The art world will descend upon New York at the beginning of May, as Frieze returns to Randall’s Island Park for its sixth edition.
Blending established galleries with up-and-coming artists and installations created specifically for the event, Frieze New York celebrates modern and contemporary programs from around the globe.
This year’s fair is coordinated with the Whitney Biennial, effectively signifying that New York City is big enough for both its year-round museum and gallery scene, and for large-scale art fairs like Frieze. “The relationship between museums and galleries is symbiotic, not competitive,” says Abby Bangser, the Frieze Artistic Director for the Americas and Asia. “Both the galleries and the fairs are important,” she continues, noting that many of the galleries tie their shows to Frieze.
“There is a mass curatorial presence at Frieze, and the fair encourages galleries to put their best foot forward,” Bangser says. This year, Frieze features 200-plus exhibitors representing 30 countries. Many galleries will showcase artists and works that engage with political and social issues.
While Frieze has always been known as a modern art fair, organizers will continue to expand into other periods whose contributions have helped to inform contemporary art today. Specifically, Frieze has started to incorporate 20th century art with its Spotlight initiative. “Spotlight focuses on artists whose work would have been considered contemporary at the time,” Bangser says. With 31 stands, Spotlight “is a chance to rediscover art history,” says Bangser. The space, curated by Toby Camps, focuses on artists working since 1960, fostering new research into artists from emerging countries and from figures of the avant-garde. “For various reasons, these artists didn’t achieve fame during their time, but they’re being studied now,” Bangser says.
A large focus of Frieze is on education. In addition to encouraging conversations with curators and artists at the various booths, there will be public Frieze Talks with artists each day. “We want a broad public to come. It’s a place to really learn,” Bangser says. “For someone who wants to know about art, you don’t have to get on an airplane. The diversity [of the exhibitors] is incredible.”
Returning for the sixth year is Frieze Projects, an initiative commissioned independently of the fair and curated by Cecilia Alemani, the High Line Art Director and the curator of the Italian Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. This year’s Frieze Projects will pay tribute to Galleria La Tartuga in Rome and its “Il Teatro delle Mostre,” an experimental 1968 exhibition. Two of the original projects, by Giosetta Fioroni and Fabio Mauri, will be restaged, and there will be two new commissions by Ryan McNamara and Adam Pendleton.
Bangser recalls memorable Frieze Projects of the past. In 2015, Mexican artist Pia Camil created colorful ponchos that she handed out to fair-goers free of charge, with one caveat—they had to be worn at the fair. The initiative was a runaway success, with visitors coveting the ponchos. “Many of the Frieze Projects take on a life of their own,” says Bangser.
In the 15 years since Frieze first entered the art scene with Frieze London, a project’s popularity has been reflected both at the fair, and on social media. “The art world loves Instagram,” says Bangser. At Frieze London 2016, New York’s P.P.O.W. gallery featured feminist art, including “Pink Project: Table by Portia Munson.” The installation incorporated all types of pink objects, showing how pink has been embedded in the female psyche. It was a hit at the fair; and a phenomenon online.
Frieze also focuses on new artists and galleries, dedicating and subsidizing space to emerging art. Frame is a space that features young galleries who must present solo artists whose careers are also emerging. Frame galleries apply and are chosen through a selection committee. In a similar but separate initiative, Focus is a section of Frieze that features galleries who are 12 years or younger, whose programming can be a solo show or a group presentation.
As far as an area of the globe that is trending in the art scene right now, Bangser notes that “there’s really incredible art coming out of Latin America.” Sãn Paolo is a hot spot, particularly for its São Paulo Art Biennial, which was founded in 1951. That makes it the second-oldest biennial in the world, after Venice. In the U.S., San Francisco has a good art energy. “There was a lot of attention after the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art re-opened [in May 2016], but there are really a lot of galleries there as well,” says Bangser.
The Frieze tent is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's largest free-standing temporary structure. “The floor plan is very carefully designed,” says Bangser, noting that galleries often request to be near other galleries with similar aesthetics; and that the floor plan is broken up in a way that reduces exhaustion and over-stimulation. “You won’t get lost, but wear comfortable shoes,” Bangser advises. Fair goers will be able to take a rest at one of the many New York area restaurants that create popup dining experiences at the fair.
Frieze was founded in 1991 by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, when they created Frieze magazine, which is still published today. Frieze London launched over a decade later, in 2003 in The Regent’s Park. Frieze Masters, which is also in London, and Frieze New York were both inaugurated in 2012. Organizers chose Randall’s Island Park because it was large enough to accommodate the 200-plus exhibitors, and because of the atmosphere created by the light, trees and greenery. This year’s event will run from May 5–7, with an invitation-only preview on Thursday, May 4.
“We’re very selective in terms of who gets in,” Bangser says, “and there has been a lot of growth in terms of the quality of the works and the culture.”