When New Yorkers have to turn on the heat on May Day something is awry. And when the editor of artcritical thinks it has to be time to take March’s Armory Week special off the front cover and then realizes it is best to leave it up another week as yet more fairs are about to hit, something surely is also awry. Global warming. Globalization. Festivalism.
A few years ago, Prêt à Manger, a classy British (despite its name) chain of sandwich bars, launched in New York. Prêt had a place in my heart as an ex-Londoner thanks to fond memories of bouncy bread and assertive coffee, but something caught in my throat when I saw their advertising campaign. Basically, they told New Yorkers that fresh baked bagels were on their way. Talk about coals to Newcastle.
Now we are to get Frieze. Frieze magazine, launched in 1991 and spinning their name from the YBAs’ Freeze exhibition a few years prior, quickly grew from the house journal of ‘90s neo-conceptualism to a leading chronicle of contemporary art. In 2003 its publishers, Matthew Slotover and and Amanda Sharp, launched the fair in London that was to the existing trade events what Prêt was for Wimpy. It put London on the circuit for jet setters that breeze from Basel to Miami to Maastricht to wherever. But weren’t they all in New York two months ago anyway?
And, as New Yorker magazine’s Peter Schjeldahl observes, New York, with its conveniently clustered art neighborhoods, is a year-round fair anyway. I have always preferred to think of the commercial galleries as one big kunsthalle where you use the street to navigate from one room to the next, where the invisible hand of the market is the curator and the invisible customers the board of trustees. (If only there was a cafeteria: cue Prêt à Manger.) Chelsea always makes the Whitney and the contemporary galleries at the Modern seem like too little, too late.
Nothing is more bizarre that seeing the likes of Gagosian and Zwirner cramping themselves into booths at the piers and the Park Avenue Armory every March. They have palatial headquarters a taxi ride away but must submit to the degrading democracy of the art fair floor. The joys of camping in their own back yard. Now we have to go to Randall’s Island to see them do the same thing again, two months later.
artcritical will do its duty and report on what it finds. And yet, the act of writing the word “duty” begs a whole set of questions. There are hundreds of shows in New York each month that warrant yet elude our attention. Carefully selected shows, elegantly hung in well lit, calm, civilized, conveniently located expensively rented art galleries. And these are the tip of an iceberg of artistic creativity. We could also set about reporting on what we find in the thousands of studios in Bushwick, Long Island City, Harlem, Newark, whether in open studio weekends or via private appointment. Media frenzy and an art world lemming tendency bullies us into attending fairs, and attending to them, but we should pause on the ferry for a moment and contemplate the fact that fairs are just another arbitrary platform for the spectacle of art. Collectors, critics, and other publics are theoretically at liberty to pick their paradigm: museum, gallery, studio, art school, park railing, fair. As surely as the medium is the message, so too the environment is the experience.
Frieze Art Fair, Randall’s Island Park, May 4 to 7, 2012. friezenewyork.comprint