Insight: Frieze art fair London celebrates 20 years

Eddie Martinez ‘Studio Wall Redux’ at Timothy Taylor, Frieze 2023

Frieze London (11-15 October) heralds the start of the global art season. With the summer months a distant memory, the art world and its entourage bring a much-needed buzzy atmosphere to the capital for the days leading up and during the event. This year the fair celebrates its twentieth, and the atmosphere in London’s Regent’s Park was suitably festive. On the VIP viewing day, dealers and collectors rubbed shoulders with celebrities and the occasional artist, and on public days, crowds from London and beyond came to see art. Meanwhile, many galleries timed their new shows to coincide with Frieze, and so the week offered a snapshot of what’s happening – the conversations and concerns, the highs and lows – within the creative world globally.

Frieze London 2023

Despite economic challenges, the mood generally appeared to be buoyant, especially at the mega galleries representing the big names in art, epitomised somewhat by Damian Hirst’s bold and bright ‘The Secret Gardens’ series at Gagosian which greeted visitors on entrance. Hauser & Wirth, another major global gallery, also chose a similar single artist representation on their stand, with a show of the American artist and sculptor Barbara Chase-Riboud. Meanwhile, New York-based artist Eddie Martinez’s ‘Studio Wall Redux’ at Timothy Taylor was an inspired floor-to-ceiling installation featuring hundreds of drawings on recycled paper, used notepads, gallery press releases, all pinned to the wall with gentle flapping corners as the crowds walked by. All of which shows how solo or more tightly curated exhibits work best when navigating such a vast pool of art at a fair of this size.

CAS Collections Fund acquisition Pamela Phatismo Sunstrum (Goodman Gallery)

The smaller global galleries, meanwhile, offered a unique chance to observe creative conversations across continents including Mumbai and Kolkata-based Experimenter gallery, which won the Frieze Stand Prize with its presentation of eight South Asian female artists. Elsewhere work by women artists – Grada Kilomba, Goshka Macuga and Pamela Phatismo Sunstrum – who explore global histories from post-colonial perspectives were acquired by The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge through the Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund at Frieze. And the myriad of initiatives gave up-and-coming artists a chance to show their work on a global platform. One worth mentioning is BMW Open Work which this year saw Marseille-based digital artist Sara Sadik present ‘Makes Emotions Visible’, a beautifully realised video game she imaged as a safe space for certain male communities to communicate their otherwise unheard emotions. And there were many more programmes dotted around Frieze showcasing the works of lesser-known artists.

Yinka Shonibare 'Rendering of Material (SG) IV', 2023, Stephen Friedman Gallery

Which is why Frieze still matter. Despite the criticism that the fair has become a playground for the super rich, it remains open to the public with affordable tickets (the sculpture park is free) and a general atmosphere which is jovial and welcoming. It has illustrated how exhibiting art in a commercial setting can be more than just transactionary, that it can also be educational and possibly even fun. And it is easy to forget how different the art world and London were in 2003, when the fair inaugurated. The city had only just become open to appreciating contemporary art, thanks largely to the popularity of the YBAs (young British artists) and Tate Modern’s opening in 2000 which brought art to the masses on a scale not imagined before. What Frieze did differently was to approach an art fair much like a publication, with an editor’s eyes. Founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover came from publishing – they innitiated Frieze magazine to challenge the established art journals of the time – and they brought the editorialised format to the art fair. It gave Frieze a unique edge and has allowed it to evolve successfully with outposts in New York, Los Angeles and Seoul.

Learn more about Frieze.

Images: Eddie Martinez ‘Studio Wall Redux’ (Timothy Taylor), Pamela Phatismo Sunstrum (Goodman Gallery), Yinka Shonibare ‘Rendering of Material (SG) IV’ (Frieze Sculpture), Damian Hirst’ ‘The Secret Gardens’ (Gagosian)

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Damian Hirst’s bold and colourful ‘The Secret Gardens’
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