This week we visited London’s Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park.
Having attended numerous industry specific trade fairs I immediately noticed that Frieze (or perhaps all art fairs) does not adhere to the usual rules. At most international trade shows the stands themselves are designed to make a statement. The bigger and more costly they are, the bigger and more financially robust their occupants. At Frieze the stand spaces universally (and perhaps boringly) consisted of simple plain white walls on a single level. For the uninitiated there was in general nothing to differentiate between one exhibitor and the next except their hangings. I say generally, as there was one gallery that bucked the trend and played with the rules slightly by having a dark wooden floor installed. It did make a difference. Stepping onto it gave a sense of entering into a distinctly separate space. I noticed that this had an affect on the gallery’s visitors. Whilst every other stand was filled with a swirling mixture of students, experts, dealers and aficionados this particular stand was less crowded, almost airy and was populated by what I perceived as more serious punters despite there being no discernible difference in its exhibits.
The Community, Roles, Rules and Objects.
I noticed certain commonalities as I perused the stands. Firstly the gallery representitives. Invariably there was a young boy, the peach fluff freshly scraped from his chin with a MacBook Air precariously balanced on one hand as he earnestly tried to look busy prodding away at it in the vain hope of getting an internet connection. Next there was usually a more mature woman, normally brunette. Glamorous enough to draw in collectors not interested in the young boy and haughty enough to deflect timewasters and tyre kickers. Her accessory was a mobile phone which would be used for intense, hushed conversations. Finally, hovering around the edges or in ernest dialogue was a middle aged man with the requisite spectacles, a mental roladex spinning behind his eyes as he scanned the human traffic passing by ready to pounce on a recognised collector with loud bravado and obsequious hospitality – much to the consternation of his competitors. Once hooked punters are taken to sit at what was often a suprisingly prosaic desk and the exchange of objects begins. From the punter a business card that was stapled into an appointment book. From the gallery a folder containing their complete catalogue. I had hoped to see a financial transaction, the actual purchase of some art. However, it generally transpired that instead a future appointment was made for the prospective client to pay a visit to the gallery’s actual premises. Perhaps they felt uncomfortable with the strange man spying on them?
The visitors to Frieze were, on this day, a very mixed crowd. Ranging from babes in arms to senior citizens and from impoverished students to wealthy collectors. Normally at trade shows exhibitors hate it when the general public are allowed in. To this end I noticed that all promotional materials, post cards and catalogues had been safely stored away. In this case the role of the average paying visitor was to admire and, more often than not, photograph the art. I imagine that this gives the hangings and their creators added celebrity and thereby pushes up the asking price (imagine the shame if your expensive piece of art was not recognised by Google googles!)
There was one very clearly implied rule. Almost every exhibitor was operating to J.P. Morgan’s adage “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” Frieze had a rather nifty iPhone app that allowed one to find art either below or above £5000. The sponsors include Deutch Bank, Cartier, Pommery Champagne and BMW. Clearly this is not a place for the hoi polloi to pick up something nice to put above the mantle piece.