The Lowdown on Frieze New York

by Paddy Johnson on May 4, 2012 · 3 comments Events

Frieze fair entrance

Here's the truth about the Frieze Art Fair: It's the best art fair this city has ever seen. It's beautifully lit, spacious, and blue chippy as all hell. Visitors could stand easier access to bottled water and better fair navigation, but these are kinks that can be worked out. For now, there's simply nothing else like it.

Why Should I Care?

Frieze New York sprawls 250,000 feet, which is 42,000 feet larger than its largest New York competitor, The Armory Show. The fair attracts some of the best galleries in the world, along with curators, collectors and critics from far and wide. It also boasts the best food of any fair I've ever attended. No other place better facilitates nobbing some hob.

No fair is complete without the requisite Paul McCarthy dwarf at Hauser and Wirth

The Good

Let's begin with the location, for which there has been endless hand-wringing amongst art worlders. How will we ever get to Randall's Island? Get a grip, people. A ferry to the Island runs every 15 minutes from 35th street and it's fucking luxurious. Frieze doesn't feel like a fair, it feels like an event. It's not quite Venice, but then again most vaporetti don't have concession stands.

The front entrance lets you know what you're in for the minute you arrive. It's grandiose. White plastic slats running from the top of the tent to the park grounds resemble a cross between pillars and the pegs of circus tents. It's great.

Once inside, the first thing you'll notice is the design of the fair. Literally everyone we talked to mentioned how much they liked the lighting, which during the day is mostly natural and augmented by giant hanging fluorescents. We also noticed the spacious layout and booth size. Smaller booths rarely looked cramped, and larger booths often had large window like views into their spaces. So. Great.

But also: Buyer beware. Some art looks better here than it will in your home, which is, well, dangerous, given that a lot of the work is also pretty great (a separate slide show with our highlights and lowlights to come). Perhaps unsurprisingly, shit is selling, though as ArtINFO wrote earlier today, reports are mixed. The fair was a madhouse during the 11am preview, but relatively quiet after that. Art fair market saturation?

Finally, unlike a lot of fairs, Frieze provides ample seating, and the food is amazing. Frankies literally has a wine list. Schmoozing has never occurred more seamlessly, so I bet sales will remain constant.

The Bad

It's hard to get lost while traveling in a line, but then, it's also not a very fun trip. Frieze does a reasonable job of breaking the fair up into manageable sections, but could they not have used different colors of the floor so you knew where you were? AFC's beat is Frame, and we were never sure which booths were included in that section of the fair. Given that those sections exist for branding and sales purposes alone, a little clarity wouldn't be a bad idea.

Also, memories of The Armory: getting a bottle of water at Frieze is pretty fucking hard. The restaurants all serve water, but you have to stand in line at the bar to get it, which is really unnecessary. Get some water stations.

Finally, while we heard the few dealers who had in-booth lighting were pleased they didn't have to wait four hours for a union guy to come screw in their lightbulbs, the fair's ongoing labor dispute with the Carpenters Union stands out. While interviewed for an industry documentary, a press person hovered over me, ready to shut down any conversation that might include the labor dispute. Frieze should be ashamed.

The Shiny

True to any fair, Frieze sports its fair share of opulence and self-aware opulence critique. This year, Jennifer Rubell's vagina nutcracker took the cake for mindless fair spectacle, followed by… well, nothing even comes close, actually. Mark Ruffalo handed out anti-fracking sausages to feed the one percent (a cause we like) and Ann Veronica Janssens hung some gold curtains at Esther Schipper that sparkled a fair bit, but that's about it.

Should I Go?

Abso-fucking-lutely. The $40.00 ticket price is totally worth it.


steve giovnico May 5, 2012 at 6:52 am

Thanks for the great lowdown! I wasnt sure what to expect (I’ll go today), but my skepticism about the far flung location has dropped–it sounds like what an art fair should have been all these years.

Kirby Ian Andersen May 7, 2012 at 8:21 am

looking forward to your high/low-light photos!

Schadenfrieze May 8, 2012 at 1:08 am

Aside from the
nice, big,
well lit tent
with its
aisles, hip
and cafes,
aside from the
water views
and the
scattered on
greensward of
Island, I
detected a
good amount of
grumbling re:
the heavy
evasions and
overt lies in
will to power.
So much so
that I coined
a term for the
many who might
take some
pleasure in
Frieze fail,
or at least
some painfully
shudders. That
term is
Most fairs try to play
nicey nice
with the
locals when
they are
starting up in
a new city.
For example,
Art Basel
Miami admitted
many Florida
galleries in
the early
years to show
that they were
team players
and that they
respected the
turf they were
invading. Many
of these
galleries were
blackballed as
ABMB started
feeling its
oats. The same
tendency was
manifest in
treatment of
and their
issuing of VIP
Good cop
first, then
bad cop.

In their
Frieze doesn’t
play this
game. They are
snobbish and
abusive; they
are bad cops
from the
outset. The
$40 admission,
which had to
be paid in
online. The
tiering of
The outright
lying. (This
includes their
media partner,
Black Frame.)
Guess they
think they are
already too
big to fail.
Do we detect
the tragic
flaw of

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