Who’s Wearing the Pants at Frieze Week?

by Paddy Johnson and Michael Anthony Farley on May 5, 2017 Art Fair + We Went To...

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Vestments (Have Not) 2016. At Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Vestments (Have Not) 2016. At Mitchell-Innes & Nash

What do giant pants have to do with Frieze, NADA and the changing art fair landscape? In which Michael Anthony Farley and Paddy Johnson nerd out and discuss the fairs.

Michael: Yesterday, I remarked that Frieze surprisingly felt a bit like NADA back when NADA was still fun. Almost immediately after I said this to Paddy, we rounded a corner and found these giant pants from NADA darling Amanda Ross-Ho. Beyond being evidence to that opinion, they’re perfectly tailored (no pun intended) to an art fair context—great big grown-up business pants with the pockets turned out as if to say “I’m broke.” I feel like a like a lot of mid-tier galleries can relate about now. They should’ve been ubiquitous not-quite-navy dark cobalt like the contemporary gallerist uniform, rather than black.

Paddy, did you notice any other artists we used to see a lot of at NADA here? I am wondering if NADA’s controversial move from Frieze week means we’ll be seeing more of the work that we’re used to there popping up here. If so, do you think that’s a result of artists “graduating” to more established galleries like Mitchell-Innes & Nash or galleries migrating fairs?

Paddy: I wondered that myself, since we are seeing artists move up the ladder without transforming their work into digestible market-friendly garbage. Part of that has to do with the fact that a lot of the work shown at NADA was market-friendly to begin with, though. Keltie Ferris and Sarah Braman at Mitchell-Innes & Nash are great examples—super strong work that collectors can easily understand and purchase.

I don’t necessarily see a huge migration of galleries to other fairs. NADA’s move from Frieze week didn’t work out for them because they weren’t able to compete with the Independent and SPRING/BREAK effectively. There’s way too much overlap in the markets, which made the move surprising. (The non-profit said they made the change to accommodate the requests of their members.) They were much better off pairing their event with Frieze, which hosts uber blue chip programs, not emerging. It’s not like Context, (which is also running this week), was going to syphon visitors away from them.

Anyway, if they move the fair back to Frieze week, they may not hemorrhage galleries. They do however need to make some serious clean up efforts to stem the damage from that fair. Maybe that means more member events?

Michael: Correct me if I am wrong, but one thing I always felt set NADA apart was a desire to connect collectors with galleries with a more artist-centric program. Meaning, most art fairs seem to cater exclusively to what there’s a proven market for. NADA, to me, always felt like a place where collectors could be led to work that was of interest to artists? I guess what I mean by that is that so much of the work I never cared for at Frieze felt like a soulless product, and work at fairs like NADA always felt like it was fun to make, or at least an experiment. This is one of the first years where Frieze felt like it had a sense of humor, or where there was a trace of joy in processes, or that some of the objects here felt like they were produced for the hell of it. I wonder if this is a sign that the market is starting to place greater value on practices with more joie de vivre?

Paddy: It’s hard to know after looking at one fair, but I’d say the Independent had a similar flair. What’s notable in the context of this fair, is that that those qualities exist outside the Frame section, which is reserved for the emerging galleries.  

Oddly enough, I think the blurred distinction between artist-led programs in artist-centred programs is causing the dissonance at the lower end of the market. NADA and SPRING/BREAK feel too similar when NADA fails to attract enough professionalized dealers.

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