Frieze art fair lands in NYC. A conversation with director Amanda Sharp

A gigantic white enclosure snakes along the edge of Randall’s Island, a place where very few New Yorkers venture to go. In the belly of the beast resides the first American edition of the British art fair Frieze, running May 4-7 and featuring 180 of the globe’s contemporary art galleries. The snake-like structure was designed by the architectural studio Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu, which also did the 2010 design “Pole Dance,” created as an external space of MoMA PS1. Even before the opening of the fair, the white snake had already become somewhat of an icon. “We will probably keep the same shape next year”, assures Amanda Sharp, co-founder and co-director of Frieze. “The structure is going to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch next year. No doubt will we add modifications and new elements to present the audience with something new each year.”

Why did you choose Randall’s Island as location for the art fair?
What I like of this place is that it’s certainly part of New York, but, at the same time, it’s an undiscovered area of the city. It has aspects from the New York of the 70s, as it never went under any radical development. There is a stadium, a natural reserve and now there will be Frieze. I love the idea of offering to New Yorkers a new point of view on their city: seeing Manhattan framed by blooming trees is going to be lovely. From a logistic point of view, it’s an island, but this doesn’t mean that it is an isolated place. It’s a 20 minute ride by car from the Upper East Side, where there is the highest concentration of art collectors per square mile. When I first visited Randall’s Island I thought it would be the perfect location that would offer us the space we needed in such a compact city, while adding an adventurous side.

Art Basel was the first European art fair to disembark in the United States. The Swiss chose Miami, at the time a peripheral city in the contemporary art landscape. Frieze has decided to open in the world capital of the contemporary art market, already overloaded with fairs. Why?
London and New York are the most important cities in the contemporary art world. My job is not to open in a new touristy location, but to expose the best of contemporary art in front of a critical mass. I have lived in New York City for ten years and I have noticed that a lot of foreign galleries were becoming less and less committed to coming to New York. In October, during Frieze in London, some gallery owners came to us asking me to open a fair in New York City, saying they would be happy to exhibit in New York with Frieze. Fairs are a very important meeting point for the artistic community, but, to be so, quality must be very high. I had the impression that this generative force was blunting in New York City and that would have been a shame.

Do you think that in the long term that New York City can sustain two high level art fairs – Frieze and the Armory Show?
I don’t know. I think that there is always room for high quality art. I think that multiple art fairs may coexist in New York City, but I don’t think that in the long term there will be so many satellite fairs around the main event.

In London, besides the main pavilion, there is the section “Frame,” dedicated to the galleries that opened less then six years ago, which presents a solo exhibition. In New York, you have added the section “Focus.” Can you tell us more about it?
“Focus” is an elegant bridge between the energy of the young galleries of “Frame” and the well established ones. For us, it is a way to bring along the realities that have grown with the fair. The galleries of the section “Focus” are a maximum of ten years old, like Frieze, and they show three artists.

Among all the projects that you have organized for the first New York edition of the fair, which one distances itself most from London’s fair?

This year we have assigned the Italian curator Cecilia Alemani to curate “Frieze Projects,” a temporary pop-up village made of art pieces commissioned to eight artists. The London “Projects” have always taken place inside the fair, whereas this time, in New York, Cecilia has decided to bring it outside. Everybody will be able to appreciate these works that have been conceived in dialogue with the territory. They are going to be accessible to all New Yorkers, even those who are not willing to pay the ticket to come and visit the fair.

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