It’s art fair season again, but not quite as we knew it. Opening May 18 in Manhattan’s The Shed, Frieze New York sums up the new normal better than most.
In 2019, nearly 200 galleries took part in the fair’s signature temporary marquee on remote Randall’s Island, where it has been since its launch in 2012. A move to a more central location was on the wish list, but was made more difficult by the scarcity of large-scale locations in Manhattan. As lockdowns and quarantines subsequently prevented many of Frieze’s foreign exhibitors from exhibiting in 2021, the possibility of a much smaller venue arose; the stock shrunk to a third of its pre-pandemic size, occupying its current lock in Hudson Yards. The shift appears to be a success and this year Frieze New York is returning to its Chelsea spot – with just 65 exhibitors.
“The scale of the fair is now more intimate and manageable,” said exchange director Christine Messineo, who oversees her first event in New York since joining Frieze last November as director in the US. This sounds like an observant crowd, still trying to find their way when it comes to mass events, likely to be reassured that the exchange is enforcing many Covid-19 restrictions, including face masks, a vaccination certificate and timed entry.
Frieze organizers also know the appeal of smaller fairs based on their Los Angeles edition. This had been conceived as an event for about 60 galleries a year before the pandemic and immediately turned out to be a more enjoyable – and, say gallery owners, profitable – experience. (It later expanded to 100 galleries.)
On the back of a sold-out solo stand featuring work by Denzil Forrester in Frieze Los Angeles earlier this year, London gallery owner Stephen Friedman is bringing another solo exhibition to New York featuring handmade ceramic columns and masks by Jonathan Baldock (£5,000-£25,000).
“The move to smaller events has taken a long time,” Friedman says. “Before the pandemic, when we participated in the larger trade shows, we only had a very short time to engage someone in a very short conversation. During the lockdowns, we reached customers via Zoom and had a lot of time with them. Since the return to so-called normality, we see that spending more one-on-one time has a positive impact on the business.”
Stefan Ratibor, director of Gagosian Gallery, notes that the novelty of another location plays well, especially in New York. “The heat cools down pretty quickly, so it is with restaurants, there is an energy in variation,” he says. His gallery is also exhibiting a solo stand, featuring four paintings by Albert Oehlen. The booth will feature one of the likely talking points of the show: a vending machine with a drink Oehlen made called “Cofftea” (or “Kafftee” in the artist’s German), a combination of coffee and tea. This, Oehlen notes, “will never let you sleep again.” It may sound distasteful, but for those looking to get on with an art fair week, the gallery will be giving away a limited number of tokens for visitors to purchase the potion – “fungible tokens, if you will,” Ratibor jokes.
Elsewhere, Frieze is taking advantage of the earlier opening of this year’s Venice Biennale, which featured performers from the show in the art fair’s aisles. Pace gallery has six new paintings by Latifa Echakhch (€120,000-€180,000), who represents Switzerland in Venice, while the Goodman Gallery booth will display quilting works by anthropology-trained artist Kapwani Kiwanga, which is featured in the main exhibition of the biennial. The Venice Effect has taken hold – the gallery confirms that Kiwanga’s three works, each costing around €20,000, have already been sold to a Canadian collector.
Other highlights of Frieze include Charles Gaines, who has five works of his large scale Numbers and trees series at Hauser & Wirth ($550,000 each). Michael Werner Gallery markets its shared representation of Issy Wood with her painting “Trash 2” (2021, $90,000), while the original representative of the London-based artist, Carlos/Ishikawa, brings “Trash 1” (2021). .
Having a more contained stock exchange in Manhattan means “we can do more around it, we’re more connected to the city and to historic cultural institutions,” Messineo says, highlighting the nonprofit spaces under 57th Street in particular from those decades. long experimental contemporary art to the attention of the market. Collaborations inside and outside the fair include a May 18 performance by multidisciplinary artist-choreographer Devynn Emory – a hospice nurse who also works with Covid patients – at Artists Space (11 Cortlandt Alley).
The fair revived and updated a 1997 Manhattan-wide project by American artist Tom Burr, “Eight Renovations,” which placed narrative texts on buildings and locations that mark areas of transformation and gentrification. Frieze’s location will be the site of Burr’s ninth “Renovation”, with his words pasted into the atrium during the fair.
With such a dramatic decline in exhibitors, there is the uneasy reality that more than 100 galleries that used to be on display in Frieze are now out of the question. Messineo says the focus is on the city’s own galleries — 35 of the 65 are from New York — and the application process means there’s an opportunity for everyone every year. “The fair could be transforming, in terms of its galleries,” she says.
But other exchanges are feeling the benefit of the spillover. At the Expo Chicago in April, David Cleaton-Roberts, a partner at Cristea Roberts, commented that “we came here because we used to do Frieze New York and still want to hold a spring fair in the US”. Meanwhile, New York’s homegrown Independent stock market continues to improve.
Thankfully, Messineo says Frieze plans to stay at The Shed for the foreseeable future. “Small is beautiful,” says Gagosian’s Ratibor.
May 18-22, fries.com