October 11, 2013 7:41 pm

Frieze Masters shifts balance between twin art fairs

‘Ouroboros 2 (Big Yellow Snake)’ (2012) by Christian Holstad©Andrew Kreps Gallery

‘Ouroboros 2 (Big Yellow Snake)’ (2012) by Christian Holstad, at Andrew Kreps Gallery at Frieze London

The tie-up between art and fashion – always a close relationship – has a new link in its chain this week in London. Alexander McQueen is a new associate sponsor of Frieze London, and during the run of the fair McQueen’s shops in the city will break out in a rash of contemporary art, curated by local gallerist (and Frieze London exhibitor) Sadie Coles.

The addition of McQueen’s support to the loyal sponsorship of Deutsche Bank, which has backed Frieze for the past 10 years, adds a further spin to what has become an extraordinary act of sustainability in the fickle world of haute culture. For any cultural event, getting to be both cool and well-respected (not always the same) is one thing; and Frieze achieved it with remarkable speed. Staying that way, however, is quite another.

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It has been a question of innovation. For Frieze, last year was one of amazing new initiatives, as it launched not one but two new fairs – Frieze New York, which had its second edition in May, and Frieze Masters, running concurrently with the existing fair in Regent’s Park in October. The event will open its doors for the second time next week.

How to top that? Or even to equal it? Perhaps sagely, Frieze seems to have decided to hold a steady course this year, concentrating on doing what it does well, and doing a bit more of it. Gone are the days when each year brought an entirely new marquee design by another set of architects or designers. That always drew attention but was perhaps a bit 20th-century, a little un-green, and upcycling the existing structures with a few variations seemed like a better policy.

So this year the plan of Frieze London’s huge tent is lightly redesigned, with a more welcoming entrance, wider aisles, and the addition of a mezzanine. The extra space is generated by a reduction in numbers: this edition will host 152 galleries as opposed to last year’s 180.

Generally, the trend we can infer from this seems to be that the contemporary fair, whose remit is work made after the year 2000, is generally becoming a little more like Frieze Masters, whose broad, quiet spaces and elegant shades-of-grey interiors brought almost more approving comment than the art it housed. Both with the general public and for art-world insiders – the latter a famously hard-to- please and quick-to-quibble bunch – Masters was a sure hit. So this year it has grown – up from 90 exhibitors to 120, an increase of 25 per cent.

Inuit mask©Donald Ellis Gallery

At Frieze Masters: Washburn Gallery and Donald Ellis Gallery pair Inuit masks (below) with drawings by Jackson Pollock

The balance between the twin fairs seems to be subtly shifting. Rather than a spin-off from its successful parent, in just a single year Masters has established its own identity, and its delicate greys are definitely making the running against the brasher tones of Frieze London, an event that became known for talent-spotting opportunities and innovation in its rougher-edged and funkier sections (the floor, in the Frame section, was sometimes like that of an old London pub by the end of the week).

Masters’ contrasting elegance and restraint did nonetheless mask some understated showiness. If, as some claimed, there were galleries using its first edition more or less as a showcase, it led to some lovely displays of assurance and aplomb among the booths. This year too it looks as if curation and the making of beautiful stands will be a high priority, especially given the number of single-artist booths: Willem de Kooning (Mnuchin Gallery); Richard Long (Lisson Gallery); Henri Matisse (Thomas Gibson); Robert Motherwell (Bernard Jacobson); Alice Neel (Victoria Miro) and several more.

To show just a single artist is a risk for a gallery, even if they are mighty names. And despite the critical success of last year’s Masters, reports of commercial success were very mixed. Yet it clearly proved to be a magnet for this year’s grand new names, both of period and modern galleries. Incomers include Dominique Lévy, Otto Naumann, Richard Green, Old Master specialist Johnny Van Haeften and Marian Goodman (the distinguished New York gallerist who has also announced that she is opening a gallery in London’s Golden Square, close to Sadie Coles’ new space).

Also merging the two fairs is the outdoor sculpture park that ranges across the park: previously a contemporary affair, this year will see a mixture of works from both fairs, with 20th-century works in the majority.

We’ll see what this year will bring.

Frieze London and Frieze Masters run concurrently in Regent’s Park, London, from October 17-20 frieze.com

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