The experience of attending Frieze New York this May may not involve taking a ferry to Randall’s Island to view hundreds of booths under a massive tent, but, from the comfort of home, fairgoers can still navigate an impressive range of contemporary art digitally in the Frieze Viewing Room.
True, navigating the fair this year won’t mean threading through the throngs of visitors, it will mean scrolling through gallery sections with familiar Frieze names like Frame, Focus, Main, and Spotlight. But with one notable difference: With the encouragement of the fair organizers, prices of many of the works for sale are readily available on the website.
At international gallery Lehmann Maupin, there’s a piece by New York-based artist Nari Ward titled Block and Tackle Shield, 2020, a 72-inch high sculpture made of oak, copper sheet, copper nails, and darkening patina, for sale at $175,000, for instance, as well as Alex Prager archival pigment prints priced from $40,000 to $75,000, among works by several other artists.
Gagosian’s offering of exuberantly painted works on paper—and four sculptures—by the German artist Katharina Grosse, meanwhile, range in price from about $43,500 to $158,000, with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of selected works donated to Human Rights Watch, in partnership with Frieze.
That transparency for the viewer creates “an ease of discovery,” says Loring Randolph, director of Frieze New York. “There’s just one less barrier to access, and it’s really fun.”
VIP “attendees” got access to viewing rooms featuring more than 200 participating galleries Wednesday morning, while the general public will be able to view them beginning on Friday. The fair ends on May 15.
Frieze had been planning to offer a viewing room for the first time alongside the traditional May fair in New York as something extra that galleries could opt into, but with the closure of the fair to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, organizers quickly switched gears and expanded the platform under development to include the entire fair, Randolph says.
Like always, the fair includes several gallery sections as well as special programming, which this year includes a Chicago Tribute section celebrating the achievements of women artists who have a history or meaningful relationships with the city, in honor of 100 years of women having the right to vote. Yet another difference, however, is that galleries were reimbursed for booth fees, and the fair is open to the public for free as well.
“For a moment where galleries are struggling to engage an audience and struggling to make sales, if galleries make even one sale from this—because it’s not costing them anything—then it’s a success,” Randolph says.
Capturing the Current Mood
At Hauser & Wirth, Marc Payot, president, says the gallery gets “just as excited and nervous” gearing up for a fair online as they do for a physical art fair. “We anticipate the mood and the demand, and we shape our presentation accordingly.”
In either format, “visual impact is everything,”’ Payot says. “With digital presentations, our clients can spend time with works of art without the distraction and pressure they often experience at a crowded fair, and they can take their time with the more extensive information we’re able to provide online.”
Hauser & Wirth had sold 16 works by noon on Wednesday, including “major new works” by George Condo, Paul McCarthy, Henry Taylor, Lorna Simpson, Mika Rottenberg, and Rashid Johnson. Condo’s Distanced Figures 3, 2020, a work in acrylic, pigment sticks, and metallic paint on line, sold for $2 million, while Johnson’s Untitled Anxious Men, 2014, executed in white ceramic tile, black soap, wax, and spray enamel, sold for $650,000, the gallery says.
For Frieze, Hauser & Wirth gathered pieces that were largely made during the time of the pandemic, works that “capture the current atmosphere: a mix of urgency, anxiety, and hope that we are all experiencing right now,” Payot says. “You could say they are historical works because they’re documenting the experience of a truly significant and formative moment in time.”
Randolph says many participating galleries tried to speak to the moment when they were able to, although it was challenging for some, given that most had planned their Frieze New York presentations months in advance.
“In any moment like this, artists want to respond, they want to be active in what it means to shape the visual element of a reflection of what our culture is in this moment,” she says. Some artists were able to do work in their studios, and get it photographed, and sent to their galleries, and “that’s amazing,” she says.
She pointed to Fred Tomaselli’s March 14, 2020, created with gouache, collage, and archival inkjet print on the March 14 front page of the New York Times, below the headline, “Emergency is Declared; House Passes Aid Bill.” The work is selling for $25,000 at New York’s James Cohan gallery.
One advantage Lehmann Maupin gallery discovered from the shift to the digital format was the ability to offer a monumental, 27-foot wide work, North Wall, 2005, by the Korean sculptor and installation artist Do Ho Suh. “I’ve always wanted to show it in an art fair, but we never were able because it was so big,” says Rachel Lehmann, the gallery’s co-founder.
The gallery approached Frieze a bit differently than their first online fair—Art Basel Hong Kong, which took place in March—after realizing it was important to include more context for the art, including personal stories of the artists, Lehmann says. In other words, they needed to treat the fair similar to a physical art fair.
Through Frieze’s platform, Lehmann Maupin was able to post a film (of Suh’s installation), and to include images that better show the scale of the works by including a person looking at a painting, or a chair in the room. Both the gallery, and viewers, are growing into this new experience, she says. While the online realm is unlikely to replace physical viewing forever, “it’s definitely pushed us to understand better and to be more successful in the use of digital platforms,” she says.
Sean Kelly Gallery had been preparing for Frieze before it became an online fair, so the gallery kept the works it planned to show, and then added some. Without shipping or installation to worry about, “we were able to work with our artists right up until the last minute to present new artworks that might not have been available had it been a traditional art fair,” says Thomas Kelly, a partner.
Still, the gallery, which participated in Art Basel Hong Kong as well, says “it is too early to tell how clients, institutions, and the public will respond,” to digital versus physical approaches, Kelly says.
Payot notes that this period of stay-at-home orders and gallery closures has shown Hauser & Wirth the “potential of the digital space,” but they are “also looking forward to returning to real-life interaction with art.” The gallery will have that chance at its locations in Hong Kong and Zurich, as it starts to re-open them “with careful measures in place,” in the coming week, he says.
“I’m enthusiastic about how these two ways of presenting work, the physical and the virtual, will complement one another as we look ahead to the future,” Payot says.