I recently interviewed Clément Delépine, director of the Paris+ art fair, Art Basel’s new French offshoot that debuts next week. I asked him what would make the new event different from its pre-existing Swiss, US and Hong Kong cousins. His answer touched on everything: the gallery selection, the kinds of projects on the walls, the type of collectors who would attend. It felt as though we were circling around the idea of the “spirit” of the fair – an intangible but very perceptible quality, something that isn’t designed but simply emerges.
As Frieze London (pictured) opens today in Regent’s Park, the idea of an event with an appealing spirit seems more important than ever. The economic context around the UK’s biggest art fair has only got worse since Brexit (remember that?). At the time, people started speculating about whether or not London would be able to maintain its status as one of the world’s greatest centres of art and whether Paris would take over. French competition has now materialised in the form of Paris+, which begins across the Channel just after Frieze wraps up.
The UK’s political squabbles and the cost-of-living crisis are unlikely to have too much of an effect on the deals done inside the Regent’s Park marquee – if anything, a weak pound will encourage international buyers to bag themselves a bargain. Yet the battle for prominence on the international art calendar might end up being a more subtle one. Frieze is a very London event and not just because many of its exhibitors are based in the city. It’s something to do with the “spirit” of it all: the events surrounding the fair, known as Frieze Week, remain an eccentric yet mostly tasteful spectacle (if you put aside Damien Hirst’s painting bonfire, that is). For now, that’s enough to lure both collectors and droves of residents in. Let’s hope that this spirit is strong enough to withstand the winds of change blowing outside the tent.
Chiara Rimella is Monocle’s culture editor.