The 2017 edition sees 200-plus galleries from 31 countries and six continents come together in a long, light-filled—if sometimes rather airless—tent. And this time around, the event’s main selection is augmented by three special platforms: Spotlight revisits artistic milestones from 1960 onward; Frame highlights experimental solo projects; and Focus introduces younger galleries.
There’s a special theater to the art fair booth, with its gussied-up dealers busily ignoring their neighbors while keeping an eye out for important collectors and industry kingpins. And while for some the structure is little more than a set of temporary walls in which to do business, others manage to invest their small but valuable territory with a little something extra. The bigger galleries tend to go for scale and spectacle—Gagosian Gallery’s salon-style array of drawings by still-sought-after American painter John Currin and Karl Holmqvist’s set of cheeky text paintings at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, for example, are hard to ignore. But often it’s the more understated installations that linger in the memory; Castelli Gallery’s pair of historical works by Robert Morris, for one.
As always, there’s so much here that trying to see everything is a fool’s errand, and even identifying meaningful trends an exacting challenge. Perhaps the best approach is simply to wander the aisles and remain open to surprise. And there is certainly much here that’s unexpected. Calmly making the rounds just like any other visitors, for example, are costumed characters from Leonardo DiCaprio movies, part of Dora Budor’s playful Frieze Projects intervention. More subdued visually but no less disarming is Roman Ondak’s performance Swap (2011) in Berlin gallery Esther Shipper’s booth. A man seated behind a small desk makes an unusual request to passersby, asking if they will exchange an object of their own for whatever it is he’s holding (on my visit, a pen).
Also changing hands at Frieze is, of course, a substantial amount of money, and appeals to status abound in the form of exclusive lounges and champagne bars. But even for the 99% to whom collecting is a spectator sport, there are discoveries to be made. A unique selling point of fairs is the concentrated physical presence of so many dealers, curators, and other experts under one roof. Collar them in the fair itself or catch the Frieze Talks program, curated this year by Bard College’s inimitable Tom Eccles. Lectures and panels take on pertinent subjects such as art and social commentary and the legacy of modernism. Finally, take in displays by exemplary not-for-profit spaces, Judd Foundation, SculptureCenter, and White Columns. After that, your ferry awaits.