“The spaces of public encounter, I suggest, are iconic with the spaces of discussion and debate that, from time to time, flourish in the interstices of financial and commercial institutions and personal budgetary concerns.[….]
Such is the Frieze Art Fair, where what Habermas (1989) calls the ‘culture debating public’ (of students, connoisseurs, artists, and critics) comes face to face with the culture-consuming society of Horkheimer and Adorno’s ( 1972) despised culture industry—the buyers and sellers of cultural products. Frieze, like all other fairs of its type (e.g., Basel, Miami Beach, Berlin, Cologne, Turin, Venice), cuts to the heart of the relations between art, economics, and aesthetics.”
Excerpts such as these still fresh in the back of my mind we (MACE) make our way to the Frieze Art Fair on Friday the 5.th of October. We have properly prepared by reading critical and less critical articles about Fairs in general and how they operate as well as text that concern Frieze directly.
Frieze is a London based Art Fair that was founded by Amanda Sharp, Matthew Slotover and Tom Gidley in 1991 with the launch of their Frieze magazine. Taking London as a starting point, they now also hold these Fairs in LA and New York. (Frieze, n.d.)
You can feel that we are on the right way to the Art Fair as soon as we arrive at Regents Park station where we get off the tube to walk to the event.
It feels like you are changing worlds and much more like fashion week than what you would expect from an art event. Some people are clearly there to much rather present themselves than for the art.
At the entrance, the staff is wearing suits and there is a bag control before entering the exhibition area. Everyone is invited to take an overview map of the Fair as well as two magazines for free. Interestingly enough these are Frieze Week and the Financial Times – which speaks volumes about the typical clientele of the event.
Inside, the exhibition area is divided into four different segments. The three biggest ones are for the Main Section of prominent Galleries. Talking to a visitor over “moon-jars”, ceramic works by the Korean artist Seung-taek-lee we find out that galleries are actually paying different prices per square meter they exhibit according to their status in the art world. The three areas where the big galleries reside pay significantly more than the forth area – a section they call Focus which is reserved for emerging new artists. Placed in different segments are also spaces designated for live performances. Furthermore, there is a Social Work area that shows works of female artists in the 1980s’ and 90’s in accordance with the Deutsche Banks campaign for the 2018 fair.
Deutsche Bank ArtCultureSport has been Frize’s lead sponsor for 15 years. This year they run a campaign under the hashtag #PositiveImpact celebrating the 100th year anniversary since women became eligible to vote in the UK and therefore put a strong focus on women in art. (Deutsche Bank, 2018)
There are a couple of local and international vendors where you can grab something to eat or drink, a bookshop and reading space as well as several VIP areas. One of these is a space called the ” Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge” which I don’t approach to ask what the area is about since there are three security guards scanning the entrance, making me feel immensely misplaced and uncomfortable.
The sitting areas in the venue are arranged in such a way that having a conversation and relaxation is not really supported – the people sitting are automatically facing away from each other and there is no backrest inviting to sit down and spend some time. It seems they much rather serve the purpose of enabling the person to become a temporary silent observer and judge of the people that are walking by.
Walking around I snap a few pictures of artworks I find interesting:
My favourite piece of the Fair is this 1991 installation by Barbara Bloom called “Hommage to the Captain”. The way she connects the picture – which is by definition the caption of a moment in time and therefore static in the past – with the dynamic here and now by placing the vase and the deck chairs there as reference objects is something that fascinates me.
After about one hour I have seen everything from the fare and a big headache. I meet up with some members of my course outside to talk about the event and we soon decide to leave altogether – making sure to take a group photo outside to remember this day. Back at the tube station, we say goodbye to each other and leave. Some home, some to go for a bar and some to grab drinks.
Picture by Claudia Weaver
With the reading done and now having some personal experience from the Fair I would describe it as something like this:
On the Map of the creative economies, Frieze is on surface-level primarily what it appears to be – An Art Fair. A place where buyers and sellers of artworks can mingle, connect and of course make business. But that does not paint the complete picture and once you go deeper you realise that Frieze is a different place for different people approaching it – most of them having a creative economies background. You have roughly three main groups attending.
The first two groups are consumers of some sort:
1. The Art enthusiasts and a group I call 2. “The Bystanders”
The third group is there for the business:
3. The Businesspeople
- The Art enthusiasts main goal is to get inspired and maby make some connections. They are not as interested in the buyers and collectors as in the galleries and their shown artwork. They are there stay up to date with the trends, to take their time to study the artworks, communicate about Ideas and concepts and approach the Fair more like a museum.
- The “Bystanders” are a group of people that are also to get inspired and make some connections but not necessarily in the art world. They are there to look at other people attending and to polish their ego through other peoples appreciative stares. It is this group that gives the Fair the “Fashion Week” feeling. And it is the hardest group to grasp as most of them also fall partly in the Business or Art enthusiast area.
- The Businesspeople approach the event differently as it counts as work for them. They have to gain value of some sort from this event. Therefore they are there among other things to sell and buy, make and/or hone valuable contacts, look at the trends in the pricing of artworks and for potential collaborations. They are Institutions such as Museums and Foundations, as well as privately owned Galleries, Collectors and Wealth Advisors.
So to come back to the question of:
If thought backwards from the customers and not from the organiser’s point of “branding a Fair and what they want to achieve” what role a Fair plays in the Creative Economies relies heavily on the mix of people attending.
This is something that I became aware of Sunday, two days after the visit to Frieze. I went to the (ironically called) ‘Sunday Art Fair’ – a “contemporary art fair held in London which focuses on new and emerging artists and galleries from around the world” (Sunday, 2018). The Fair was situated in Ambika P3, a beautiful exhibition space and of the University of Westminster. I felt incredibly welcome and to attending was a lot of fun. The mix of people consisted primarily of the ‘culture debating public’ –e.g. students, connoisseurs, artists, and critics – and Gallery owners. At this Fair, the attendees were eager to learn and discuss and the Gallery owners – some of whose were actively approaching you to discuss and give you insights into the works- were there to answer.
To wrap it all up a final thought from my perspective as a student:
Unless you have to go to Frieze for work – stay away and go to a smaller local one, you will have a much greater time looking at the artworks and might just meet likeminded people to discuss and befriend 🙂
J. Kapferer, ‘Twilight of the Enlightenment: The Art Fair, the Culture Industry, and the ‘Creative Class’’, Berghahn Journals, vol. 62 / 2018, 2010 p.9–27.
Frieze, ‘About’, Frieze, [website], n.d., https://frieze.com/about, (accessed 10 October 2018).
Deutschebank, ‘Frieze Art Fair’, Deutschebank, [website], 2018, https://www.db.com/unitedkingdom/content/en/frieze_art_fair.html, (accessed 10 October 2018).
Sunday, ‘Home’, Sundayartfair, [website], 2018, http://www.sundayartfair.com/, (accessed 10 October 2018)
Picture ‘Frieze Art Fair Group’ by Claudia Weaver