London has been unmoored from its art fair calendar for 18 months, but now at last the Frieze fair tents are returning to Regent’s Park. And they are barely smaller than normal—the contemporary art focused Frieze London has 159 exhibitors compared with 160 in 2019, while Frieze Masters, for more historical art, has 132—around normal. That is a far cry from the plan in June 2020, when the Frieze directors said the fairs would be smaller and possibly combined under one roof if they happened at all—which, in the end, they did not.
This has not been an easy year to organise a fair, either, with PAD London’s cancellation spreading jitters around exhibitors, and international visitors expected to be far fewer. But Eva Langret, Frieze London’s artistic director, says: “It has been a time of lots of new projects, innovation and different ways of working, whether that is online or opening our gallery on Cork Street [Mayfair].”
Frieze London exhibitors include lots of the regulars: Sadie Coles HQ, Hauser & Wirth, Xavier Hufkens, Kukje Gallery, Maureen Paley, Stevenson and David Zwirner. Arcadia Missa, Emalin, Edouard Malingue Gallery and Proyectos Ultravioleta (among others) take part in Focus, for galleries established in the past 12 years. Stand prices have been raised by 2% from 2019 and are now £524 per sq. m in the main section, with lower prices in Focus (between £241-£338 per sq. m). Stands at Frieze Masters are £631 per sq. m.
Asked if Frieze would consider introducing a “solidarity fund”—as Art Basel did for its September fair to the tune of SFr1.5m for any exhibitors unhappy with sales given the tricky climate—a spokesperson said: “The solidarity fund seems as if it’s tailored to Basel’s specific circumstances this year. Frieze’s situation in London right now is not the same, therefore our focus is on making the October fairs a success.”
That is a no, but not a never…
“We’ve worked really hard to make sure we provide a safe environment for our galleries, so we have a Covid protocolwhich is going to make getting in this year slightly different,” Langret says. Masks will be mandatory but Frieze has more relaxed entry requirements than Art Basel where the Swiss health authorities’ refusal to recognise the Astra Zeneca vaccine and insistence on pre-registering for a “Covid pass” caused some consternation. At Frieze, all visitors will have to give proof of vaccination or a negative test and book a timed entry slot in advance—that includes VIPs, although they can revisit as many times as they like. The ventilation system has also been changed, so air will not be recirculated.
Unusually, there will be no satellite or ghost booths (with works sent by a gallery but staffed by the fair) as Langret says: “Galleries have worked really hard with us to find ways to come, whether it is sending some teams and not others, or travelling through Europe first if they have come from red list countries.”
The long-time Frieze London participant Lisson gallery will devote its stand to the American Oscar-shortlisted filmmaker Garrett Bradley, who the gallery signed in March. Lisson will present Bradley’s film, AKA, the first of a trilogy exploring the relationships between mothers and daughters born into interracial families. Louise Hayward, a senior director at Lisson, says Frieze has been “incredibly helpful” in supporting exhibitors, “organising group zooms, making sure everyone entering the fair is vaccinated, and generally being available to discuss concerns”. The gallery has changed its approach to fairs from pre-pandemic days, Hayward says, and in particular has “high expectations and demands in terms of the environmental impact of art fairs. Not only are we more conscious when planning the logistics for a fair but we have reduced the number in which we participate. The key is how we can reach our clients and audience without needing to send art to multiple global locations simultaneously.” Speaking of environmental impact, Gallery Climate Coalition will also have a booth at Frieze London.
The Editions section will return after a ten-year hiatus and a new section, Unworlding, curated by Cédric Fauq (the curator of the Palais de Tokyo and incoming chief curator of CAPC Musée d’art Contemporain de Bordeaux), has been introduced. “The idea was for us to bring together artists who are thinking about the undoing of the world, but also about how from that phase of destruction can come hope,” Langret says. “It’s a topical theme, and one that responds to the upheavals we’ve been through as a society, whether it be Covid or divisive social justice, or the very political moments in which we’re finding ourselves.” Set out across the fair, Unworlding will include works by Nora Turato (Galerie Gregor Staiger), a video installation by Ndayé Kouagou (Nir Altman) and a monumental piece by Natacha Donzé (Parliament).
Frieze London’s Live programme used to create delightfully awkward tableaus around the fair as unsuspecting visitors would be embroiled in some performance or other. But these are more sombre, distanced times, and this year the performances will be filmed offsite and broadcast only online. Frieze is working with Languid Hands, a London-based collaboration between Rabz Lansiquot, a film-maker and DJ, and Imani Robinson, a writer, editor and live artist, who have commissioned the artists Rebecca Bellantoni, Ebun Sodipo and Ashley Holmes to create performances (streamed from 13 October).
Over at Frieze Masters, artistic director Nathan Clements-Gillespie has introduced a new section too, albeit with a more tangible theme. Stand Out, curated by Luke Syson (the director of Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), will focus on “a history of objects”—a miniature antiques fair within a Frieze tent. As Syson says, a “more complex, inclusive and interesting history of art emerges when we bring art objects, in a range of media, to the fore”.
Clements-Gillespie says he has wanted to introduce a section for decorative arts since his first committee meeting in 2017. Stand Out will include a column in giallo antico marble with Alessandra di Castro and plaster sculptures by Rodin with Stuart Lochhead, whose whole stand focuses on the material of plaster. Raccanello Leprince will recreate a Medieval Italian apothecary, with a display of majolica pharmacy jars, which, Clements-Gillespie says, “feels poignant this year”.
The biggest challenge in organising Frieze Masters 2021, Clements-Gillespie says, was “managing everything with compressed timelines. We did not wish to ask our galleries to commit until we all felt comfortable doing so, but this has meant working overtime through summer to make everything happen!”
He points to other highlights across the rest of the fair, including Lévy Gorvy’s stand of work by Carrie Mae Weems, who “has chosen from among her works a selection of pieces that dialogue with those of her departed friend and colleague, Terry Adkins”. Marian Goodman will present a solo exhibition of works by the South African artist William Kentridge, “including one of his first ever videos, remastered completely for the fair”. Finally Clements-Gillespie points to Thaddaeus Ropac’s “re-staging of Rudy Fuch’s seminal 1982 Documenta 7 exhibition including works by Emilio Vedova, and Joseph Beuys, whose centenary we are celebrating this year”.
• Frieze London and Frieze Masters, Regent’s Park, London, 13-17 October