Spotlight On Frieze Week 2011

Anticipation Builds for London’s World-Class Contemporary Art Fair


This week all of London will turn itself over to the visual arts for what has become known as Frieze week. Established in 2003, Frieze Art Fair has today become the most important art event in the UK, and taken on international significance, with a colossal traffic of art buyers, collectors and VIPS about to hit the capital.


But despite its stratospheric success, Frieze has humble origins. In 1991, – on the eve of the YBA revolution – Amanda Sharp, Matthew Slotover, and artist Tom Gidley founded Frieze magazine, with Sharp and Slotover serving as editors. According to Slotover, the impetus for founding Frieze was simple – to provide an alternative to ‘the [available] art mags [that] were badly designed and badly written … [and] even more full of jargon than they are now … [with] a lot of French philosopher name-dropping’.


And, at first, there were no plans for world domination. ‘We didn’t think of it as a business’, Sharp explained; instead, ‘It gave us an extraordinary life of the mind. [And] It was a privilege to watch the art world grow.’ Slotover confirms this sentiment: ‘We weren’t doing the magazine for audiences, but we wanted to do something that answered our own questions about the art world’.


Sharp and Slotover were excited by the work of the YBAs and were keen to undertake the business of promotion, especially for fear that the emerging artists might be ignored by the established art press. Fittingly, Damien Hirst would grace the front cover of the very first issue. This would be the start of a long relationship between Frieze and the artist that would culminate at last year’s fair with Hirst selling a work for £3.5 million.


In 2003, the first year of Frieze Art Fair, Sharp and Slotover assumed the positions of Directors, having ceased direct editorial involvement in the magazine since 2001, and the two directors gathered together international blue-chip contemporary art galleries to exhibit in London’s Regent’s Park. The fair’s debut, with the help of a secret gig by Jarvis Cocker and free bags designed by Jeremy Deller, attracted 27,700 visitors and made around £20 million in sales. This went way beyond expectations, the organizers explain; ‘We were amazed. It wasn’t just the art world that came, it was creative London. It had this fantastic energy of the city and that made it a platform in a way we never expected.’


Despite perennial lambasting from critics, Frieze has gone from strength to strength. This year, hosted within a 20000 metre squared tent designed by Carmody Groark, 175 exhibitors will be peddling their wares to international art collectors, alongside a curated programme of talks, artists’ commissions and film projects. First-time participants this year include Berlin’s Johnen Galerie, Paris’s Yvon Lambert, and New York’s Pace Gallery.


Ultimately, Frieze has put London on the art world map. This week, the capital will be transformed into the place to be for anyone with an interested in contemporary art – buyers, sellers, and enthusiasts alike.


Words Ishbel Mull / Photo Paul Carter Robinson © 2011 ArtLyst


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