The British contemporary art fair might be just the jolt the American art world needs.
ISLAND OUTPOST Renderings of one entry to the Frieze New York tent.
In the first hour of previews for Frieze Art Fair’s 2010 London showcase of contemporary art, a Damien Hirst piece featuring 400 specimen of fish in formaldehyde, in three glass display cases, sold for $5.6 million. It was a coup for Hirst, his gallery White Cube and the post-recession art market itself.
Frieze, which was born in 2003 as an extension of the art magazine, has become the focal point of the British art calendar. It’s a venue where seven-figure sales like Hirst’s fish are common, but because of its independent point of view, Frieze is also known as a place to discover lesser-known artists. This month Frieze plants its flag on this side of the Atlantic with its first New York City event. Co-founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover are careful to take a generous attitude with the city’s other fairs, most notably the Armory Show, but Frieze could pose a threat.
“We are a small company, with no external stakeholders,” explains Sharp, who launched the magazine with Slotover in 1991. “We can concentrate on creating an environment where people feel energized.” By contrast, the Armory is operated by Merchandise Mart, a conglomerate that stages a variety of trade shows. “If the fair is successful,” Sharp adds, “it will change the landscape of the art calendar in New York.”
Those are ambitious words. What speaks more loudly is the number of international galleries from last year’s Armory Show that defected to Frieze: about 30 in all. Meanwhile, heavy hitter Gagosian, which has avoided the Armory altogether, is participating in Frieze.
Frieze’s expansion is part of the larger trend of art fairs proliferating across the globe, and it’s evidence of a shift in the way art is bought and sold. Fairs may be slowly edging out the traditional gallery sales model.
Despite Frieze’s slightly out-of-the-way location on Randall’s Island, off the east side of Manhattan, many dealers speculate that it is poised to become the preeminent event—not just in New York City, where the calendar has become littered with art fairs—but for the entire contemporary art market in America.
Here convenience is sacrificed for space. Sharp and Slotover hired Brooklyn architects SO-IL to capitalize on their real estate by creating a pop-up village with a centipede-shaped tent, eight site-specific works, a sculpture park on the waterfront and dining options from beloved local eateries such as Frankie Spuntino, the Fat Radish, Sant Ambroeus and Roberta’s.
This is good news for the attendees there simply to soak up the atmosphere (only a minority actually come to purchase). Frieze London—a must-attend for the glittering international art set—has buzz and atmosphere in spades. While no official figures exist on how much is spent on art, London’s economy sees more than $150 million from the fair each year. Next stop, Randall’s Island.