Fairground spin-offs

We never coined that phrase,” Matthew Slotover, co-director of Frieze, once told me. “Other people did it for us.”

“But,” he added, “we didn’t really mind.”

First it was the October days in London when Frieze art fair hit Regent’s Park that became known as Frieze Week – now, with the fair about to launch its second New York edition, the portmanteau term is cropping up there too.

The art fair phenomenon, all over the world, has become about much more than what happens in the exhibition halls and marquees in question. It’s all about the spread outwards, into the host city and even beyond, of the art-mood, and of the party spirit that tends to accompany the fairs. So this special supplement celebrates a small taster of the huge range of events and openings across the city before and during the fair.

To take just one instance, along the High Line, everyone’s favourite meandering park, an outdoor video programme – Superflex’s Modern Times Forever – will be screening art videos, historic works and new productions. Projections will bounce off nearby buildings, to be viewed from the park as well as from the sidewalk below.

Curated events and discussion forums are a powerful element in every fair’s armoury. Frieze Projects have always led the way into the wilder shores of art practice: performance art, video, sound art, reconstructions and more. They are often impressive: few who experienced them will forget Jeppe Hein’s slowly, spookily revolving trees in London a few years back. Last year’s Frieze New York had John Ahearn casting heads, and Uri Aran’s fictional medical centre, as well as Latifa Echakhch’s field of slightly mournful-looking tumbleweed.

This year, for the second time, the commissioned projects include a short piece of fiction – last year it was by Rick Moody, this time by Ben Marcus, whose fiction re-imagines the fair’s Randall’s Island setting as itself a giant proto-Borgesian fictional construct.

One of the best things about the commissioned works is that they can take risks that couldn’t be managed in the hard-sell atmosphere of the main galleries. Andra Ursuta, for instance, is laying herself open to all kinds of teasing with her project, which involves the creation of an art cemetery in the art-fair “village”.

And alongside death, there has to be life, and fun – so there’s also a hidden speakeasy, complete with mixo­logy and magic tricks.

Back in the main event, the food on offer has already got almost as much advance press as the art. This year’s edition, however, hosts more than 180 galleries, the highest total in Frieze’s history. Frame, the section for young galleries, is back again; as is the newer Focus category – all with participants from more countries than most of us could name.

The first edition of Frieze New York arrived to the background of a chorus of doubt about its location on Randall’s Island in the East River. But if anything, it was a plus: New Yorkers and visitors all seemed to enjoy the excursion. But perhaps the star of last year’s fair was the tent itself, which happily returns this year. Well, it could hardly be bettered – an enormous serpentine structure by Brooklyn-based architects So-Il that winds along the shoreline, punctuated by “windows” that frame the view of the water and the Manhattan skyline. Well worth a visit all on its own.

Frieze New York, May 10-13 Randall’s Island, New York


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