Fairs Market United Kingdom

On a roll: Frieze at ten

Why the art world is happy to camp out in London's Regent’s Park every October

Paola Pivi’s Untitled (slope), in the first edition of Frieze

Frieze has more than doubled in size in its ten years of life. Where there was one tent, in 2003, there are now two, thanks to the addition of Frieze Masters. This year, 264 dealers from 35 countries are hoping to sell work by more than 2,400 artists. In 2003, 124 galleries (and one public institution, Milton Keynes’s MK Gallery) from 16 countries took stands in a tent half the size, showing work by around 1,200 artists. Visitor numbers have doubled, too—from 27,000 in 2003 to the 60,000 expected this year.

Entry prices, meanwhile, have skyrocketed. The public paid £10 for a ticket in 2003, compared with £27 now (or £35 for entry to both fairs). Dealers are also having to dig deeper. Stand prices were £180 per sq. m in 2003, but are £352 in the main section of Frieze London and £410 for most dealers in Frieze Masters this year.

The fair began with a bang. There was huge excitement because London had never hosted a major international art fair before. The opening-night preview in 2003 was so busy that there was a one-in-one-out door policy, leaving a 150-yard queue of art-world luminaries such as Peter Blake and Clement Freud to wait in the cold. Once inside, a cloud of cigarette smoke masked an “insane scrum”, according to The Art Newspaper’s report at the time. “People were so drunk that they were knocking works over,” says Gerd Harry Lybke of Eigen + Art (FL, G4), who has shown at every edition. One reveller accidentally tipped beer over a work at one dealer’s stand, causing him to take down every other work for fear of further damage. “It was more boisterous back then,” says Paul Kasmin of Paul Kasmin Gallery (FL, F10).

Britain lacked “a focus, an event that brings everyone together”, said the fair’s co-founder Matthew Slotover in 2002. “London was very quiet back then—it’s partly why I left for New York,” Kasmin says. The Tokyo gallerist Takayuki Ishii of Taka Ishii Gallery (FL, B5), who was at the first edition, says: “There are so many galleries in London now. It’s really become the centre of the art market in Europe. We didn’t feel that way ten years ago”…

To read more, download the pdf of our fourth daily Frieze Art Fair edition

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