Frieze tent exterior

The inaugural Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s Island in New York, May 4-7, was both a highly anticipated event and a barometer for the viability of another significant art fair, in New York specifically, and on the international art calendar generally. Despite the naysayers and the risks involved, Frieze hit a homerun. Tickets were available in advance and only online. On Sunday the fair was sold-out.

Frieze interior

The choice of Randall’s Island was highly suspect by New Yorkers, but it turned out to be a delightful venue and easily accessible by ferry, taxi and bus. The bespoke “tent”, created by the Brooklyn architecture firm, Solid Objectives-Indeburg Liu (SO-IL), was a structure like no other. Immense and sensuous, with soaring height and an excess of natural light, views to the park’s greenery and open spaces within the fair, it was both complementary to the artwork and a pleasure to navigate.  Frieze founders, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, are the publishers of Frieze Magazine and the seasoned veterans of the Frieze Fair in London, which they initiated in 2003. Their expertise and discernment suffused every aspect of the event. From the excellent roster of galleries to the sumptuous food provided by Manhattan favorites such as Sant Ambroesus and the Fat Radish, the exhibitor and visitor experience was paramount.

Anish Kapoor wall piece & Ai Weiwei sculpture at Lisson booth

Isaac Julien photograph and Yayoi Kusama sculpture at Victoria Miro booth

The heart of every fair lies in the selection of exhibitors. Frieze presented over 180 exhibitors from 30 countries including top international galleries like Gagosian, Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth and White Cube. While prominent artists graced many booths, two special sections, titled “Focus” and “Frame”, were devoted to younger galleries, vetted from the US, Europe, China, Japan, Turkey and Russia, among others. In these areas the majority of artists were not widely known.

Tonico Lemos Auad (hanging sculpture) & Jim Hodges (on bed) at Stephen Friedman booth

While the entire atmosphere of the fair is of a convivial nature, the stakes remain high for the galleries. They must curate a strong presentation, establish the quality of their brands, make substantial sales to cover their overhead, engage new contacts and earn an invitation to subsequent fairs. The huge amount of business now transacted during the art fairs makes participation in them mandatory and highly competitive. Sales are always a top priority, securing the next booth in the best fairs is a simultaneous goal.

Thomas Scheibitz, Charles Long & Olafur Eliasson at Tanya Bonakdar booth

In addition to a heady buying opportunity, the most successful fairs also offer a platform for education and exposure to a wide range of aesthetic viewpoints. Programmed by Cecilia Alemani, Frieze Talks offered presentations, panels and discussions with artists, curators and other art world commentators. Luminaries such as Glenn Lowry, Director of MOMA, Okwui Enwezor, Director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich and artist, Taryn Simon, were among the speakers. There were guided tours and an outdoor sculpture park curated by Tom Eccles. Fifteen artists were presented including Ernesto Neto and Subodh Gupta.

Ernesto Neto at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

After the fair, I spent several days previewing the auctions and visiting the galleries. Frieze has consciously aligned its dates with the Spring contemporary auctions, a strategy that has worked for Frieze in London and for HK12, the Hong Kong fair produced by ArtBasel coming up May 17. With ArtBasel Switzerland opening June 14, the era of attending all of the fairs every year is over. So pick your favorites around the globe – from New York and Miami, to London, Paris and Madrid, to Dubai, Hong Kong or Delhi. And then the secondary fairs in Chicago, Brussels or Shanghai – and what about Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Santa Fe or Aspen…

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