also commissioned sculptures for an outdoor sculpture park; audio works for a sound-art program; a speaker series; a slate of on-site performances and projects, including a reconstruction by John Ahearn of his 1979 exhibition South Bronx Hall of Fame; and pop-up restaurants, cafés, and food trucks from art-world hangouts like Sant Ambroeus, the Fat Radish, Roberta’s, and the Standard. On the eve of the fair, Slotover spoke with about New York versus London, the fair and the gallery, and fashion’s enduring fixation with the world of contemporary art.

Frieze Art Fair runs May 4 through 7, 2012, on Randall’s Island, NYC. For information, tickets, and more details, visit

Frieze in London is a huge and well-established event. How is New York going to be similar or different? Are you conceiving of it as quite separate, or will it be modeled on the original?
Well, I mean the great thing about having the Frieze in New York is that there is so much else to offer in the city. You know, there’s museums and galleries, and restaurants and bars and everything. We’re really working with galleries [outside the fair], too. There’s an event Saturday night in Chelsea, there’s something Sunday night on the Lower East Side.

Frieze’s co-director, Amanda Sharp, lives in New York; you live in London. How do you see the art scene differ in New York versus London, in terms of appreciation and in terms of buying?
That’s a really good question. One view of the issue is that in London you’ve got like 500 people in the art world and 500,000 people, the general public, who are interested in art. In New York, you have 5,000 people in the art world…but the general public is not as interested in art. I don’t know if that’s true; I go to museums here and they seem pretty full to me. But I think certainly there’s more galleries, there’s more collectors, there’s more major museums here, but in London we have had this massive general public kind of uptake on contemporary art, which is reflected in the media. There might be a subtle difference in that. [But] essentially, they’re two very important art cities, and those in places we always enjoy doing fairs, because they’re just incredibly cultured cities, with a lot to do. They’re attractive for people to come to, and there’s a great informed public there. They probably have more similarities than differences.

When you talk about public appreciation versus the professional world, is Frieze a place for those two to meet, or primarily a professional fair? Is it easy to break in, not as a gallery or a dealer but as an appreciator and then potentially as a buyer?
Absolutely. We run the fair in a very democratic way. You can see a lot at one time, so we always tell someone who’s just learning about contemporary art, or thinking about it, just to come. They can appreciate the artists’ projects and all the food and the restaurants we have. I think it’s a mixture. We want to have professionals, of course, but we also think that this is a great event for the general public, too.

The art world and the fashion world are very much in bed together these days. You see artists collaborating with big brands like Louis Vuitton, and the incredible fashion presence at fairs like Art Basel. Do you think there’s more involvement than there has been in the past?
A lot of fashion designers collect art, so we get a lot of designers coming just as art buyers—they know the galleries, they know the artists. It’s not to collaborate, it’s just as collectors. Then sometimes that collecting habit does translate into other things—like when Prada set up its Foundation, or like when Louis Vuitton does collaborations with artists. It seemed to start about ten or 15 years ago, and I think it’s largely increased, yeah. Some people think about art as the ultimate luxury—because there’s only one. And of course the luxury world is always after the ultimate. For me, the important thing is, if the designer is sensitive and if the artist is strong and is good, you can get a really interesting collaboration and it can be more than the sum of its parts. And if you had a standoff, it can be an unhealthy collision—it can look like the artist is really selling out. Every example is different. But is it increasing? I think largely increasing, yes.

Many critics have remarked about the growing number and scope of art fairs. Do you think that growth has changed the system in some radical way?
I think what the galleries do for the art world in terms of supporting artists and being a public viewing space for art is exceptional, and it’s really important. We help the galleries market themselves to a wider public—we’re here for the galleries. The reason that they have begun to do more art fairs than they used to, I think, has to do with globalization. Your collector does not live around the corner anymore. It’s people in Poland selling to people in New York, and people in New York selling to people in Australia. It’s a huge, huge range of people who are talking to each other, and it’s impossible to see them all. An art fair is an easy way to gather galleries from many countries under one roof. It’s impossible to get that kind of coverage otherwise. No one could get to that many galleries, even over the course of a year.

When you talk about an increasingly global customer and a way to bring many distant places together, I think: online. Could you eventually see the fair extending that way as well?
For people who can’t make it themselves, and/or galleries not having to do all the shipping, that kind of stuff, the Web is a great medium. But the Web has its downsides too because art is a physical thing. It’s not like music or books or something where there’s a virtual aspect, too. The primary aspect of art is physical. Many people still want to see an artwork before they’ll buy it, or even think about buying it. I think the Web can be very useful, but the majority at the moment still want to see it.

Photo: Ezra Petronio