centerlogobigAAD logo


FRIEZE MASTERS 1Image :: Author's Own

Walking into Frieze Masters one is automatically hit with a visual representation of what Frieze claims to be: a mix of the old and the new: a blurring of historic art with modern art. The gilded frames of Moretti’s 14th – 17th century Italian works provide an artistic counterpoint to the bright blue Boetti and raw Dubuffet that are on display at Aquavella stand next door. On your right there is a giant Barbara Kruger, while on the left is an array of Romanesque and early 14th century artefacts.

FRIEZE MASTERS 2Frieze Masters'Entrance, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 3Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Will), (1988), Skarstedt Gallery Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 4Circular Seating, Image :: Author's Own

‘Welcome to Frieze Masters’ it says – not screams as the entrance of Frieze does with its multi-coloured stands and giant Dice by Höller at the Gagosian stand (which seemed to be rocking a kindergarten/child’s play area theme). No, Frieze Masters is more subdued in its embrace, some may call it reserved or less exciting, while others may call it appropriate for the work on display and the clientele. The grey carpets and predominantly grey partition walls do add a sense of continuity but I couldn’t quite decide if they subdued the visual impact of the fair rather than create the ‘contemporary, elegant environment’ that the Frieze Masters press release claimed. While I pondered whether more touches of the dark maroon used for the circular couches could be used to liven the place up, Elliot commented that the restrained pallet allowed and encouraged the viewer to focus on the art works, themselves, rather than the context they were in.

FRIEZE MASTERS 5Raffaello Tomasso & His Wife at The Tomasso Brothers Stand, Image :: Author's Own

Some stands did use the colour palette selected by architect and fair designer, Annabelle Selldorf, to great effect, such as Tomasso Brothers, who chose a dark grey stand and used precise spotlighting to highlight their early Renaissance and Neo-Classical sculptures, to great effect. Their selection on display spanned some 500 years, and speaking with Raffaello Tomasso, he felt they ‘worked well together’, blending well together; something he thought was perhaps ‘more difficult to do with paintings’. Nevertheless, he was all for mixing modern art with antiques and Baroque works. Having displayed works by Damien Hirst alongside the gallery’s Renaissance repertoire at TEFAF earlier this year, Raffaello thinks that the mixing of old and new that Frieze Masters strives for, seems to work. ‘Great collectors have always collected great objects’ he said, referencing J. Tomilson Hill as an example of how people are no longer scared to place 20th Century art alongside 16th Century works.

One stand in particular achieved this approach rather well: the collaboration between Peter Freeman and Kunstkammer Georg Laue. Having worked together in the past when Laue held his exhibition, entitled “A Collector’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Objects for a Wunderkammer from 16th to 19th Century,” in Freeman’s Soho gallery in 2004, the two gallery owners (who are also friends) decided to integrate their works. According to Freeman, they ‘used the context of the Fair’ to form the collaboration, claiming they would ‘not be allowed to do this in Basel’. The result was a visually intriguing combination of a 19th C walrus head and Kunstkammer cabinet flanking a Basquiat, a South German court writing cabinet from c. 1570 beside a Christian Marclay suitcase-cum-speaker and 16th Century Venetian glassware offsetting a Gerhard Ricther and Agnes Martin. I was a fan and had to agree with Freeman when he said that he didn’t want a ‘travelling suitcase show’ for the ‘treadmill of fairs’ but cautioned that this sort of collaboration had to be done carefully and couldn’t just be thrown together; ‘it took lots of dinners in Munich to decide what we would show here’ he said.

FRIEZE MASTERS 619th Century Walrus Skull, Image :: Author's Own


FRIEZE MASTERS 8Work by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kunstkammer Cabinet, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 9Court writing cabinet and work by Marclay, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 10Giacometti Bronze, Image :: Author's Own

Another stand that took the Frieze Master’s motto of offering ‘a contemporary lens on historical art’ to the next level was that of Helly Nahmad. Conceptualised by Nahmad, designed by Robin Brown and produced by Anna Pank, the stand was almost an installation unto itself; it was an imaginary Parisian apartment set in 1968 of a ‘passionate, brilliant, eccentric and humble man’ who had lived in post war Milan. The result was a set-designed treasure trove of items found in flea markets, complete with edited, looped content playing on the TV and radio set and copies of Le Monde with works by Picasso, Debuffet, Miro and Lucio Fontana hidden amongst the chaos in a ‘Where’s Wally’ manner. I was particularly fond of how a Giacometti bronze stood above piles of newspapers and books finished off with a dirty ashtray. According to Amanda L. Mead, an intern at Helly Nahmad, the stand took three days to set up. But it seemed worth it; most, if not all of the gallery owners I spoke with named Nahmad’s stand as their favourite, such as Leila Heller, Ben Brown and Raffaello Tomasso, suggesting that things might be looking up for Nahmad who has had a strained relationship with the art media this year. Although some may say that any press is good press, I’m betting that being talked about in relation to an innovative stand is more favourable than what has been floating around recently.

FRIEZE MASTERS 11Image Courtesy :: Elliot Lee

FRIEZE MASTERS 12Helly Nahmad Stand, Image Courtesy :: Elliot Lee

FRIEZE MASTERS 13Helly Nahmad Stand, Image Courtesy :: Elliot Lee

I was notably taken with Moretti’s quiet but effective display of a Antonio Vivarini ‘Saint Catherine of Alexandria’ beside two boldly orange Gerhard Richter’s, and Anthony Meier Fine Art’s central display of Giulio Paolini’s eleven-piece ‘Casa di Lucrezio’. Leila Heller’s one man show of Iranian-Armenian artist, Marcos Grigorian, caught my eye as part of Frieze Master’s ‘Spotlight’ series of 20th Century artists from around the world.

Ben Janssens’ display of oriental art was simple yet cosy, with a boutique feel to the layout of recessed presentation spaces and staggered shelves (and I mean boutique in a good way). As a personal fan of Alighiero Boetti, I enjoyed Ben Brown’s focus on ‘trying to educate the British public’ about the Italian artist’s works on paper. Marlborough Fine Art also took the solo artist approach with their impressive collection of paintings and graphic works by Bacon. Senior Director, Alexander Platon, described Frieze Masters as ‘the perfect platform to celebrate (Marlborough’s) relationship with Bacon’. This curatorial reasoning piqued my interest, as the gallery has not always had such a celebratory relationship with the Estate of Francis Bacon. Although I am sure all of these past grievances are water under the bridge, I did wonder at the efforts gone to frame the gallery’s long-standing relationship with the renowned artist, including a glass case that displayed an invitation to the first show, the catalogue and newspaper clippings. Regardless, the stand was impressive and I appreciated the museum-like touches and focus on the artist’s exhibition history.

FRIEZE MASTERS 14Moretti's Display of Vivarini and Richter, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 15Paolini's Casa di Lucrezio, Anthony Meier Fine Art, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 16Leila Heller beside Grigorian's Upstairs Downstairs (1968), Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 17Ben Janssens' display shelves, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 18Ben Janssens at his Stand, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 19Bacon's Study for Bullfight no.1 (1969) at Marlborough Fine Art, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 20Display Case at Marlborough Fine Art, Image :: Author's Own

FRIEZE MASTERS 21Alighiero Boetti at Ben Brown Fine Art, Image :: Author's Own

Overall, I was impressed with the calibre of works on display at Frieze Masters, a fair that is only in its third year. Although I felt there was less of a ‘buzz’ in comparison to Frieze, no one could claim that Frieze Masters was struggling for attention. Numerous gallery owners commented on the quality and standard of galleries and works that were on display. Ben Janssens, former Chairman of TEFAF Maastricht, said how he liked the ‘general level’ of Frieze Masters, which was ‘now, after three years, choosing exhibits very carefully in terms of quality and display’. But this did draw both my and Elliot’s attention to the lack of information available on the fair’s vetting process. There is no doubt that a process exists, those that I spoke with attested to much, but in comparison to other fairs there is very little easily-attainable information for the public (or press, for that matter). Raffaello Tomasso described the vetting as ‘strict’ and based on ‘authenticity, quality and condition’, while Janssens said he had ‘no idea of how they (vetted) here’, wondering why ‘they are not more open about it’. He claimed that information on the vetting process at TEFAF Maastricht does give clients ‘confidence’ in the works for sale.

Following a quick Google, I found an application form from Frieze Masters 2012 that simply states ‘The fair will be fully vetted by a panel of experts’ and an article in the Frieze Art Fair edition of The Art Newspaper also from 2012, which describes a vetting committee of twenty individuals and a quote from Victoria Siddall (Fair Director), stating that dealers would not vet the works on display to ensure objectivity. Well, at least that is something. To quote Elliot, exhibiting dealers vetting exhibiting dealers can sometimes be a conflict of interest, yet some of the dealers I spoke to appreciated the expertise another dealer can have in understanding their works. I am still undecided about whether a vetting committee should be made up of art historians, dealers, conservators or some combination of the three; however, I am in favour of making the specifics of that committee openly available to the general public.

Nevertheless, we saw some great art, met some great people and did enjoy the museum-like feel of seeing Old Masters alongside new. ‘Bring on next year’, I say.