Frieze New York opened the week before the Venice Biennale this year, with many artists, curators – and collectors – attending both. In an ever more interlinked art world, what are the different roles of the fair and the biennial?  



So, if Venice is not free from commerce, nor is Frieze New York without its pockets of insulation from the market, and as examples like Alemani’s work with Andreotta Calò demonstrate, key figures switch from one context to another with ease. Instead of seeing biennials and art fairs as two separate or opposed domains, we might view them instead as distinct but complimentary models which participate in the same global currents of discussion and exchange. It should then come as no surprise that Frieze New York 2017 offered many opportunities to see the work of artists also featured in Venice. These ranged from emerging and mid-career figures like Vietnam-born, France-based Thu Van Tran, who was given a solo presentation of her assemblage-sculptures probing constructions of ethnic-identity and outsider-ness at the fair by Brussel’s Meessen De Clerq - to more veteran practitioner like 63-year old Kiki Smith, who has contributed a whole room of works on Nepalese paper to the central exhibition, and a large work on paper whom was proudly displayed on the outside wall of the stand of Galleria Lorcan O’Neill. The Swiss-American sculptor Carol Bove (who is representing Switzerland in the Giardini) had new sculptures on the stand of David Zwirner (paired with photographs by William Eggleston), as well SculptureCenter, a beloved New York non-profit who were given a stand on the fair to raise funds via the sale of works like Bove’s. Olafur Eliasson is another participant in Marcel’s main exhibition at Venice, and at Tanya Bonakdar visitors could see a new sculpture by the Icelandic artist making its public debut at the fair - a departure for Eliasson, it was formed of glass globes in concentric circles, tinted in differing degrees to resemble planetary cycles: a luminous image of cosmic harmony.


Among the more experimental, emerging artists, New York-based gallery took the opportunity to showcase a project by Dawn Kaspar, whose contribution to Venice - The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars (2017) - will see the artist spend six months in a temporary work space she has set up inside the Biennale’s main pavilion, playing music, talking to visitors and, according to one report, occasionally tolling with an axe. At the fair, Lewis gave the artist a similar free-rein: the stand was transformed into an active laboratory for the artist at select appearances, and strewn with the artful detritus of her activities the rest of the week. There was a live element to another of Marcel’s selected artists, Enri Sala, whose installation of self-playing drum kits was a sparse but striking solo presentation by Marian Goodman Gallery. The drums played a track made by the artist that joins bridges from popular songs. Sala, who spoke at the fair as part of the Frieze Talks programme curated by CCS Bard’s Tom Eccles, spoke of bridges as ‘underdogs’ of song, here elevated to the status of temporary destinations.

Another Biennale artist working with sound is Samson Young, who is representing Hong Kong this year, was represented by Galerie Gisela Capitain in the form of a striking installation involving neon light and text. Though still a relatively “young” artist, he is no newcomer to Frieze, having been commissioned to make a “sound walk” for Frieze London 2016 as part of that fair’s parallel non-profit programme, this one curated by Raphael Gygax of Zurich’s Migros Museum. Gygax’s program also included a new film commission from Rachel Maclean, who is representing Scotland at his year’s Biennale. Other Frieze Projects alumni with a role to play in Venice this month also include Koki Tanaka, who was commissioned by Alemani in 2014, and was selected as Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year for 2015. Additional key artists showing in Venice from Deutsche Bank’s Collection include Kemung Wa Lehulere, our current Artist of the Year, in the Future Art Prize; Sharon Lockhart, whose art is shown in the Polish pavilion; andErwin Wurm in the Austrian pavilion.Alsoexhibting work alongside Koki Tanaka in Viva Arte Viva exhibition are Ernesto Neto, Frank West, Petrit Halilaj, Gabriel Orozco, Agnieszka Polska, Mariechen Danz, Frances Stark, Achraf Touloub and Franz Erhard Walther which illustrates the broad range of the collection Deutsche Bank owns

Fairs can, just as biennials are widely understood to, provide a platform for bringing attention to promising and emerging talents. Jens Hoffman, Director of Special Exhibitions and Public Programmes at New York’s Jewish Museum, and the curator of biennials in Shanghai (2012) Istanbul (2011) and Lyon (2007), suggests that “it could be argued that biennials have lost their function as places to discover art as it was traditionally the case” in some part simply through their increasing ubiquity of art fairs (“I counted more than two hundred of them in 2016”, Hoffman told me).


But discovery is not only some young mans’ game. Romania is represented at the Biennale this year by the 91-year-old artist, Geta Brătescu, whose command of drawing, photography, film and performance is complimented by her masterful textile sculptures, several of which were displayed at Frieze New York 2017 by Ivan Gallery. The central exhibition in Venice will contain work by Irma Blank, an 83-year-old Italian practitioner of a kind of concrete poetry, who was exhibited at Frieze New York by P420 in the Spotlight section. This part of the fair, curated by Toby Kamps of the Menil collection, is dedicated to little known or under-represented historical positions. It is often a place in which curators make discoveries - Huguette Caland, and the late Heidi Bucher - both included in Marcel’s exhibition this year - have previously been presented in the Spotlight section at the Frieze Masters fair in London. Alemani notes that some biennials exhibit a stronger and stronger presence of historical figures “the so called “overlooked artists’” - but sees the commonality as less a matter of one model learning from another as both responding to a need for change. “Both biennials and art fairs have been around for decades - that need to refresh is in both of their DNA”, she says.


                With all these points of contact, repetition and resonance between this year’s Biennale and Frieze New York, and the interconnectedness of the art world which both this arguably reflects, it is easy to forget that the art world is not monolithic: that audiences are various. Jo Stella-Sawicka, Artistic Director of Frieze, notes that however “glocal” the art world seems, even some of the most dedicated collectors and curators - precisely because of their dedication (or the work that enables it) - have to be selective with their time. “Not everyone at Frieze New York will be going to Venice”, she notes. “Part of what makes it so special when galleries at the fair show work connected to the Biennale or other biennials”, she says, “it that it gives audiences a glimpse of what they otherwise would miss”. Less a preview, then, and a more of a consolation.


Not everyone in the art world is so sanguine about the overlaps between events. The Art Newspaper quoted the dealer Thaddeus Ropac as saying that the “integrity” of curated events made it improper to link commercial efforts for them. Hoffman - though a self-confessed “art fair addict” - talks about the potential for fatigue in the increasing numbers of both fairs and biennials. Perhaps we might adapt the Buddhist Koan: Wherever You Go, There Art Is. Still, Hoffman, told Frieze in 2016: ‘missing the key fairs each year would be like missing a Champions League final between Real Madrid and Manchester United.’ The same must be true for Venice this year, as well. If you’re going to watch the game, get a front row seat.


Author: Matthew Holt

Photo credits: Frieze, Alessandra Sofia, 

Mark Blower/Frieze, Rachel Maclean