LONDON — Six years ago, this city — where contemporary artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and the Chapman Brothers got their start — was still a relative backwater, at least when it came to contemporary art fairs.
London had always hosted small events, but they were U.K.-centric and proved to be completely forgettable. Even while snapping up the works of the Young British Artists, the big collectors and galleries were spending most of their time and cash in Basel, Switzerland; Miami, and Manhattan.
Then came Frieze Art Fair.
Founded in 2003 by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the co-directors of Frieze, a London-based contemporary art and culture magazine, the fair has become a must-stop on the international art circuit. Galleries from around the world battle for the 150-odd spaces at the four-day fair, which kicks off Thursday and takes place under a big tent in Regent’s Park.
But, as is typical these days with art shows, there will be almost as much action around and about in London as at the fair itself, with raucous parties, lectures and a host of art and photography exhibitions and openings.
Unofficially, Frieze starts Monday night with the opening of “Ecuador Block 16,” a show of work by artists such as Gabriel Orozco and Adam Broomberg that was inspired by the toxic waste being pumped into the Amazon. The Swiss watchmaker IWC and David de Rothschild’s Adventure Ecology project, which aims to raise awareness of environmental issues, are staging the show at The Hospital Club. Later in the week, Pia Getty and Adventure Ecology will unveil “Die Green, Live Pretty?,” an exhibition to be held at Getty’s home that will feature artists’ responses to the current debate about saving the environment.
On Wednesday, after the Frieze private view, Albion Gallery in Battersea will host a dinner and unveil a series of solo exhibitions by artists including Vito Acconci and Mariko Mori. The following night, Cartier — one of the fair’s major sponsors — and Frieze will cohost a dinner for mega-collectors, gallerists and art world royals at Shoreditch House. On Thursday, Alison Jackson will launch her second book, “Confidential,” at Victoria House in Bloomsbury, while in nearby Marylebone, gallerist Michael Werner will unveil Michael Werner Projects, his first London outpost, in an 18th-century Robert Adam town house. The new space will showcase works by artists including Peter Doig and Georg Baselitz and the Los Angeles-based Aaron Curry.
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During the week, the Louise T. Blouin Foundation in west London will unveil a Richard Meier retrospective, tracing 45 years of the architect’s work, and the Serpentine will showcase its annual summer pavilion, a timber-clad structure that resembles a spinning top by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Kjetil Thorsen. The gallery actually delayed the unveiling of the pavilion this year — obviously from summer to fall — so that it would overlap with Frieze.
Meanwhile, Selfridges will showcase a new work by Conrad Shawcross, a metal installation called “Lattice,” which will be on show in the store’s Ultralounge. And if fashion buffs can’t get enough of a fix at the department store, they can always swing by the fair and take a gander at the Hedi Slimane-curated stand for Paris’ Almine Rech Gallery.
The week’s events peak on Saturday night with a party at Phillips de Pury & Co., to mark the unveiling of its new London headquarters in Victoria. There will be a live performance by Chic featuring Nile Rodgers.
And in a further sign of London’s booming art scene, Frieze is no longer the only game in town. Two other fairs — the Bridge Art Fair and Pulse — will also take place during Frieze. The Bridge Art Fair, a U.S.-based show, will make its British debut at The Trafalgar hotel and will showcase emerging artists. Pulse, which has taken place in Miami and New York, will make its London debut at Mary Ward House in Bloomsbury. That fair will showcase some 40 emerging galleries from around the world.
It’s obvious why the Bridge Art Fair and Pulse would hop onto the Frieze bandwagon — money. London is chockablock with wealthy Russians and hedge fund managers investing in real estate, art, wine and luxury goods, and there appears to be no end to the cash geyser. Last year alone Frieze attracted 63,000 visitors, generating sales upward of $60 million. Visitor numbers are expected to be even greater this time around, although Frieze organizers declined to predict by how much.
Neville Wakefield, an art writer and critic and curator of this year’s Frieze Projects — the annual curatorial program — said the fair is different from all the others: “Frieze comes from a critical and editorial place, rather than a commercial one.” Wakefield will be working with artist Richard Prince on a special, site-specific project at the fair.
“Frieze’s annual curatorial program is independent of commercial interests — and it’s a unique opportunity that other fairs don’t offer,” he added. As part of his brief, Wakefield also oversees and commissions the Frieze short film projects, which will be broadcast daily on Britain’s Channel 4 during the fair.
And while Frieze may be a curator’s dream, the fair also gives select galleries from around the world a chance to trawl for opportunities. The Manhattan galleries taking part in Frieze for the first time this year say they absolutely need to be at Regent’s Park.
“Our artists want us to be there,” said Casey Kaplan, whose gallery represents Trisha Donnelly, Nathan Carter and Liam Gillick, among others. “It’s important for them to be represented at Frieze. There is a real excitement about the fair.”
Kaplan said he’s intending to sell to Europeans rather than Americans. Pricing will be in dollars, which undoubtedly will be a boon for U.K. and European collectors considering the weakness of the greenback compared with the pound and euro.
Sarah VanDerBeek, a founder of Guild & Greyshkul, said her gallery is using Frieze to present an unusual project: “We’re doing a joint booth with Taxter & Spengemann, another young New York gallery that opened at the same time we did. We know Frieze is a strong, impressive fair and we were excited to propose the idea.”
The two galleries are pairing up artists whose work is similar, including painters Garth Weiser and Wayne Atkins, and sculptors Ryan Johnson and Matt Johnson, who are not related. VanDerBeek said that while the art is priced in dollars — the same as it would be in New York — the gallery’s budget is an altogether different matter.
“I think we’ll be packing our own lunches,” she joked.