Frieze Weekend 2012

Last weekend, I took a ferry out to Randall’s Island to visit the Frieze Art Fair, the inaugural New York iteration of the London fair. It’s hard not to have a love/hate relationship with art fairs. On the one hand, they offer the opportunity to view an incredible amount of art from galleries all over the world in one location. On the other, the sheer volume of work makes them an exhausting experience that is not conducive to a truly rewarding experience of art – not to mention the fact that there’s no hiding the intention to move large quantities of product.

The tent, three football fields long and pristinely white, was as beautiful as it was imposing. Holding over 180 galleries from 30 countries, Frieze estimates that visitors numbered in the region of 45,000 (1).

Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

There’s really no comparing the experience of the tent’s interior to other New York art fairs, even the Armory Show, Frieze’s closest competitor. With a high, vaulted ceiling and natural lighting only supplemented by fluorescence, the tent provides gallery conditions not far shy of the country’s best contemporary art institutions.

It is both an insult to museums and a compliment to the fair that the two forms have come to resemble one another to this degree. The fair provides these beautiful open spaces, charges you an exorbitant admission fee ($40/ $25 for students), includes panel discussions and lectures by people like curator and art historian Robert Storr and MoMA Director Glen D. Lowry, produces a “Frame” section of curated galleries displaying solo exhibitions of artists who have yet to display internationally, has multiple restaurants, and a non-profit arm called Frieze Projects that commissioned outdoor work by ten artists displayed surrounding the tent. Frieze even came with a major corporate sponsor, Deutsche Bank, who also sponsors exhibitions at the Guggenheim.

Team Gallery’s booth at the Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

Salon 94’s booth at the Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

So yes, the tent was beautiful, but in the end it still had the feeling of a corporate trade show or market, specifically designed to keep you moving and weed out the buyers from the gawkers.  Without a map, the uniform spaces became a blur. I found myself thinking about smooth and striated spaces while traversing the many halls.  Art Fairs are incredibly nomadic as they take place all over the world in pieces of pop up architecture or temporary exhibition halls. One could reach the Frieze Fair by complimentary ferry, shuttle, or car, with connections to the other fairs around the city capitalizing on the influx of art buyers and professionals. This kind of nomadism is not what Deleuze and Guattari are referring to in reference to smooth spaces in A Thousand Plateaus. This kind of travel and movement is about the destination and is incredibly organized. The experience of Frieze was utterly striated and controlled. There is a hierarchy of access including two levels of VIPs as well as the high-ticket price that deters another level of audience. Galleries purchase territories within the tent with slight differences in placement and size, but for the most part, they are all little white boxes in a line. They are homogeneous, distinct, and ordered.

As I was walked the halls, becoming numb to the quantity of art and lacking a sense of direction, I spotted the art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad (  I decided that following his path would be as good as any other direction. It was a completely strange experience because it made me realize that while I was conscious of the fact that everything displayed was for sale, the prices were so wildly out of my price range that this fact became almost completely irrelevant. How different it must be to visit an art fair for shopping and not spectacle.

Eli Broad in front of the Metro Pictures booth at the Frieze Art Fair New York 2012

For all the doom and gloom about it being a celebration of conspicuous consumption and art market value over artistic value, art fairs and galleries are still some of the best opportunities to see work directly out of artists’ studios and even better, works by artists who have yet to be included in museum shows. There wasn’t much of this at Frieze, the expensive gallery fee no doubt motivating the safer display of established artists (riskier choices at NADA or smaller fairs like seven @ SEVEN the same weekend). I will say, though, that I discovered the work of Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff there, when I almost kicked a piece of their installation:


Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, “New Media (Cocktails),” 2012 at T293 Naples and Rome, Italy. Photo:

And gained a new appreciation for Roger Hiorns, whose sculpture that continuously produced foam, inspired some of the most sustained looking I observed at the fair.

Roger Hiorns at Marc Foxx Gallery’s booth, Frieze Art Fair New York 2012




4 Responses to “Frieze Weekend 2012”

  1. immanentterrain2 Says:

    A brief comment that offers little: it seems like you were fixated on the tent framing the experience of the art fair. Perhaps you might be able to articulate your dissent or change you dissent by considering mappings of artworks, as well as multiplicities of artworks. There is a great deal of noise that makes it challenging for singular works to stand out. Is there an arrangement possible, an ordering of relations that would potentially encourage stronger overlaps or connections with other artworks, and with the spectators? This is a vague jumping off point, but might be a useful one in order to develop a constructive feedback of Frieze Art Fair, especially to encourage interests of expanding networks and to position artworks to set of the sensations that they are capable.


  2. immanentterrain2 Says:

    I think the problems I have with the Frieze Fair are inherent to all art fairs and not something that can be remedied. They’re a commercial venture who in the end is producing a fair to help galleries sell artwork. They have non-profit elements such as the commissioned works and talks that lend a veneer of something else, but in the end, they are operating for a profit. I think it would be difficult to ask galleries to collaborate in a manner that allowed for installations across booths – creating the connections and overlaps you suggest. Or perhaps I’m misunderstanding. My post may have been too negative. I think artists should be paid for their work and that their gallery representation should do their best to serve their work. As far as art fairs go, Frieze was by far the best I’ve seen in quality of display. For me the problem is that the exhaustive experience of so much art in one place – compounded with the fact that their are multiple fairs going on at once – is not the ideal conditions for experiencing art. I think art galleries, though commercial, offer fantastic opportunities to see new work displayed well and on an intimate scale. Also, the fair was WILDLY successful, so I don’t think they want my constructive criticism.


  3. I enjoy reading your Deleuzian meditations.
    I like that you bring up Smooth vs. Striated space and nomadics. I am trying to maintain several of my own obscure lines of flight.
    I went to the Armory show in 1983.
    I also sat in on a class of G. Deleuze at U. St. Denis in 1984. Thanks for your great blog.

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