Published  15/01/2013

Innovating with the old – Frieze Masters 2012

Innovating with the old – Frieze Masters 2012

Frieze Art Fair is now more than just one of the top international events of its kind. Creative business acumen has seen the brand amalgamate a range of events and new enterprises with ongoing success. Besides launching an affiliated show in New York last May, on Randall’s Island Park, Manhattan, this year it opened for the first time in its city of origin, London, a parallel fair – Frieze Masters – dedicated to art from ancient times until the turn of the last century. On the occasion of the original Frieze Fair London reached its 10th year in Regent’s Park, a second pavilion was temporarily built to house Frieze’s “offspring” in the northern part of the same green area. From 9–14 October, around 100 galleries participated in the inaugural exhibition of Frieze Masters and approximately 28,000 people visited the show.

Frieze Masters, Regent’s Park, London
9–14 October 2012


If the idea was to bring collectors together with more diverse interests than that normally seen in contemporary art fairs all around the world, the result was fully accomplished, as the artworks on display offered a range of attractions to please all different tastes. When Frieze first announced this division between the two fairs regarding time perspective, a great deal of expectation was created. The rumour that Frieze Masters would basically be centred on names of Modernism was inaccurately spread and there was some fear that the fair could end up turning into a kind of antique show. Nonetheless, the promise to encompass two millennia of art was fairly delivered by the careful selection of galleries, which left nothing to be desired to the already established Frieze high standard. Moreover, the exhibition impressed with an effective dialogue between art from the past and contemporary art.

Of course, prominent 20th-century masters were on display as for example the considerable space dedicated to large mobiles by Alexander Calder and paintings by Joan Miró at the Helly Nahmad Gallery. There were not only a large number of great names already inscribed in conventional art history books, but exciting surprises also delighted the audience of the show: From early tribal art, masks and boomerangs that could be seen at the Galerie Meyer Oceanic Art stand to anthropomorphic profiles painted with flowers and vegetables in early 17th century by the Italian Giovanni Stanchi at the Koetser Gallery exhibit.

Some rarities that are usually only found in very specialized galleries or auctions houses were also being exhibited in the fair compounding an unusual mix and match approach to the show. For instance the Bacarelli Botticelli was selling both a Roman Marble Urn from the 1st century A.C and a Medieval Madonna with Child painting and Moshe Tabibnia Gallery had on display at its stall a 16th-century Ottoman tapestry to entice buyers interested in antique textile arts. Sometimes the combination between old and new art was comprised in the same stand. At the contained space shared among Bernheimer Fine Art Photography, Katrin Bellinger and Colnaghi galleries the visitor could contemplate a French Rococo painting by Fragonard alongside a black and white portrait of Louise Bourgeois from 1997 taken by the American photographer Annie Leibovitz.

In point of fact, living artists were not excluded from participating in Frieze Masters, an aspect that at first appeared a bit confusing to the visitors of its inaugural edition. The same artist could have artworks there and in the main Frieze. This was the case with painters such as David Hockney and Gerard Richter (who recently had a record breaking artwork in a Sotheby’s auction as the highest price paid for a painting made by a living artist) and the sculptor Anish Kapoor. In that respect the dividing line was not very clear, the determination in principle was that for a piece to be exhibited in Frieze Masters it should have been created at least 12 years ago. For future editions the question will be whether this distribution shall represent some kind of competition between the two events. Although, it will be not an issue for the general public, perhaps for buyers  the label “masters” could aggregate value to the contemporary piece that will be purchased. Nevertheless, for now no concerns about Frieze Masters remain. It was a brilliant move to appeal to the past in order to provide a breath of fresh air to Frieze which has renovated itself with a new old art.

Spotlight in the Frieze Masters  – A conversation with the curator Adriano Pedrosa

The efficient connection between historical artworks and contemporary art practices built at the Frieze Masters exhibition aimed to invite more conservative collectors and establish a new generation of art patrons. Targeting this public the fair within the fair also introduced a special section called “Spotlight” that received a special curatorial project made by Adriano Pedrosa, an independent curator based in São Paulo. This section presented the visitors with an extract of some great names of the last century art history. Speaking to Studio International, Pedrosa explained about his objective with Spotlight: “When I was asked to work on Spotlight, I proposed an experiment with a more challenging notion of the master, avoiding the well known figure of the white male European painter that is the most celebrated master from the market's perspective. I believe that a section such as this one can thus develop a pedagogical effect, and hopefully will point more conservative collectors to other avenues of research.”

Each gallery of the 22 selected to be part of Spotlight, showed a solo exhibition devoted to a single artist. Emphasis was given to exposing an international vision of the artistic changes in the 20th century. The selection was very well balanced indeed in terms of nationalities, with artists from 13 countries. Regarding his choice, Pedrosa, who was also curator of the 12th International Istanbul Biennial in 2011, added: “As a curator working in the context of an art fair, a place where the market prevails, I wanted to have a more diverse, plural outlook, going beyond Western Europe and North America, and thus including artists from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South East Asia, as well as the work of pioneering women such as Geta Bratescu, Sanja Ivekovic, Teresa Burga, Lygia Pape and Birgit Jürgenssen.”

In addition to being focused on important artists from various backgrounds; it was also noticeable that the Spotlight section had as its central point the 1960s and 1970s, that according to Pedrosa, can be seen as “one of the most experimental periods of 20th-century art history”. The exhibition is concentrated on art practices that became historically important, because they challenged more traditional art models. Following this thought, in the panorama conceived by Pedrosa the visitor could see the Mail Art pieces and happening documentation by the Brazilian Paulo Bruscky, the multidisciplinary works by the Spanish Esther Ferrer, pioneer of experimental music, the overpowering pictures by the Austrian artist Birgit Jürgenssen that discussed the female body in her art or the photographs by the German Jürgen Klauke that strongly deal with questions of gender and identity.

In this sense, among the artists selected by Pedrosa there were many that are not often seen in the commercial circuit. About this particular feature of Spotlight, Pedrosa mentioned that he deliberately decided to bring to the fair practices that are very much recognised by art history but are not assimilated by the art market. In order to clarifies his point, Pedrosa made reference for instance to conceptualist practices that are for him “very much recognised by art history – be it written or codified in museum displays – but it does not enjoy the equivalent recognition from the market, which works with more conservative parameters, often has a more conservative taste and that is why the pioneers are often only recognised belatedly”.

To conclude, Pedrosa briefly analysed the current state of the art market and spoke about the paths that a project like Spotlight can open: “At a time when the proliferation of contemporary art fairs puts an immense pressure on dealers and living artists to supply a growing, avid market, it seems timely to look at back at a diverse group of pioneers from the past working at one the most radical periods of art history.”

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