We’ve waited, delayed and rescheduled – but now it’s time. Frieze New York will be the first big-name art fair to go ahead in a physical format this week. Yes, it won’t be as big as it could have been, fewer galleries are taking part (64 against the usual 200) and fewer international visitors will be able to attend. But the signals are clear: VIP slots and general attendance tickets are sold out, collectors are flying in from across the US and people are raring to go.
Yet the biggest question surrounding art fairs predates the pandemic. I remember interviewing fair directors in Miami Beach and Los Angeles, and always sneaking in the question at the very end: is there a future for large, global events? At the time, the consensus was mixed. Yes, people felt overwhelmed and calendars were too full but the big global events were the big global events. A year later, the enthusiasm over Frieze’s return speaks volumes. Other small fairs have managed physical editions in the past few months; none carried as much symbolism as this.
All of which is not to say that things will remain unchanged. The environmental challenge is unavoidable now and Frieze board director Victoria Siddall has been instrumental in the creation of the Gallery Climate Coalition, a group of institutions committed to cutting their emissions. And the downsizing of Frieze New York into a new location, The Shed (pictured), not only pleased those who hated the perennial taxi-jams heading into the notoriously hard-to-reach Randall Island; it has also been a chance to show that putting established galleries closer to up-and-comers in a more compact venue can be refreshing and stimulating for collectors. Expect more such hybrid models and evolving concepts for these events going forward. But for now, art fairs are like parties – sometimes, you just have to have a massive one.