The art industry may breathe a small sigh of relief: Frieze New York, one of the first major in-person art fairs in over a year, is due to open next week. Despite widespread enthusiasm for the return of business IRL, however, many international dealers initially planned to set up booths in New York have had to cancel their participation.
Around 22 galleries—a full third of the initial 66-exhibitor list—have opted out of physically attending since the lineup was released on January 14; 17 galleries, largely from New York, took their place. The vast majority of those that opted out of in-person attendance were international dealers facing new infection waves and uneven vaccine rollouts in their home bases, as well as ongoing restrictions on international travel.
Brussels galleries dépendance and Xavier Hufkens, Berlin galleries Peres Projects and Société, as well as Thaddaeus Ropac and Victoria Miro of London are among the veteran Frieze participants sitting this year out.
None of the dealers who spoke to Artnet News said the decision was made lightly, particularly considering the value of face-to-face interactions with clients. “Although it initially seemed feasible for us to travel in May, by the time we actually had to take the plunge it became clear that this would have been a real ordeal,” Xavier Hufkens told Artnet News.
The choice, he said, came down to the fact that his team has not yet been vaccinated, which would have meant considerable risk, not to mention difficulties entering the country. “It goes without saying that we can’t wait to be back in New York for Frieze next year,” he added.
The Shed, a cultural center in Hudson Yards. (C. Taylor Crothers/Getty Images)
This year’s fair will be held for the first time at the Shed in Manhattan, which offers welcome ease of access for visitors. It also meant that the fair scaled down substantially from previous editions on Randall’s Island, which hosted nearly 200 galleries.
One dealer expressed concern that the first year at the new venue might be “chaotic” as collectors and dealers try to get the lay of the land—and re-hone their rusty social skills.
Frieze was very flexible, dealers said, in allowing for last-minute booth cancelations, offering a full refund if dealers pulled out up to a month before the opening. All those dealers who had to forego in-person attendance are invited to present works within Frieze’s online viewing room, which will run alongside the fair.
In the end, vaccines and quarantines—which varied greatly by country—dictated decision-making. Two Brazilian galleries, Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel and Galeria Vermelho, opted out against the backdrop of rising concern over variants in the country. Alex Gabriel, partner-director at Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, told Artnet News that Brazil’s “extremely complex pandemic situation” meant that “it was virtually impossible to guarantee that our team would be able to reach New York in time.”
Bucko (2020). © Bernard Frize / ADAGP, Paris, 2021 & ARS, New York, 2021.
The decision was no less complex for younger galleries in Frieze’s “Frame” section, which can offer transformative exposure to international collectors. While Clima, a young gallery from Milan, decided to hire an in-person surrogate in lieu of sending staff, others, including PM8 in Spain and Unit 17 in Vancouver, will hold off until 2022.
“I did not want to put my community or staff in jeopardy,” said Tobin Gibson, director of Unit 17. “Getting three staff members over the border for days in a closed space lingering and chatting… It was just hard for us to arrive there, mentally.” He had been planning to show works by Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, who has a solo exhibition on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Instead, he will present paintings by Toronto artist geetha thurairajah in Frieze’s viewing room.
Stephen Friedman is one of the few international dealers without staff or a base in New York who joined in after the first round of galleries dropped out. Despite neither the dealer nor any of his staff being able to attend in person, a spokesperson said the dealer was adamant about pulling it off: In addition a solo booth of work by Sarah Ball at the fair, the gallery will have a two-week pop-up show at Crozier in Chelsea manned by veteran dealer Allison Card, formerly of Metro Pictures.
geetha thurairajah’s The Bona Fide Pilgram (2021). Courtesy Unit 17.
Esther Schipper, who is based in Berlin, had already planned to do a joint presentation with New York gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash to mitigate possible complications with spring travel. It was a good bet given that it has now become clear she won’t be there herself.
There is infrastructure in place: Esther Schipper’s New York-based senior director Tara Reddi will look after their half of the booth, which will offer historical works by General Idea. Another important factor is that “the gallery has a registered company in the U.S.,” Schipper said. “We were in the middle of preparations to open a showroom and an office in New York last year, which due to the outbreak of the global pandemic had to be put on hold.”
Parisian dealer Emmanuel Perrotin will also be in town, his gallery confirmed. “It’s important that we support not only Frieze New York, but all the businesses that are supported by the fair, including shippers and installers,” Peggy Leboeuf, a partner at Perrotin, told Artnet News. “It is complicated and the logistics aren’t ideal, but we are all in this together and must make it work.”
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