A Behind The Scenes Look New York’s Frieze Art Fair

by Paddy Johnson on April 25, 2012 Newswire

Frieze, Randall's Island

AFC got a peek at the Frieze Art Fair site on Randall's Island and it's looking good. At yesterday's press briefing, we discussed transportation, location size, architecture, and programming, all of which will come together May 4th. Consider us properly primed.

“What I loved about [the location] was the ease of access,” fair co-director Amanda Sharp told us, speaking of Randall's Island. “It took me something like 15 minutes to get out there the first time I went and I thought, 'My God, people don't know this place.'”

The revelation isn't overstated. There's no small genius in placing an art fair a 15-minute car ride away from the Upper East Side, where a sizeable population of New York's collectors live. Beyond that, New York's spring weather can't be beat (providing the rain holds off), and the park is already green.

“We recommend everyone take the ferry,” Frieze Co-Director Matthew Slotover advised. It's a lovely ride from 35th Street, but Slotover was hoping to abate some of the recent chatter about whether people would make the trip out. Those with an aversion for boats or a love for public transportation can take the 4/5/6 subway up to 125th Street and hop on a shuttle bus. School buses will run every 3-4 minutes.

A view from the ferry to Randall's Island

By the time Slotover mentioned the 450 hybrid cars, 50 VIP BMW cars, and parking lot built to accommodate 2,000 cars, he'd more or less answered the question about whether getting to the fair would be an issue. It won't, assuming you have a ticket. The Frieze office told us yesterday afternoon that visitors who haven't purchased tickets via the Frieze website won't be able to get on the ferry without the receipt.

Those on a tight budget may find attending the fair a strain. Tickets aren't cheap: $40 for a full day, $25 for half day. That's $10 more than the Armory show—though, to be fair, Frieze boasts more space. Frieze takes up 250,000 square feet, 42,000 more than the Armory's combined piers. The facility literally fills all the vacant space in the park. We're told it's the largest temporary structure in the world; the tent community is apparently very excited.

Amongst the other non-art related attractions, Frieze will host much better food than most. Building their own space means the fair isn't contractually obligated to use pre-existing concession stands. Restaurateurs such as Roberta's, The Fat Radish, Frankies Spuntino, The Standard Biergarten, and Sant Ambroeus each have stands, and three food trucks will also grace the premises. Lobster rolls, pizza, and ice cream will be on site, and the large windows in the dining areas, which overlook the water, suggest New York may finally deliver a pleasant fair experience (even if Frieze is London-based).

Frieze under construction

Design studio Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO IL) head up the architecture for the site and are the minds behind the giant windows. Liu also promised a fancy entrance made of transparent materials.

The space itself will be filled with 182 galleries, divided into three sections; the main fair, Focus, which is dedicated to galleries founded after 2001, and Frame, a space for galleries five years or younger.

Only two booths—White Columns and Triple Canopy—are non-profit. That's a small number for any fair, let alone Frieze, an organization known to be sensitive to the overbearing influence the market can have on art. It's a more general trend among the May fairs: Pulse will only be hosting three non-profits, as will NADA.

There's also Frieze Art Inc, the nonprofit arm of Frieze, responsible for their much-lauded talks and commission programs. This year's program boasts a county fair game trailer by Joel Kyack, a hanging arrangement of mirrors by Virginia Overton, and an outdoor shadow theater by Ulla von Brandenburg. “Six of the projects will happen outdoors,” Curator Cecilia Alemani told us, explaining that works like those by Overton and von Brandenburg would serve as “temporary landmarks”.

Such projects may make up a small part of the fair, but in total, I left with the impression that Frieze would produce a much better art fair viewing experience than we've become accustomed to in New York. “We like to be somewhere where we can do something with a little bit of spectacle and build something of scale,” Sharp told us, “Randall's Island really gave us the opportunity to build the fair at the scale that we'd need.”

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