Mastering the art of old and new

Frieze Masters, Regent's Park, London

Frieze Masters 2012

Frieze Art Fair has always been about the new. It’s a space for contemporary work and though there have always been slightly older works on show it’s never been a space for the truly old. But then it’s rare to see contemporary art along side antiquities or old masters. It’s not that commonplace to see recent works sharing a space with art made even a century ago. There are all sorts of reasons why but nothing that amounts to a hard and fast rule and anyway rules are made to be broken*, right?

So, in parallel with the tenth Frieze Art Fair in another tent at the other end of Regent’s Park, this year saw the first of what I’m guessing I’m not alone in hoping becomes a regular feature: Frieze Masters. A showcase for art made before the year 2000, Frieze Masters saw a gathering of around ninety to a hundred galleries showing work from ancient to modern, giving, according to the press release, ‘a unique contemporary perspective on art throughout the ages’.

Portrait of Louise Bourgeois by Annie Liebowitz and, um, a painting**

In some places there are fascinating juxtapositions of old and new, with art from different eras shown by a single gallery (occasionally, in a way, as in the case of Annie Liebowitz’s portrait of Louise Bourgeois, in a single work). Elsewhere, adjacent galleries are showing work that would never normally be seen cheek by jowl. Nowhere though does this feel jarring. Indeed my overriding impression of Frieze Masters is one of calm. Admittedly this is in part as a result of comparing it with the frenetic atmosphere of Frieze itself but it’s also quieter, as though the calmness of the grey walls and carpet has made everyone slow down and relax a bit.

If anything though, there’s more evidence of work being sold. In part this is down to the use of red dots – something that never seems evident at Frieze, or in contemporary galleries – but there also seemed to me to be more conversations happening between gallerists and potential buyers though it seems likely that at both fairs most such interactions happened on preview day.

Lygia Pape, Tteia 1, B (prata-lunar)

Lygia Pape, Tteia 1, B (prata-lunar) at Galeria Graça Brandão

As at Frieze, the hard sell of the big name galleries is off-set by an area given over to galleries employing a slightly different strategy. At Frieze Masters this isn’t an opportunity for new galleries to take part, rather Spotlight is a series of stands at which galleries are showing the work of a single twentieth century artist. Much of the work here is from the 1960s and ’70s and it’s a powerful reminder of the radical nature of the work made then. Seen from now, perhaps especially seen in relation to the contemporary art world at its most frenetic – which, arguably, Frieze embodies – though clearly now highly saleable, this is work with an agenda that seems to have little in common with the commerce of the contemporary art world.

In an art world that seems increasingly obsessed with newness (at the Sunday Art Fair at Ambika P3 a frankly alarming proportion of the artists on show were under 30), Frieze Masters felt like a breath of fresh air.


*Excuse the cliché, I’m all art faired out. It’s been a long week.

**I meant to make a note of what it was but forgot. Oops!

2 thoughts on “Mastering the art of old and new

  1. I hesitated buying the extra ticket to Frieze Masters. Reading your post, I regret it slightly – although I don’t think I could have done both fairs in one day…

    • It was well worth a visit but yes, both in one day is too much. Art overload sets in quite quickly for me though!

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