By almost any measure, women still don’t have parity in the art world, whether it is the number of solo museum shows, institutional directorships or major gallery representation. In that context, Frieze London and Frieze Masters, the sibling art fairs taking place this Thursday to Saturday in London’s Regent’s Park, are notable: Women have most of the leadership positions, and they have pushed for female-centric programming at every level.
“They’re trying to counter the effects of the male-dominated art market,” said Diana Campbell Betancourt, the curator who is this year in charge of Frieze Projects, the parts of the contemporary-focused Frieze London that extend beyond the traditional dealer booths. That fair, in its 16th year, will feature some 159 galleries from far-flung locations including Los Angeles, Vienna, Tokyo and Johannesburg.
“They are leading by example,” Ms. Betancourt said. “It’s small steps that lead to a longer term correction.”
Jo Stella-Sawicka, Frieze London’s artistic director, noted that the talks program for Frieze Masters exclusively featured female artists, marking the centenary of women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom. Masters, which concentrates on older art, is in its seventh edition and will offer wares from some 136 dealers. “We want to use our platform proactively,” Ms. Stella-Sawicka said. “There’s a strong female theme.”
Victoria Siddall, the director in charge of both fairs, said she was proud of that emphasis, but also sounded a note of caution. “It’s a point of interest, but at every step we’ve found the best person for the job,” she said of the organization’s staffing. “It’s not been contrived.” Ms. Siddall also pointed to the Frieze Masters Talks program as a highlight — it features the artists Amy SillmanAmy Sillman, Doris SalcedoDoris Salcedo and Tacita DeanTacita Dean among others.
“Last year we had Marina Abramovic, and it was like having a celebrity at the fair,” she said. But she added that such speakers highlighted a larger truth. “We’ve always had a talks program that was more than a marketing vehicle,” Ms. Siddall said. She noted that ‘Frieze’ was an arts magazine before the organization ran both a publication and a fair. “It can stand on its own. Programming has always been our great strength. It has roots in editorial, and you can feel that” Ms. Siddall said.
The main course at both fairs is still the dealer booths and the wide array of art for sale. Even there, the theme of female visibility reappears: A new themed section at Frieze London, “Social Work”, looks at artists who challenged the male-dominated art market of the 1980s. Frieze Week, as the timing of the fairs and other attendant events is known, also turns London into more of an art hub than usual.
White Cube, a gallery headquartered there with two branches, will show paintings and sculptures by the Chinese artist Liu Wei at Frieze London. “It’s our hometown,” said Daniela Gareh, a partner in White Cube and its director of sales. “The art fair gives us an opportunity to offer something more in-depth and experiential,” Ms. Gareh said.
White Cube has participated in the contemporary fair since it started, as has another London gallery, Timothy Taylor. “At the time, Frieze magazine was one of the premier journals and it was natural to assume the quality would be the same,” Mr. Taylor, the gallery’s eponymous founder, said. “And that was what happened .. I’m not a believer that you have to do every fair, and I’m doing fewer than I used to” he said. Mr. Taylor will display a solo presentation of large paintings by the American artist Eddie Martinez, including ‘Beach Death’ (2018), made with several different types of paint and even a thumbtack for good measure.
Frieze Masters, which looks to the past, both recent and not-so, includes a booth from the New York dealer Tina Kim, who is showing works by several Korean artists. On view will be several untitled canvases from the 1960s and 1970s by Wook-Kyung Choi (1940–1985). “She was an important female artist who came from Korea to study in America in the 1960s,” Ms. Kim said. “She was the same generation as Eva Hesse, but her works are bold and painterly and colorful.”
Frieze Masters has a reputation as a place for rediscoveries of artists who have fallen off the radar. “You can showcase somebody who has not been seen by curators and collectors, and you can start a dialogue,” Ms. Kim said. Although she also shows contemporary art at her gallery, she is not showing at Frieze London — she is leaving that to mom. Hyun-Sook Lee, her mother, runs Seoul’s Kukje Gallery, and the dealers are affiliated with each other and coordinate some programming. Kukje will present works by Candida HöferCandida Höfer, Haegue YangHaegue Yang and Julian OpieJulian Opie.
Although Frieze gets more headlines for its contemporary offerings, the Old Masters component has been growing. “The number of Old Master galleries returning is a big story,” Ms. Siddall said. Nineteen dealers in the category will be on hand, including the fair newcomer Eric Gillis Fine Art of Brussels. “People are hearing that galleries did well last year,” Ms. Siddall said. “We’ve put a lot of effort into that.” The visibility of such art fits with the artistic context of the host city. “London has been historically a center of Old Masters,” Ms. Siddall added.
But last year’s record-breaking sale of a Leonardo da Vinci picture that went for $450 million at Christie’s may have given the category a boost, too. “It may well be we’re seeing the results of that,” Ms. Siddall said.
Mr. Fogg, acknowledged that the presence of Old Masters doesn’t usually give a boost to the visibility of women artists. In his field, he said, “Generally where there’s artist information, it’s always by men. It may have been that women weren’t credited, but more likely is that they got pushed out for economic or social reasons.”
And yet: He is also showing the exception that proves the rule. In his booth is a ca. 1480 tapestry featuring the life of Christ, possibly made for the monastery of Saint Walburga in Eichstätt. Extensive research demonstrates that it was woven by a nun or nuns. The maker names are unknown, but that’s true for much medieval art. “We haven’t shown a woman artist in maybe 20 years,” Mr. Fogg said, adding that he was glad to do so “in the era of #MeToo.”
The guiding principle of art fairs is that if you gather a huge amount of material in a room, something will stand out and resonate with somebody — and a pattern-breaker like this tapestry may do the trick for a collector with deep pockets (and a large wall). “Some people think that there were no women artists in the Middle Ages, and it’s close to being true, but this an exception,” Mr. Fogg said. “We don’t ever expect to show anything like it again.”
If you live in the United Kingdom or by any chance can visit London this week, do it! Be a part of this amazing art fair and learn more about art galleries around the world. You definitely won’t regret it. Find more about Frieze on their official website.official website.
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Ted Loos | nytimes.com
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This article has been edited by The Art Dose.