You Don’t Need Money to Enjoy the Frieze Art Fair, but It Helps

Victoria Siddall, director of all three Frieze fairs—London, Masters, and New York—reveals this year’s artistic treats, and why art fairs are not just for the rich.

Days after the Met Gala, New York’s cultural elite is gearing up for the city’s next big event: Frieze New York, one of the world’s most prominent contemporary art fairs where, from May 5-8, 202 galleries from 31 countries will display the most buzzed about contemporary (and some modern) art from around the world.

Ahead of the annual extravaganza, The Daily Beast spoke to director Victoria Siddall, the mastermind orchestrating the fair, including the attractions outside the booths that help make the experience more than an art supermarket for the super rich: education programs, talks, solo shows, installations, interactive “Project” sections, and site-specific artist commissions.

Siddall has been working for Frieze since 2004, working her way up from head of sponsorships to head of development for Frieze London. In 2012, she launched the fair’s sister operation, Frieze Masters, which displays art from antiquity until 2000. Two years later, Siddall took over as director of all three Frieze fairs: London, Masters, and New York. She was handed the keys by co-founders Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, who first launched Frieze as a magazine in 1991.

From a live donkey to a roaming pickpocket, Siddall reveals what we can look forward to from this year’s fair.

What is the point of an art fair? Frieze and other fairs may be open to the public, but Frieze New York often seems like an empty-calorie shopping excursion for wealthy collectors investing in art as status symbols.

The art fair is an occasion for artists, curators, collectors, galleries, to come together under one roof, where—inevitably—interesting discussions and debate ensue.

Art needs to be witnessed and experienced in person, and one of the best things about the art fair is that it allows people to see art from all over the world. A majority of us don’t have the time or money to do that, but Frieze presents a carefully edited collection of the most interesting things happening in art all over the world today. If you’re interested in contemporary art, [Frieze] is indispensable because it brings together the most interesting people working in that context.

But really: To what extent is Frieze New York a supermarket for wealthy contemporary art collectors?

It’s important that collectors come, but the people who buy art here make up a considerably smaller percentage than the people who come to experience and see art—people from all parts of the city. We have a fantastic education program run by artists and sponsored by Deutsche Bank. This year, one of the nonprofits we collaborated with was the Queens Museum. We photographed their famous Panorama of the City of New York model, and have given them a space in the fair to sell those photographs.

How important is to create a buzz and draw a certain crowd at Frieze?

It’s important to me that the Frieze fairs feel unmissable. Ultimately it’s the quality of art in the fair that’s going to draw people. London and New York are the leading art cities in the world, but there are many other reasons to visit these cities. So we work closely with galleries but also with the cities to make sure there’s a program of events going on in tandem with the fair—the talks, for example. I have to make sure that it’s an attractive event not just for collectors, but for leading influencers and thinkers as well.

Are there emerging trends in contemporary art or themes that we can expect to see at Frieze New York?

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Galleries seem to be particularly interested in women artists right now, so you’ll see a feminist theme. There’s also an appetite for contextualizing very contemporary work with more historical work, which you’ll see in our Spotlight section. For examples, you’ll see Warhols at [New York’s] Craig Starr gallery, which is right next to The Box gallery from LA. So there’s an element of discovery for everyone.

Can you give us a preview of some of the special shows and interactive projects at this year’s fair?

This year’s tribute [in the Frieze Projects section] is a re-creation of Maurizio Cattelan’s first-ever show in New York at the Daniel Newburg Gallery. It involves a live donkey. There will also be a professional pickpocket roaming the fair, a lovely project commissioned by David Horvitz. But instead of actually picking pockets, he’ll be putting miniature sculptures in people’s bags. Commissioning artists to make work that is quite specific and unique to the fair makes Frieze very unique. These are some of the non-commercial, non-profit elements that everyone can enjoy.

Do you have a sense of which big collectors will be attending this year?

We put this program together for big collectors, and our RSVPs have been really strong. I can tell you that there will be collectors from all over the U.S.—particularly LA, Dallas, Boston, and of course New York—but also from Latin America, Europe, and Asia. The great thing about doing a fair in New York is that there are so many collectors who live here.

How many millions of dollars of art will be sold in the next few days?

That’s the galleries’ business, and they’re not obliged to tell us, though many of them do. My job is to create the platform for them to do business. If galleries are happy to return year after year, that’s a measure of success.

What distinguishes Frieze London from Frieze New York?

The New York fair is very much of the city, even the setting. When you’re wandering around the fair, you look outside the tent and you see the East River and Manhattan and you immediately know where you are. You’re not in some dark convention center. Likewise in London, where the fair is held in Regent’s Park. But in New York you’ll see a slightly more American vibe to the work than you’ll see in London. There’s also a greater demand for 20th century work and blue chip artists at Frieze New York than at Frieze London, which is more contemporary focused.

Are you a frustrated artist yourself, or more of a businesswoman? Where do you see yourself next? Running the Tate, perhaps?

I’m not a frustrated artist because I didn’t train to be an artist. But I enjoy the artistic development of working with curators on different sections, and also the business element of building a fair from scratch. I get to work with so many galleries and curators and with the administrators of the cities—it’s a really diverse and fascinating job, and at the moment I simply love doing what I’m doing.